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Opinion: "Woke" Doesn't Work

Image sources: Emoji Island and Grazia Daily

The word “woke” is problematic and counterproductive. Society has outgrown it. The implications of the term contradict the very idea it attempts to convey. I avoid using it, and you should too.

“Woke” is a slang adjective that denotes cultural, social, and self-awareness. It derives from African-American Vernacular English and grew in prominence in 2014 as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Circa 2014, it served its purpose. It was a cool, empowering call-to-action: be woke and stay woke.

Five years later, the word falls flat.

It fell into silly teen vernacular and has lost almost all meaning. While many young people call themselves “woke,” few of them actually work to be active and informed citizens, activists, feminists, etc. Moreover, the term became so overused that few people take it seriously anymore. Many see it as a joke.

However, let’s ignore that aspect of it and analyze the meaning and connotations of the word itself.

Explicitly, most people associate being “woke” with being liberal, which is unfair. If a politically conservative person is truly attentive of social justice issues but still is not considered “woke” just because of their* beliefs surrounding those (or other) issues, then “woke” is not a truly equitable term.

Two important aspects of diversity and inclusion are the value of different opinions and respect of everyone. Thus, “woke” isn’t woke until all informed people, regardless of beliefs, are allowed to claim it. Of course, that wouldn’t work, because the origins of the word suggest that one must be an active ally to the black community to be woke.

So, “woke” discriminates.

Furthermore, “wokeness” is an impractical goal. In the past, I described myself as “woke.” I would often say, “being woke is knowing that I’m not.” With the exception of my use of that godforsaken term, I still agree with that statement. I was not woke; no one can truly be woke.

So-called “wokeness” is the opposite of ignorance, which is unattainable. No one knows everything. I know near to nothing. Everyone has more to learn. We are all ignorant about something.

“Woke” is an absolute adjective, which means that grammatically, a woke person cannot get more woke. To me, this sounds like a declaration of social omniscience: I know everything, I am always right, and I can stop educating and re-evaluating myself. It implies that woke people are done learning.

Gross. Cultural competency, social consciousness, and self-awareness involve confronting one’s own implicit biases, prejudices, and mistakes and constantly listening, growing, and changing. No one is perfect, and that is okay.

I also dislike that a person must either be woke or not woke. It creates two categories of people: those who supposedly know about social issues and those who do not. This ideology creates an undesirable hierarchy. We should not make individuals feel inferior just because they do not know everything or are not absolutely politically correct all of the time, and we should not let people who think they are “woke” feel superior.

Instead, we should encourage everyone to learn about the world at their own pace and to never stop learning. We should let people know that it is okay to make mistakes, and we should value effort over perfection. As long as someone honestly tries to be as respectful, inclusive, and informed as possible, that is enough.

Rather than aiming to be “woke,” let’s strive to do our best. Let’s educate ourselves about what’s going on in the world, seek to understand different perspectives, be open to change, admit when we’re wrong, and become better people. Let’s grow, and let’s keep growing.

Let’s move forward and leave “woke” behind.

Language is arguably the most powerful, meaningful, and impactful tool humans have. (Trust me, I wrote my CHP on it.) It is crucial to think about what our words mean and why we are using them. I beg you to consider removing the term “woke” from your vocabulary.


*Gender-neutral they-them pronouns are used throughout

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