‘WOKE’ NOT WOKE

activism, slang and politics collide, and a slur goes viral

The Woke and the Un-Woke - Tablet Magazine

UK feature-writer Sirin Kale took to Twitter last week to voice a complaint heard often recently, particularly from the ‘left’ and ‘centre-left’: ‘I would really like it if people stopped using “anti-woke” and “woke” as lazy journalistic descriptors when they can’t be bothered to actually spell out what a person’s views are. Say what they believe and the reader can decide for ourselves what we think of it.’ In the ensuing conversation @yoyomorena was blunt: ‘The sooner we can understand ‘woke’ as the anti-black, racist code it has become, the sooner we can get back to normal lives.’ Yesterday, on the same platform, a query by Tom Whyman pointed up the way a once-proud self-ascription by the socially aware had fully transited to become the go-to pejorative for conservative journalists and politicians, fighting back, as they see it, against an array of enemies: ‘Is it me or have the right wing press in the past few weeks started using the word ‘woke’ as if it refers to an organised political tendency, as opposed to just a loosely arranged constellation of things they don’t like?’ As if to furnish instant corroboration a Telegraph headline of the same date announced…

Image result for Citizens advice service' launches to help employees in woke

Citizens advice service’ launches to help employees in woke workplaces

The organisation will provide help to ‘casualties of the culture wars’

London journalist Kate Ng had asked me about the same red-flag-buzzword last week and her subsequent piece in the Independent is here…

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/woke-meaning-word-history-b1790787.html

As it has morphed from positive to negative in its connotations, (by 2019 Urban Dictionary‘s top definitions were emphatically negative: ‘The act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue’ and ‘Deluded or fake awareness’) woke has spawned elaborations along the way: woke-washing, by analogy with whitewashing and greenwashing, was coined to describe brands attempting to use, or at least proclaim, a concern for social justice as a marketing strategy; wokerati, woke-worthies and woke warriors dismiss critics of white privilege and social inequality, while Wokeahontas was invented in the US to define and mock a female enthusiast for native American rights.

The question that Kate and I had discussed briefly has not, I think, been raised before: must the victims of sneering and jeering by powerful opponents abandon their identity label, attempt somehow to reclaim it, or find a substitute for it? I canvassed an assortment of people, most of them it must be said not identifying as conservatives, on possible candidates to replace ‘woke’. Nobody suggested the words that progressives of my own generation once embraced; ‘radical’ or ‘liberationist’, but this is no surprise. The first now sounds ambiguous while the second was appropriated by neocons and conservatives in the US more than a decade ago. No real workable favourites emerged and no consensus was reached, but the formulations we considered are gathered in this wordcloud for what it’s worth…

An earlier article in the Guardian traces in some detail the trajectory that ‘woke’ has undergone, with useful comments on the controversies accompanying its mutation…

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/nov/21/how-woke-became-the-word-of-our-era

Why Any Literate Person Should Never Use the Word 'Woke' Ungrammatically -  Daily Squib

7 thoughts on “‘WOKE’ NOT WOKE

  1. I’m aware that I’m reiterating some of your comments. I always think of ‘woke ’ as being social awareness. It has alas been taken over as a put down. A word that is used by people to mock those that are .. what would’ve once been called ‘right on’.
    There aren’t any appropriate words that one can use. The word itself has become sullied.
    I propose that we start again .with a different word. When I’ve come up with one that works I’ll let you know.

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  2. By coincidence I have just been discussing with a Parisian friend these terms and any in French which might approximate to ‘woke’ in that language. He confirms that ‘bien pensant’ has always had that tinge of disapproval or condescension or mockery, or all three, even more so nowadays. He came up with ‘progressiste’ – another double-edged compliment or passive-aggressive disapproval. I was reminded of a very dated term of the 60s, ‘éclaté’ which then meant cool and enlightened but usually due to drug use.

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  3. Gosh I’d forgotten all about ‘éclaté’, I lived in Paris in 1969 & 1970. I was too young (or fortunate to be part of the drug scene but I found the word was used to mean ‘cooool’ what nowadays would be ‘sick’.

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  4. I asked people online to tell me if it is still used. This was one response: “Eclaté is sometimes used for drunk or high, and also for “having a really good time” [Je me suis éclaté]. I have also noticed it being used for outlandish/over-the-top, “des opinions éclatées”

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