Woke is a slang word from African American Vernacular English which refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. The related phrase stay woke refers to a continuing awareness of these issues. Its widespread use since 2014 is a result of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Oxford Dictionaries records early politically conscious usage in 1962 in the article "If You're Woke You Dig It" by William Melvin Kelley in The New York Times and in the 1971 play Garvey Lives! by Barry Beckham ("I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I’m gon stay woke. And I’m gon help him wake up other black folk.")
The first modern use of the term woke appears in the song "Master Teacher" from the 2008 album New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) by soul singer Erykah Badu. Throughout the song, Badu sings the phrase "I stay woke", though the phrase did not yet have any connection to justice issues. Nevertheless, Badu's song is credited with the later connection to these issues. To "stay woke" in this sense expresses the intensified continuative and habitual grammatical aspect of African American Vernacular English, i.e. to always be awake, or to be ever vigilant. Professor David Stovall of the University of Illinois Chicago said "Erykah brought it alive in popular culture. She means not being placated, not being anesthetized." Implicit in the concept of being woke is the idea that such awareness must be earned. The rapper Earl Sweatshirt recalls singing "I stay woke" along to the song and his mother turning down the song and responding "No, you're not."
In 2012, users on Twitter, including Badu, began using woke and stay woke in connection to social and racial justice issues and #StayWoke emerged as a widely-used hashtag. Badu incited this with the first politically charged use of the phrase on Twitter. When she tweeted out in support of the Russian feminist group Pussy Riot, "Truth requires no belief. Stay woke. Watch closely.#FreePussyRiot". From social media and activist circles, the word spread to widespread mainstream usage. For example, in 2016, the headline of a Bloomberg Businessweek article asked "Is Wikipedia Woke?", in reference to the largely white contributor base of the online encyclopedia.
By the mid 2010s, woke had been adopted as a more generic slang term and has been the subject of memes and ironic usage. For example, MTV News identified it as a key teen slang word for 2016. This has raised concerns that the word has been culturally appropriated. In The New York Times Magazine, Amanda Hess wrote, "The conundrum is built in. When white people aspire to get points for consciousness, they walk right into the cross hairs between allyship and appropriation."
- "Stay Woke: The new sense of 'woke' is gaining popularity". Words We're Watching. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
- Garofalo, Alex (26 May 2016). "What Does ‘Stay Woke’ Mean? BET To Air Documentary On Black Lives Matter Movement". International Business Times. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
- "How 'woke' fell asleep | OxfordWords blog". OxfordWords blog. 16 November 2016. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
- Kelley, William Melvin (20 May 1962). "If You're Woke You Dig It; No mickey mouse can be expected to follow today's Negro idiom without a hip assist. If You're Woke You Dig It". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
- Beckham, Barry (1 January 1972). Garvey Lives!: A Play.
- Garvey, Marcus; Garvey, Amy Jacques (1 January 1923). The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Or, Africa for the Africans. The Majority Press. p. 5. ISBN 9780912469249.
Wake Up Ethiopia! Wake up Africa! Let us work towards the one glorious end of a free, redeemed and mighty nation. Let Africa be a bright star among the constellation of nations.
- Pulliam-Moore, Charles (8 January 2016). "What Does 'Stay Woke' Mean And Why Is Everyone Saying It All Of A Sudden?". Fusion. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
- Finkelman, Paul (2 February 2009). Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century Five-volume Set. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 9780195167795.
- Hess, Amanda (19 April 2016). "Earning the ‘Woke’ Badge". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
- "Earl Sweatshirt: 'I'm Grown'". NPR.org. National Public Radio. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
- Badu, Erykah (8 August 2012). "(Untitled)". Twitter.
- Kessenides, Dimitra; Chafkin, Max (22 December 2016). "Is Wikipedia Woke?". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
- Trudon, Taylor (5 January 2016). "Say Goodbye To 'On Fleek,' 'Basic' And 'Squad' In 2016 And Learn These 10 Words Instead". MTV News. Retrieved 26 December 2016.