To Be or Not to Be Woke

By: Peggy Willms


(4 min read)

Am I ignorant or stupid? That is the question. Well, actually, the question is, “What does ‘woke’ really mean and where did the slang derive?”

I hope I am not added to the “cancel culture” list.

Etymologists study the origins of words and the way their meanings change over time. In my quest for a deeper understanding of ‘wokeness,’ I fell down a rabbit hole.

Let’s jump over to Wikipedia for a quick lesson. “Woke is an adjective derived from African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), meaning “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination.”

Beginning in the 2010s, it came to encompass a broader awareness of social inequalities such as sexism. Woke has also been used as shorthand for some ideas of the American Left involving identity politics and social justice, such as white privilege and slavery reparations for African American. The term was added to the Webster’s Dictionary in 2017.[1]

As with any conversation, there is a risk of hurting someone’s feelings, blabbing when you do not have all of the facts (who has ALL of the facts anyway), or worst of all coming across as hypocritical because you aren’t walking the talk. At this time, I am at risk of all of the above. 

Slang has been around since the beginning of time as it is an “informal” adjective or noun used to identify someone or something “outside” the “original” group—the OGs. In many cases, slang words are offensive. The worst part is that many slang users have no idea of their origin.

Slang words often create a multitude of emotions, stir up suppressed memories or even invoke angry behavior. Here are a few slangs many of us have heard or used ourselves, and I bet many of you do not know of their origin.

Blackmail, black sheep, blacklist, ghetto, gypped, lowest on the totem pole, Paddy wagon, peanut gallery, pow wow, sold down the river, and uppity.

Yesterday, I again heard the slang “woke.” It certainly has gotten traction over the past few years. I didn’t think much of the term until it was mentioned in such a casual conversation, it caught me off guard.

Enter the scene…

I come into the kitchen for my typical evening snack of a bowl of blueberries. I had been binging a Japanese reality TV show. Yes, I watch dubbed and subtitled TV.

I walk past my better half, gasping, “OMG, this Japanese show I am watching…you could never say some of the things they do in America without getting into a load of trouble. This gal just told this guy in front of a dozen others, “You like Itsuki because she can cook and you are fat so she will make you happy.”

My guy replied, “There are so many things we cannot say now because everyone is ‘woke.’” His response stopped me in my tracks. Woke? Woke? Woke?

Wake up. Wakening. Awoke. Come around. All of these terms seem light-hearted. To me they mean…learn more, self-reflect, growth. In today’s world, the word “woke” seems more of a controversy or slammed insult. I live in Florida and until this morning, I didn’t know what the Stop WOKE Act was. A slang has now become law?! I set off to inform myself. I do not want to paraphrase, so here you go. Again, thank you, Wikipedia.

“Among the uses by Republicans is the Stop WOKE Act, a law that limits discussion of racism in Florida schools. A program of eliminating books by LGBT and Black authors from schools was conducted by the Florida government and by vigilantes calling themselves ‘woke busters.’

The Individual Freedom Act, commonly known as the Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, is a Florida state law that regulates the content of instruction and training in schools and workplaces. Among other provisions, it prohibits instruction that individuals share responsibility for others’ past actions by virtue of their race, sex, or national origin. After passing both chambers of the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature along party lines, it was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis on April 22, 2022, and entered into effect July 1 of the same year.

Intended by DeSantis to ‘fight back’ against ‘woke indoctrination’ and critical race theory, critics of the law have described it as whitewashing and an attack on the First Amendment. U.S. district judge Mark E. Walker declared parts of the law relating to workplace diversity training unconstitutional in August 2022, and in November, he issued a temporary injunction preventing the law from being enforced in higher education.[2]

When I write, as I am sure when you do, my intent is to share my thoughts and experiences and enhance my personal growth in the process. I choose to be the “bringer togetherer (not a real word) of people.” My writing is not intended to divide, but I recognize that our history and personal habits bubble up yucky emotions and memories. My question is what are you going to do with those emotions? How can you use them for the betterment of mankind?

I welcome your views, opinions, and recommendations, as should you from others. I ask that your conversations be held with respect and the intent to come together and understand one another more.

Moving forward, I ask you to ask yourself, “Do I know what this word means, and is the value in using it?” If the answer is yes, become informed of its origin and be prepared to upset the apple cart when you blurt it out.

After drinking two cups of coffee and learning more about being WOKE, I am now “a”woke.




Peggy Willms
                                                                     All Things Wellness, L.L.C.

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