Community Voices

Young Observers Mid-February 2023: Teen Observer

Inclusivity: The Real Reason Behind the “Woke” Movement

In our hugely polarized society, if there is one word that is heavily politicized, it is the term “woke.” I have always been curious about the ideology behind this word because it seems to be so controversial. It can provoke an overreaction in some people, especially the politicians who do not support this ideology. It also suggests a negative connotation when used to describe those who subscribe to it.

I know almost nothing about the term “woke” except the faint idea that this originated from the black minorities in our country and in commemoration of the Black History Month this February, join me as I share the surprising facts I learned about this word below.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “woke” is a slang word that is used as an adjective referencing awareness or vigilance to issues concerning racial and social justice. It is also used to refer to those who claim to support this ideology and promote it on their social media but their everyday conduct does not reflect this ideology (fake woke). To those who do not support this ideology, the term “woke” is used sarcastically to refer to extreme liberal political ideology (a.k.a. progressivism).

This ideology traces its origin exactly 100 years ago in 1923 when a black publisher and political activist, Marcus Garvey, introduced the call out “Wake Up Ethiopia! Wake up Africa!” to promote social and political awareness for global black citizens.

In 1938, the term “woke” was first used by Blues musician Huddle Ledbetter (a.k.a Lead Belly) when he advised a group of black teenagers accused of raping two white women in Scottsboro, Arkansas, “best stay woke, keep their eyes open.” Lead Belly wrote the protest song “Scottsboro Boys” to describe the teens’ ordeal.

The 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri led to the mainstream use of the phrase”stay woke” to promote vigilance against violence inflicted on the black community.

Social media helped popularize the word “woke” and was associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement founded in 2013. Amid the controversies associated with the “woke” ideology that was originally intended to advocate for racial and social justice, the closest I can relate to it is finding out that this year my high school has added a new course referred to as “Ethnic Studies” that is a mandated course for Class 2025.

The 2022-2023 course packet distributed last week indicates that “the focus of Ethnic Studies is to encourage students to have a better cultural understanding of American racial and ethnic diversity as well as how different American ethnic groups have both struggled and worked together.”

As a multiracial high school student, I am grateful for this development because I am more than open to educate myself on the diverse cultures that are celebrated not only internationally but also within our community. I cannot help but celebrate the fact that the Ethnic Studies is a key accomplishment of the “woke” movement.

1 reply »

  1. Wow! This is the best description of what “Woke” is that I have ever read. Love that Fullerton High School District is offering ethnic studies classes. When I was in school (many years ago) – we did not have a class like that. I always wondered why history only featured white males. I highly recommend Howard Zinn’s “A Peoples History of the United States.” He put everyone left out back in and it makes so much more sense! Thank you Francine!