Nothing Wrong With “Woke”

By Brian J Pape, AIA, LEED-AP

“Woke” was never a part of my everyday conversation.
While the term woke in the last century initially pertained to issues of racial prejudice and discrimination impacting African Americans, it was later used by other activist groups with different causes. Although there is no single agreed-upon definition of the slang term, it came to be primarily associated with ideas that involve identity and race, ideas which are promoted by progressives. By the mid-20th century, woke had come to mean ‘well-informed’ or ‘aware’, and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017. Merriam-Webster defines the expression stay woke as meaning, “self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better.”
I am comfortable using specific language when talking about social issues, so awareness is about equal rights, racial justice, fair voting rights, defense of our constitution, equal opportunity, the value of all God’s children, and democracy. I believe that truth does not require belief. I believe that education for all benefits all. I believe in self-awareness as a virtue.
Slowly over the years though, ‘woke’ was used to express many forward-thinking ideas in the body politic. Like any vocabulary term, it can be distorted from its original meaning. One didn’t necessarily have to agree with all ideas to agree to stay woke. It seems in the last decade that far-right politicians and commentors grabbed the term to use it to describe and attack any idea that they disagreed with, and they used it as a pejorative in their attacks. Listening to the far-right commentors, one might think that ‘Wokism’ is describing something of a social evil.
There is nothing wrong with ‘woke,’ and I encourage everyone to stay woke, or self-aware.
But I think I’ll prefer to use educated in my dialogues. I’d rather talk about being educated for equal rights, pursuit of happiness, defending the constitution. It might be less confusing.