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The first time I heard the word “woke”, it was in Spike Lee’s movie School Daze. Dap Dunlap (played by actor Laurence Fishburne) played the “woke” student at fictional HBCU, Mission College, whose predominantly Black student body was divided by interracial stereotyping.  

At the very end of the film, Dap runs to the middle of campus, furiously rings what symbolizes a liberty bell and calls for an end to the madness by yelling “Wake up!” for the entire campus to hear. At that moment, everyone did in fact wake up and left their rooms to join Dap in the aha moment to unite.

Ever since –  and even before then  – “wake up” or “stay woke” has been used as a call to action to and by Black people to open our eyes to injustice and unite against any internal or external forces wanting to destroy or control our community. 

Now, “wokeness” is in the throes of cancel culture–being propagandized by politicians to force Americans to choose between conservatism or progressiveness or, ugly truth versus blissful ignorance. But what these politicians really want is an end to activism, particularly in education.

Conservatives want to keep us asleep

The anti-woke campaign ramped up amid the release of the New York Times’ 1619 Project. While some celebrated the effort to “revise the historical narrative of America”, others pushed back–especially when there were talks of developing a curriculum around the content to teach in schools.  

From there, it developed into a battle to ban “critical race theory” with some organizations pushing for teachers to wear body cameras for monitored instruction.

Then it exploded into a series of national assaults prohibiting conversations on race, gender and sexual identity in classrooms with the implementation of laws to barring certain books.

And currently, wokeness is being blamed for the recent rise in mass shootings. In an interview with Fox Business, Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson said, “We stopped teaching values in so many of our schools. Now we’re teaching wokeness, we’re indoctrinating our children with things like CRT, telling some children they’re not equal to others, and they’re the cause of other people’s problems.” 

Dr. King was woke

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said“There are all too many people who, in some great period of social change, fail to achieve the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in our world today. It is a social revolution, sweeping away the old order… The wind of change is blowing, and we see in our day and our age a significant development. … The great challenge facing every individual graduating today is to remain awake through this social revolution.”

There aren’t better words to describe what’s happening today. These aren’t anti-woke campaigns–they’re dangerous, predatory slumber parties.

Conservatives have taken words used to empower us, co-opted, villainized and are now using them against us all in an effort to thwart a social revolution. They want us to remain asleep and indoctrinated in a country that offers no peace, no space and no voice.

Open your eyes. Reclaim wokeness.

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work--"If not me then who?" As a strategist and injustice interrupter, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for radical...

One reply on “Conservatives have co-opted and villainized the word “Woke””

  1. I agree with everything except the last sentence… But first I would add that its not just maga co-optimg the term, my socialist acquaintances have, my father in law the professor says his white upper class students have, etc what these and others have in common is – that they have less in common with the original meaning of woke and bring to it their own particular social issues many unrelated to the community who coined it.
    . But to the first point, the word is lost for a variety of reasons and is probably irretrievable.

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