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For most of my life the word woke affectionately described our elders who were a little to invested in conspiracy theories. We understood they had good reason, but it came off a little too credulous. Otherwise woke meant having racial pride and consciousness which are important to my life.

I never perceived wokeness as having anything to do with feminism or broader progressive issues.

Why are nonblack people saying believing men can become women is “woke”? Since when? According to whom? And why has that dubious claim been broadened into anything resembling progressive totalitarianism, so much that “wokeness” must be detected in every interaction and opposed and rooted out to protect people from it?

For most of my life the word woke affectionately described our elders who were a little to invested in conspiracy theories. We understood they had good reason, but it came off a little too credulous. Otherwise woke meant having racial pride and consciousness which are important to my life. I never perceived wokeness as having anything to do with feminism or broader progressive issues. Why are nonblack people saying believing men can become women is “woke”? Since when? According to whom? And why has that dubious claim been broadened into anything resembling progressive totalitarianism, so much that “wokeness” must be detected in every interaction and opposed and rooted out to protect people from it?

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[–] ProxyMusic 50 points Edited

Sorry, BlackCirce, but woke was appropriated by the maw of the larger culture and became unmoored from the original meanings it had in black American vernacular some years ago. SNL did a skit that put the nail in the coffin for "woke" in 2017 - the same year "woke" was included in the OED, and the same year as the death of the man who introduced the term to white Americans by using it in a NY Times article in 1962. You can find the SNL skit here:

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/30/680899262/opinion-its-time-to-put-woke-to-sleep

Before 2014, the call to “stay woke” was, for many people, unheard of. The idea behind it was common within Black communities at that point — the notion that staying “woke” and alert to the deceptions of other people was a basic survival tactic. But in 2014, following the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, “stay woke” suddenly became the cautionary watchword of Black Lives Matter activists on the streets, used in a chilling and specific context: keeping watch for police brutality and unjust police tactics.

In the six years since Brown’s death, “woke” has evolved into a single-word summation of leftist political ideology, centered on social justice politics and critical race theory. This framing of “woke” is bipartisan: It’s used as a shorthand for political progressiveness by the left, and as a denigration of leftist culture by the right.

On the left, to be “woke” means to identify as a staunch social justice advocate who’s abreast of contemporary political concerns — or to be perceived that way, whether or not you ever claimed to be “woke” yourself. At times, the defensiveness surrounding wokeness invites ironic blowback. Consider the 2020 Hulu comedy series Woke, which attempted to deconstruct the identity politics behind ideas like “wokeness,” only to garner criticism for having an outdated and too-centrist political viewpoint — that is, for not being woke enough.

On the right, “woke” — like its cousin “canceled” — bespeaks “political correctness” gone awry, and the term itself is usually used sarcastically. At the Republican National Convention in August, right-wing Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) scolded “woketopians,” grouping them together with socialists and Biden supporters, as though the definition of a “woketopian” was self-evident.

https://www.vox.com/culture/21437879/stay-woke-wokeness-history-origin-evolution-controversy

https://thedispatch.com/p/the-origins-of-the-term-woke-had

https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2021/07/30/how-has-the-meaning-of-the-word-woke-evolved

Looking into it, I see "woke" is now also being used by leftist "activists" as well as by their detractors in places far and wide, such as the UK, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Thanks for this. Confirms the timeline I had guessed at earlier for when the shift from 'social justice warrior' to 'woke' occured.

[–] BlackCirce [OP] 🔮🐖🐖🐖 9 points

It’s used as a shorthand for political progressiveness by the left

This is news to me since I am a communist and a radical feminist and I’ve never heard a fellow communist, left anarchist or radical feminist describe themselves as woke. I’ve only ever heard people who are virulently opposed to those ideologies refer to others as woke pejoratively, much the way trans activists refer to anyone who has even the slightest hesitating in endorsing TWAW as a TERF, but radical feminists do not seriously call our positon trans-exclusionary radical feminism.

I used to see people on tumblr unironically talking about being 'woke' (as in, referring to themselves by that term). However, it may have been shortlived (sometime between 2015-2018-ish). Now, yes, I mostly hear it being used perjoratively. But the perjorative didn't come out of nowhere, it was actually used for a time by the 'social justice warrior' demographic they are referring to.

I see it used by self-conscious public liberals who know they aren't really woke, but do have the sense that they're supposed to be.

[–] sealwomyn 1 points Edited

Same here and I've been on tumblr since 2011. Never saw leftists and radfems using the term that way (ed. until the recent wave of alt-right adjacent gencrits)

Edit again since somehow this comment inspired someone to tell me what SJWs are: 1. I'm agreeing with OP that IME leftists do not use the term self-referentially nor to mean SJW, and 2. I'm commenting, wrt to blaming Tumblr instead of rightwing memelords, that I have not seen SJW kids use the term self-referentially in my decade on the site.

I don't follow those kids generally but the discourse tends to bleed into all corners so it's possible it was a blip on the radar, but my experience makes me disagree that tumblr SJW types were the catalyst for this.

As others have pointed out, tumblr 'social justice warriors' aren't true 'leftists'. So yeah, probably 'real' leftists didn't jump on the appropriation train when it came to this term, but many faux progressives certainly did. Though it was used unironically by these performative social justice types for a brief enough time (the span of a couple of years at most) that I can understand some people might not have encountered it until it had already become a perjorative term used by said 'progressives'' critics.

“Woke” has morphed into the slang for whatever is considered “progressive.” Just like “intersectional,” it’s original meaning has been bastardized by those who wish to support a specific narrative.

I use "woke" in the sense I saw it used on the internet, and that is "leftist progressive person who thinks they know it all".

Language evolves. I can see how it would have originated from mocking conspiracy theorists who tell others to "wake up" ... but am surprised. Did the pseudo-progressives never use it as self-description? I thought that was the origin. That they had used it for themselves, and that it then was used to mock them. (You know, like incels, which the incels invented themselves, but is now pejorative because ... well, incels.)

I had not idea "woke" originated in the black community?

It was a very, very short window of general use, shortly before the election of Trump. There was some sort of promotion of it around 2015 2016 (gah, US election cycle confusion) - I remember this from the Guardian in the UK, around the same time as they were trying to make "alt-right" a thing. (I remember being unclear on what exactly that was supposed to mean at the time - turns out my scepticism was right...)

The moment the term Woke became remotely well-known, it immediately became the label for the people using it, who everybody hates. (And as they refused to label their own ideology, Woke was as good as anything.)

The word encompasses the general attitude well - "I'm considerably more enlightened than you, you ignorant bigot". Much better than the "social justice warrior" thing that people were using for them before.

I do recall it being a rather jarring piece of grammar - part of what makes it mockable - and seeing the explanation that it was some sort of cultural appropriation from America's black community. Hearing/reading posh white British kids use it in the Guardian was always funny.

Was there a similar push in the US press? I guess there must have been to achieve consciousness.

Edit: actually, my Guardian timeline might be wrong. Can't immediately find anything earlier than 2017 via Google.

Interestingly two of those are headline-only uses, not in the text.

The jarring new word certainly caught attention, so seeing it associated with the jarring newly batshit politics, even if only occasionally, obviously the new word was going to attach itself to the politics.

[–] RisingUp 24 points Edited

I think it is yet another case of white people taking over black people’s language and twisting the meaning till it’s a mockery of itself. I’m sorry, that must be extremely annoying.

“Woke” was adopted by the type of people who once were known as “social justice warriors” and then other people used it to make fun of them.

Including me! I think “wokism” is a handy term for all the totalitarian nonsense that’s happening. I hadn’t really thought about the linguistic colonialism.

I don’t think this genie is going to go back in the bottle, however. “Woke” is much too widely used, mostly in the mocking sense. If I use a deliberately silly variant like “wokism” or “wokery” does it still feel the same to you? Not that I’m attached to using the word especially but I think trying to make a silly variant popular might work better than just never using the word.

“Woke” is much too widely used, mostly in the mocking sense.

I'm guilty of this, lol. I use the word to mock people who think they're being "woke" but really aren't, like libfems and TIMs, etc. Though I do that knowing the word's original meaning and use (I'm black).

[–] Kerihobo 6 points Edited

Mainly cos ppl claim they are woke, so thats what their twisted ideologies get called. TRAs also piggyback on BLM when it's convenient and "woke" is just 1 of the terms they adopted to be grouped by association to bolster their own movement against criticism.

Linguist John McWhorter sometimes goes into the history of wokeism to describe how the word woke has changed its signification over time. I liked this talk by him that I watched a while back (so, I can't remember if it addresses your specific concern) but it gets at how social justice cancel culture and theories of antiracism (and many would say trans activism) are intertwined in their formulaic approach to difficult social and material problems that is anti-intellectual and anti-democratic.

Michael Che made a joke about it on Instagram a few months ago but has since deleted it. It was to the effect of “woke used to be a word black people used to describe other black people that knew the cops were trying to kill them. Now it means hippie dippie moon pie socialism for sea turtles Wth”. I’m badly paraphrasing here but it was quite funny and viscerally described the shift.

Edit: typo

It became an expression a couple of years ago, a sort of self-congratulatory badge people would put on themselves. I think it describes the kind of middle-brow liberalism that is based, not on actually thinking about issues, but by looking around and seeing what other middle-brow liberals are saying.

Yes, I even remember an episode of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt that took the piss out the term --- there was a scene where Kimmy starts attending university and goes to a freshers (?) night, and all the young college women were fawning after some dude, and instead gushing over his looks, they were saying 'oh, he's so woke!' Basically, suggesting that 'wokeness' now carried the most social status points, even more than being physically attractive. In theory it would be great if people truly cared about the content of one another's characters, but then later I think the guy was shown to be rather lame, and thus the point was that this particular white liberal type of 'wokeness' was itself quite performative and shallow.

The Second Great Awakening was a religious movement in the United States right before the civil war which drove Anti-slavery activists like John Brown. In fact - it's probably the cause of the Civil War. Similar to the way the first Great Awakening led to the Revolutionary War.

https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/brown-john-1800-1859/

The Second Great Awakening started in the South, and many poor people (including slaves) converted to Christianity. That's how old the idea of "Awakening" to injustice is. There was a moral and spiritual combination that burst out that movement, along with the desire to be right and good.

I have an old feminist shirt with "Awaken" on it. I am too embarrassed to wear anymore.

I found a claim that Erykah Badu's 2008 song Master Teacher spread the word Woke and made it more common. By 2016 MTV declared 'Woke' to be a new slang word in 2016.

I see it as being used to mostly replace "Social Justice Warrior" as a term. I saw SJW as a term that means "person who harms and hurts other people, but cloaks their harmful behavior in terminology of goodness and fairness".

I see "Woke" as slightly different - but it has that same religious fever of "doing the right thing" even if it means violence and war.

That's for bringing up the Great Awakenings! Growing up, I remember my dad was fascinated by the Second Great Awakening in particular, and would even give presentations on it sometimes. It's somewhat surprisng that these movements are so overlooked, since you are right about them having a great deal of influence on important turning points in US history. I'm glad you pointed out the connection between the Second Great Awakening and the concept of being 'awake' / 'woke'.... despite my familiarity with those movements, I had presumed that the name was just a coincidence.

It's unfortunate that the term has such acquired such a perjorative connotation at this stage, since there's nothing inherently negative about the idea of being spiritually 'awake' or having one's consciousness become more 'awakened' towards the injustices of the world. That being said, the current incarnation of 'social justice warriors' do seem to have even more religious fervor about them than ever before, which goes over and beyond just some nebulous idea of personal enlightment. It even seems to have gone beyond mere proselytising now and into 'convert or die' territory (or 'be hounded out of society, dehumanised, and made into an outcast and a target of violence', at the very least).

[–] yikesforever 12 points Edited

Words (and all content) easily lose provenance on the internet. You don't know where they came from or what type of person is saying it. Lots of words get taken from all sorts of communities to be used in ways they weren't created for. Such is the way the internet connects us.

"Woke" is just an easy way to refer to social justice warriors, who believe in emotions and ideology about certain topics, over truth.

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