“Gona catch you sleeping, now stay woke Childish Gambino’s lyrics from his dreamy 2016 hit Redbone serves more than just an Instagram caption for my angsty selfie. Gambino touches on the idea of “wokeness,” growing more and more pervasive in modern society. For those who are unaware, to be “woke” is to have your metaphorical eyes opened to the ills and sociopolitical issues of society.
The term originated in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and was brought to modern usage by R&B/soul artist/ icon Erykah Badu in her song Master Teacher. The word became commonplace as thousands like myself took to social media to proclaim ourselves as woke and espoused the idea that if you aren’t woke, you’re wrong.
To some degree, this holds true: those unaware or ignorant of issues society faces should actively engage to understand them.
“Woke” quickly transformed into a pseudo-badge of honor that deemed some people lower than: it became a competition to see who could be the most woke, the most aware.
The term became less about engaging thoughtfully with those around you or discussing important issues and more about shaming those who are unaware of a social issue you are informed on.
Woke is so overused now that people are often satirical in their usage. The term and the ideology are meant to encourage education and discourse about pervasive but less discussed issues not to shame the uneducated into silence.
Each of us brings different perspectives and experiences, no person is born woke all of us were taught by someone or something.
Though the term has certainly been mangled it doesn’t mean that we must stop engaging or using the term all together. Collectively, our generation has to understand that to improve our society or the ills it faces in any way, we cannot feign a false sense of superiority in our discourse. All of us are evolving ñ our consciousness and beliefs are always changing and no one is done learning or evolving. And though we never stop learning that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
We have to be wholly present and authentic in our engagement and our knowledge or our ignorance: there is plenty to be learned from both.