What They Mean When They Say “Woke”

Yesterday morning I woke up and — as I often do — opened up Twitter to see what fresh hell has been unleashed on us while I was sleeping. That morning I was greeted by a video of a man in a bowtie on Fox”News” lamenting the “woke-ism” he was subjected to when he took a tour of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. It turns out he was disappointed that — instead of focusing solely on how he was a great scholar, architect, and writer of the words “all men are created equal” — the tour guide “demoralized everyone on his tour” by speaking about actual FACTS about Thomas Jefferson: Facts like he enslaved over 600 people during his life… Or that Monticello was 5000 acre working plantation where 400 Black people were forced to live & work in bondage, building the mansion that graces the back of our nickels, so that the face on the front of our nickels had the time to write about how “all men are created equal” when he wasn’t raping & impregnating the enslaved women on his plantation. Imagine how DEMORALIZING it must have been to hear true things about someone he grew up venerating. Here is the video clip:

“A bow tie announces to the world you can no longer get an erection.” ~ David Sedaris

Poor thing… He “just thought that Monticello would be protected from this disease of wokeism.” All he wanted was to take a tour of a slave plantation, and that mean ‘ol “woke” tour guide had the AUDACITY to talk about slaves. It really is getting hard out there for a white man. Is nothing sacred?? Must we constantly bring “history” into things like this? Can’t we just worship this great white man without submitting our minds to the cognitive dissonance of someone writing “all men are created equal” while enslaving hundreds of men? Can’t we just appreciate the great white mind who designed Monticello without acknowledging the Black hands that were forced to actually build it??

Just in case any of you ladies out there were turned on by the bespectacled, bowtied bigot in the video, his name is Jeffrey Tucker. And in case you couldn’t tell by his outfit, he’s not just any average Joe off the street… He is named as one of the founders of the racist Neo-confederate group “The League of the South,” and he is named as a source in a New York Post article titled “Monticello is going woke — and trashing Thomas Jefferson’s legacy in the process.” Please say a prayer for him as he goes through the often difficult process of finding out that sometimes white people did racism.

“Going woke.” Jesus.

I live in a city where a moron named Todd Pembroke just make it through the School Board election primary by plastering the sides of our roads with these signs:

Imagine being this much of a moron. Now imagine actually voting for this guy.

When pressed about what the “NO WOKE” on his signs means, Todd just deflects by reciting something about “keeping politics out of schools.” But just like Jeffery “Confederate Bowtie” Tucker, it’s not politics “No Woke” Pembroke is interested in keeping out of the classroom… It’s the truth.

The term “woke” came from Black Culture, and it’s been around since the early 1900s. It’s had a fascinating journey that you should really read about. It has traditionally meant to be awake, aware, and “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination.” It was introduced to white culture as the internet widened our access to Black voices — Particularly after the Black Lives Matter movement started. White liberals began appropriating the term as we discovered things like white privilege (and appropriation LOL). After white folks started using it (lo & behold!) the Oxford English Dictionary added it in 2017. Meek Mill has an amazing song called “Stay Woke,” and you probably heard the phrase in Childish Gambino’s “Redbone.” I can still remember the feeling of pride I had when one of my Black friends referred to me as “woke.” You might as well have pinned a medal on my chest. But it came from AAVE, and was about being aware of the dangers of of being Black in a racist country with racist systems… Systems which brought about horrors like “The Scottsboro Boys,” where nine Black teenagers were falsely accused of rape, and spent years of their lives fighting these false allegations, and even fighting a death sentence.

Less than a 100 years ago, an all-white jury in Alabama recommended the death penalty for a Black teenager who was falsely accused of rape and didn’t have legal representation. A judge suspended the death sentence and ordered a new trial. That judge promptly lost his bid for reelection. Today, in some states it’s ILLEGAL to teach about this part of American history.

The political right has very successfully co-opted the term “woke” to be a catch-all for all the things they don’t like… Like equality. Or inclusion. Or telling the truth about history. It’s almost exclusively used pejoratively now, which is a messaging win for republicans. Being anti-woke is really just the next phase of their anger over “political correctness.” Any narrative which paints white people in any sort of negative light is dismissed as “woke.” Any lesson which characterizes diversity as a strength is dismissed as “woke.” Any discussion of the faults of (white) historical figures is dismissed as “woke.” Any acknowledgment of the realities of systemic racism is dismissed as “woke.” Any inclusion of the reality of the existence of people who are LGBTQIA is dismissed as “woke.”

So if a new Star Wars series has more People of Color, or women, or (gasp!) Black women in the cast, the political Right chalks it up to the evils of “wokeism.” If an animated movie dares to portray the reality of a same-sex couple kissing on the cheek, the Right is in an uproar over them forcing their “woke” ideologies on “our kids” (with no consideration of LGBTQIA children or the children of same-sex couples). And if a man who definitely has a pointy, white hood in his closet goes to take a tour of a slave plantation, and the tour guide speaks about the history & horrors of slavery, Fox will give him air time to talk about how “demoralizing” it was for him to encounter the “disease of wokeism.” Think about how crazy it is that — in less than 100 years — white folks took a term that meant “being aware” of injustices like the Scottsboro Boys, and they transformed it into a rallying cry against teaching their white children about the History behind the Scottsboro Boys… lest they feel bad about the truth behind history.

There is SO MUCH racism behind the “anti-woke” movement. It is steeped in it. Think about it… Talking about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s infidelity would never be described as “woke.” It’s just telling the truth about history. But God forbid they mention a “founding father” owned and raped other human beings. Co-opting the term “woke” was the perfect republican response to the dangerous truths white folks were being exposed to during the BLM movement. It took a Black word, put some stank on it, and made it mean anything they wanted it to mean. Equal rights for women? Woke. Queer people existing? Woke. Christopher Columbus was a rapist and a mass murderer? Woke. The fact that what the U.S. did to the Native Americans was genocide? Woke. The realities of systemic racism? Woke, woke, woke.

So genuinely, when you hear a person use the term “woke” to describe something they don’t like, ask them what they mean by “woke.” Watch them squirm as they attempt to avoid making it about the anger white men experience as they feel like they are losing a bit of their privilege. Watch them strain to preserve centralized whiteness. Watch them bend over backwards to explain it without sounding like a white nationalist fascist. When they say that they’re angry about all this “wokeness,” they’re telling on themselves. What they’re really angry about is equality feeling like oppression. They’re angry about the realities of diversity (and the fear of replacement theory). They’re angry about approaching history with a sense of honesty. They say “anti-woke” because it sounds way better than saying “anti-truth.”

I’m trying… I swear. Thank you so much for reading. If you want to support me and my writing, you can on Patreon, on PayPal, or by Venmoing chris-boeskool.

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4 Responses to What They Mean When They Say “Woke”

  1. This is SO GOOD. Thank you! My mother, who is a Fox News/Newsmax cultist (and appalled that I am active with our local NAACP) started slinging this word around lately in a derogatory way. Now I know why. Unreal and disgusting. Thanks for providing such great talking points.

  2. Susan S. says:

    Humans are so weird. Thank you for writing this.

  3. Steve Kerr’s son Nick says:

    The big mistake was calling it “woke” instead of “awake”. The opportunity to use the correct tense in an attempt to be taken somewhat seriously to talk about social issues has failed horribly.

    In before the “proper grammar is a white supremacist concept” comments that’ll inevitably follow by the same people that make every single thing in their lives about race.

  4. Clare Xanthos says:

    “Anti-woke” is just a euphemism for anti-anti-racism; it’s also code for being anti-black.

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