What does being woke mean? Definition and meaning explained – The Sun | The Sun

BEING "woke" has become somewhat of an insult, often directed at young people in recent years.

Used with words like "snowflake", somebody who is "woke" is aware and speaks up about social issues.

What does 'woke' mean?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary "woke" is defined as: "Originally: well-informed, up-to-date.

"Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice."

The Urban Dictionary adds: "Being woke means being aware… knowing what’s going on in the community (related to racism and social injustice)."

To be "woke" is to be consciously awake to social justice issues.

It has morphed into a throw away insult from right-wing groups or older generations when people stand up against offensive language.

Often, things are dismissed as "woke" when they push back against entrenched biases that "non-woke" people may not be ready to let go of.



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It is used to end conversations through insult rather than confront difficult and divisive topics.

The word is still widely used by social reform seekers and those opposing this.

Where does 'woke' come from?

Many believe "woke" is a new word but it has actually been in circulation since the 1800s.

Originally it simply meant not being asleep.

The secondary meaning is also older than people may realise – it started emerging in Black English at least by the 1940s, according to dictionary.com.

An "Atlantic" article from 1943 reportedly quoted a black United Mine Workers official from 1940 playing with woke in a metaphor for social justice: “Waking up is a damn sight better than going to sleep, but we’ll stay woke up longer.”



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By the 1960s, woke was still used in the context of political awareness, especially regarding the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950–60s.

The term even prompted a 1962 New York Times article commenting on black slang, titled “If You’re Woke You Dig It".

And on June 14, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr, gave a commencement address called Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution at Oberlin College.

He said: "There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution…

"The wind of change is blowing, and we see in our day and our age a significant development."

He added: "The great challenge facing every individual graduating today is to remain awake through this social revolution."

In 2008, Erykah Badu's song'Master Teach begins "I am known to stay awake" and features the line "I stay woke (dreams dreams)".

The word is firmly rooted in Black English and still heavily refers to the fight against racism.

What sparked the trend for 'woke' in recent years?

In 2012, unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was shot dead in Florida by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

The shooting sparked the Black Lives Matter movement amid a public outcry over the gunman's controversial acquittal.

Many in the black community issued calls to "stay woke" to the discrimination and injustice black people face in the US, particularly in the form of police brutality.

Under the hashtag “#staywoke” on social media, the term took off again in 2014 after the tragic shooting of two other young, unarmed black men by police officers.

Woke increasingly became used as a term to criticise identity politics or to dismiss concerns of millennial "snowflakes".

TalkTV host Piers Morgan complained about "woke idiots" campaigning to get 1978 film Grease banned on January 3, 2021.

In light of the #metoo movement, some viewers felt the film no longer had a place in today’s TV schedule.

These hyperbolic arguments are normally pushed by extreme sides of the argument.



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Most people acknowledge the issues surrounding old films but agree these can be resigned to the attitudes of the age.

The Black Lives Matter and LGBTQIA rights movements, as well as feminist movements, focus more widely on larger societal problems such as racial profiling or transphobia.

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