In today’s social and political climate, being careful about what we say is on everyone’s mind. You say one wrong word, you make one insensitive comment, and you’re being accused of racism, white privilege or being ignorant. The problem is, though, that between the many social justice issues that we’re facing and the political correctness, people that are not especially familiar with the terminology and the proper way to be supportive are left confused and unable to navigate this complicated world. We’re not being taught how to be respectful in schools, neither are we being explained to how to address racist comments towards our friends or family.
The word “woke” has been used by celebrities, activists and, essentially, everyone. However, if you ask those people to define it, not many will know the proper usage. “Woke”, despite making a comeback in the recent years, is not a new term, but the majority of people still don’t know its definition. So, what does it exactly mean?
“Woke”, as defined by almost every prestigious dictionary, means being aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice). So, by this definition protesting, making slogans and posting long motivational quotes are all signs of being woke. The problem is that the word “woke” is considered to belong to black people. As a white person, you can’t call yourself woke and take credit for all the social injustice that minorities are fighting against. By doing that, you’re taking their voice away and it’s their voice that’s important in this fight. White people using the word “woke” is cultural appropriation at its finest. There’s a thin line between being an ally and taking something that belongs to a different culture and losing its true meaning in the process.
As a white person, being woke should mean checking your white privilege and using it to help instead of labeling yourself as a good conscious soul. The truth is, someone who is truly woke doesn’t feel the need to proclaim that to the whole world. Their actions reflect their beliefs. On the other hand, we should remember that dismantling patriarchy, calling out entitled white men and fighting against white supremacy doesn’t automatically grant you the title of the “wokest” person out there. The journey to true social justice is long and bumpy and requires commitment and sacrifices from all sides.
To be “woke” means to listen. To learn from the ones that are being oppressed without accusing others of not making a difference. You can start a conversation and attempt to make change, but you must remember that you can’t take the spotlight from the ones that have been suffering for decades. Being “woke” is like a relationship – you support your partner while they go out and fight for themselves and their rights. It’s not about labels or someone winning. The goal we’re all trying to reach is to have a socially just environment in which everyone can flourish and express themselves freely. We can’t have that when every word and action that has been originally attributed to the right cause is being mainstreamed and undervalued.
To put it simply, being “woke” means support and help. If you can acknowledge your privilege, you can also use it to give others a medium of communication with the uninformed part of the population. We need to start talking about things that are problems in our society because otherwise, we will never achieve any form of social justice and equality. So, go out there, and be “woke” instead of calling yourself that.