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Updated Jul 30, 2020 at 08:38AM EDT by Y F.

Added Jan 22, 2016 at 02:17PM EST by Ari Spool.

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Woke, derived from the phrase " awake," is an Internet slang term often used to demonstrate the need for awareness of an issue, particularly those relating to social justice or the Black Lives Matter movement. The term is also used ironically in a similar manner to Wake Up, Sheeple.


The earliest known instance of the "woke" as slang for political or social awareness comes from an article in the New York Times magazine. On May 20th, 1962, the Times published a piece on white beatniks appropriating black culture by African-American novelist William Melvin Kelley entitled "If You're Woke, You Dig It." The article also included a cartoon with the phrase (shown below).[8]


The expression continued to bubble to the cultural surface over the next 50 years. In Garvey Lives!, a 1972 play by Barry Beckham, the author writes "I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I’m gon stay woke. And I’m gon help him wake up other black folk."[8]

In 2008, recording artist Erykah Badu used the phrase in her 2008 song "Master Teachers" from the album New Amerykah Part 1: The 4th World War (video below).[1]

The phrase was first defined on Urban Dictionary on August 19th, 2014, where the definer linked it directly to the 2014 Ferguson Riots. [2]

Deriving from "stay awake," to stay woke is to keep informed of the shitstorm going on around you in times of turmoil and conflict, specifically on occasions when the media is being heavily filtered- such as the events in Ferguson Missouri in August 2014.

A later definition, on February 17th, 2015, helped define the ironic usage by providing the following textual example:

5'2" white guy: I swear I've been in the gym getting ready for the NBA Draft!
Person in touch with reality: Stay woke lil nigga. You ain't shit

The phrase continues to be used in both non-ironic and ironic ways on all platforms. The hashtag #staywoke is in wide use on Twitter,[3] Tumblr,[4] and Instagram,[5] where it has more than 128,000 associated posts. In summer of 2015, programmers Darius Kazemi and Courtney Stanton built a Twitter bot called @StayWokeBot,[6] intended to automate replies to those who might need more education about racism in society. On January 5th, 2016, MTV declared that "woke" was a new slang term for the new year, but many commenters noted that the term was not new.[7]

On June 27th, 2017, the Oxford English Dictionary officially added "Woke" to the dictionary, defining it as:

"Originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice; frequently in stay woke (often used as an exhortation)."[9]

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External References

[1] Genius – Erykah Badu – Master Teachers

[2] Urban Dictionary – Stay Woke

[3] Twitter – #StayWoke

[4] Tumblr – #StayWoke

[5] Instagram – #StayWoke

[6] Twitter – StayWokeBot

[7] MTV – Teen Slang 2016

[8] Oxford English Dictionary – How ‘woke’ fell asleep

[9] Oxford English Dictionary – Woke Definition

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