Before 2014, not many people outside of Black America had heard of the term “stay woke” or used it.
Black people used it to remind other Black people to be alert to systemic racism tactics. “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,” culture writer Aja Romano reported for Vox.
In 2014, after Michael Brown was murdered by police in Ferguson, Missouri, “stay woke” became the watchword of Black Lives Matter activists, who used the term to keep watch for police brutality and unjust police tactics.
Now, “woke” has evolved into a single-word summation of “leftist political ideology, centered on social justice politics and critical race theory.”
People who use “woke” to describe progressives’ take on popular culture are guilty of using a racial slur, according to Joel Anderson, a staff writer at the progressive online magazine Slate. Anderson hosts Season 3 of the podcast “Slow Burn,” and Season 6, which takes on the Los Angeles riots following the police beating of motorist Rodney King in 1992. Previously, he worked as a reporter on sports, culture, and politics for ESPN and BuzzFeed News.
“If you’re not black and started using ‘woke’ pejoratively sometime post-2018 or so (or worse, don’t know anything about the earlier iteration of the term), I think it’s fair to consider it a racial slur,” Anderson tweeted recently.
“And it doesn’t mean I’m gonna do anything to you, or that anyone else will. But it doesn’t mean I won’t either.”
Anderson posted a picture of white men carrying tiki torches and captioned it “all these hot dogs.” He added that “certain group of folks feel entitled to say whatever they want to you whenever they want” but that he’s entitled to his opinion.
According to Anderson, “woke” is a term “stolen from black folks … and repurposed” to be a word that Americans of any race frequently use, The Federalist reported.
Anderson’s tweets set off a firestorm of replies.
“So it’s fair to say that ‘Woke’ just means ‘Beholden to black voters’ when most pundits or politicians say it, and also that they think such responsiveness is inherently bad. What’s funny is I haven’t seen one show or interview where a black VOTER thinks the Democrats are ‘Woke,'” tweeted Dr. Jason Johnson, professor at the School of Global Journalism & Communication at Morgan State University.
New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the “1619 Project,” isn’t a fan of the term “woke” being used by journalists. “Let me say, again, the use of the word wokeness and/or woke by journalists is lazy and biased and counts on the reader/viewer filling in with his or her own stereotypes. If you can’t state specifically what you mean, why are you writing it?”
Progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Democrats are using the “woke” culture as excuses for losses. She tweeted, “One dangerous aspect of thinking there’s a ‘woke problem’ is that Dem chances for re-election or majorities in House, Senate, & WH rely on the racial justice issue of voting rights. Dems distancing from racial justice makes protection of voting rights less likely,ensuring losses”.
She added, “‘Woke’ is a term pundits are now using as a derogatory euphemism for civil rights & justice. Making up a ‘woke’ problem results in putting civil & voting rights on the backburner. In a year state legislatures are planning out GOP majorities & voter suppression, that’s dangerous”.
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On the left, to be “woke” is being aware of contemporary political concerns, Aja Romano wrote for Vox. On the right, “woke” is “political correctness” in hyperdrive.
Anderson has complained about the widespread use of the term before. In 2019, he wrote, “No offense if you use the term, but when I see ‘woke’ now i immediately suspect it’s being invoked in service of racism. blame twitter, if you must. Actually, nah. take offense.”