The concept of woke should be put to rest

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The concept of woke should be put to rest

Students stand together wearing shirts that advertise activism.

Students stand together wearing shirts that advertise activism.

Kathryn McAuliffe

Students stand together wearing shirts that advertise activism.

Kathryn McAuliffe

Kathryn McAuliffe

Students stand together wearing shirts that advertise activism.

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It seems cyclical. Every week there’s a new trendy cause to support. Whether it be sharing a post to your story to save the rhinos or tagging an Instagram post with as many activism-themed hashtags as possible, people take to social media to soapbox and indicate to their followers that they are aware of issues in the world around them. They wear their awareness like a badge of honor, a badge that symbolizes their self-awarded “wokeness.”

The term woke, defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a reference to how people should be aware in current affairs,” traces its roots to a New York Times article by American novelist William Melvin Kelley, where he wrote about African-American slang and its relations to white people. Years later, the term was revived and popularized through Erykah Badu’s 2008 song Master Teacher. Badu’s lyrics include the phrase “I stay woke,” which later became a prominent chant of Black Lives Matter protests. Thus in 2014, woke became a widely used word.

Today, however, “woke” has evolved into a trendy hashtag; something people claim to be when it’s convenient for them. What began as a word used by the African-American community to encourage awareness of injustice has turned into a badge of honor that people can wear for the mere “accomplishment” of being knowledgeable on current events. We must stop praising people for mere awareness and nothing more.

Awareness of events isn’t an accomplishment and shouldn’t be praised as such. Instead, awareness should be the expectation.

Make no mistake: having an in-depth understanding of racial issues and other problems facing our society is great. That understanding is crucial to taking positive steps forward as a country. That said, understanding something won’t create change; only action will.

The concept of woke hinders change because it awards those aware of but complicit with problems in the status quo a false sense of superiority. This, in turn, produces no change and allows those complicit to remain lazy. Woke deters action because it allows individuals to feel as if they’re creating change even though they are not. Woke does not encourage action, yet action is what creates change. Being woke should be the standard, not the highest possible bar that one can clear. 

By praising people for simply being aware of current events, we let it stop there. No further action is encouraged, and action is what creates real change.

We must encourage people to go beyond woke. When someone supports an issue, ask them how. Ask them about specific actions they’re taking to create change. Challenge them to transcend a simple understanding. Challenge woke people to take action.

Students should strive to take meaningful action and have productive conversations on current issues in our society. Students should use their power to empower.

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