One of my housemates asked me a little while ago if I’d heard people describing themselves using the word ‘woke’. I’m interested in the use of this word because it’s been adopted by groups at both ends of the left/right political spectrum.
My understanding is that ‘woke’ comes from African-American dialect. People might tell each other to ‘stay woke’ as a reminder to pay attention, because the specific tactics being used to oppress African-American people are not static but always adapting.
In the last year or so, the adjective ‘woke’ has been adopted by activists in the dominant culture, left and right. At both ends of the left/right spectrum ‘woke’ seems to have been turned into a badge, an achievement that has been unlocked. There’s the sense in these contexts that once you’re woke you can no longer go back to being ignorant. This is like having chosen Morpheus’ red pill in The Matrix and now there’s no way back. (It seems like a lot of folks on the right see the term as being derived from The Matrix rather than from African-American dialect.)
Our business committee at Indigenous Hospitality House were talking about this yesterday. Staying awake is a theme during the season of Lent. As Settler Peoples seeking to work as allies to First Peoples, we need to emphasise the need to stay awake, not presume that we’ve achieved ‘woke-ness’. We need to be aware that it’s always possible that we’ve fallen alseep again, that we’ve stopped paying attention.