Emmy Griffin / November 11, 2021

Is ‘Woke’ Now a Racial Slur?

In the era of misappropriating words, this was never an attack against a particular race.

Language is an ever-evolving tool that people of all walks of life use daily. In this ever-changing landscape in the battle over words, enter Joel Anderson, a writer for Slate. In a recent social media post, he states: “If you’re not black and started using ‘woke’ pejoratively sometime post-2018 or so (or worse, don’t know anything about the earlier iteration of the term), I think it’s fair to consider it a racial slur.”

Anderson has been very outspoken in this position for years now, saying that it was originally a slang word used in black communities and has since been appropriated. If you type “what does woke mean” into Google, the first result from Wikipedia seems to confirm Anderson’s argument. But if we break down the etymology of the word “woke,” originally it was an English word denoting the past tense of the word wake, meaning the act of coming out of sleep. So … the appropriation claim kind of backfires since that word was commandeered by blacks who were fighting racism in the 1940s.

It’s also unclear how this word, if used by a white person, is a racial slur. “Woke” has been used by activist groups and transcended racial distinctions. In modern use, according to one article: “Woke refers to being awake and not asleep. One Urban Dictionary contributor defines woke as ‘being aware of the truth behind things 'the man’ doesn’t want you to know’. Meanwhile, a concurrent definition signals a shift in meaning to ‘the act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue.’” At the end of the day, “woke” is more closely associated with left-wing activism than with race in particular. And to top it all off, it is a term that is self-ascribed by the activists themselves. Just because black activists originally used it in the way it is used today does not make it a racial slur. It is not directed toward a person of any race in particular but a political ideology.

We do have modern words that actually are racial slurs. Take the word “Karen,” for example. The word is one that is widely used by people to describe a certain type of white woman. According to a Newsweek article, a “Karen” is a women who is entitled, irritating, and who often sports a bob haircut. She is the type of high-maintenance customer that would ask to speak to the manager at the slightest offense. It has, however, become more than that. It is now a term used to refer to white women that certain people don’t like. There’s even a movie called “Karen” and the plot is exactly what you’d expect. I.e, the name is a pointed attack. Our condolences to any white woman unfortunate enough to bear that name considering the current cultural usage.

“Woke” is also not a word used to attack, merely to describe. Leftists, most of whom would call themselves “woke,” are guilty of making up words and terms to belittle their opponents all the time. Made-up words like “white fragility” or “cisgender” most certainly are more derogatory labels rather than merely descriptors. Yet when leftists are called out for using them, they turn around and claim that right-wing pundits came up with these words. In a video by Not the Bee, the speaker discusses a tweet by “The View” personality Sonny Hostin, who claimed words like “illegal alien,” “state’s rights,” “politically correct,” and “woke” were all examples of “how the right wing uses language as a weapon.” Interesting, since all of those terms were brought to popularity by Democrats.

“Woke,” as it is used, is not racial in the slightest. It is, however, political. It is used by conservatives to describe leftist malcontent “activists.” It was even used by those activists to describe themselves until five seconds ago. In this war for words, “woke” has come a long way from its original usage and arguably has transcended any racial context beyond etymology.

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