The Real Meaning of ‘Woke’

Lest we forget, ‘Woke’ originated from ‘awake.’ Historically, staying awake was a survival skill for Black and Brown people in the U.S. who had to guard against the threat of lynching and acts of violence targeting their families and communities.

More recently, ‘woke’ has been co-opted and repurposed to act as a passive-aggressive put-down; it serves as a code for ‘we don’t believe or care about racism or the mistreatment of minority groups.’ The intention behind this co-optation is to cover up the past and deny the current reality of discrimination in America, as if it never existed.

Quietly but irrevocably, change is afoot in the U.S., and attempting to hinder it by labeling people as ‘woke’ is just another petty tactic to divert our attention from what truly matters. Those who are genuinely awake to what’s happening are embracing the future not as a trend, but as a cultural reality—a reality where differences are just as valued as similarities, where the rights of the majority are as important as the rights of the privileged few, and where our children learn to embrace, honor, and learn from our entire past, so they can create a future that accommodates all of us.

This majority/minority reality is nearly upon us, and the correct term for what is happening is that a new, “emerging majority” is becoming a reality. Even a global pandemic and the resulting inequities failed to change its trajectory. It serves as proof that the arc of human history does indeed bend toward justice.

Being ‘woke’ means being awakened to the needs of others, being well-informed, thoughtful, compassionate, humble, and kind. It entails being eager to make the world a better place for all people.

Let’s continue using ‘woke’ in the manner it was originally intended, and let’s hope that everyone learns how to embody it. Our future may depend on it.

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