Unveiling the Woke: Navigating the Complexities of a Political Buzzword

Words by Carmen Macri 


Before we get started, I find it necessary to generously bestow upon you the profound revelation that “woke” is, indeed, the past tense of “wake.” I mean, who knew, right? But now, let’s get into how this term has become a symbol of a modern culture war.


The term “woke” is an adjective originating from African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), signifying being “attentive to racial bias and discrimination.” The phrase “Stay Woke” has its roots dating back to the 1930s within the framework of heightened awareness concerning social and political matters impacting the Black community. 


During the 2010s, “woke” decided it needed a wardrobe change. It went from being exclusively concerned with African-American issues to embracing a buffet of social inequalities. Suddenly, it was all about eradicating racial injustice and sexism and championing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.


Not content with its earlier catalog, “woke” became the poster child for American Left ideas, including the wonderfully complex world of identity politics and the quest for social justice. It even took on the role of a linguistic shortcut for concepts like white privilege. 


Essentially, being “woke” meant being politically correct (kind of).


But that is not where the evolution of “woke” ends, of course: that would be too easy and too short of a story. No, much like everything else in politics, the word is ever-changing. What was once a word to signify social injustice and change, is now a derogatory term used to slander Liberal Democrats for god knows what. 


While the term seemed to have resonated with the Democrats, it’s the Republican party that can’t seem to get it out of their mouths. Republicans are wielding it as a versatile tool to denounce anything within the progressive realm that doesn’t sit well with them. This includes subjects such as teaching about racism in schools, gender transition policies and even books in libraries they consider unsuitable. Or when Disney remakes a movie and includes LGBTQ+ or Black characters. That is just unthinkable! How dare Disney decide to be inclusive. A Black mermaid? NO. 


That actually brings us to our favorite Gov. Ron DeSantis. Are you tired of us writing about him yet? Well, if he would stop giving us reasons to, we would. Trust me. 


Ronny Boy has made it his life mission to make Florida “anti-woke” in any sense of the word. In every campaign rally, speech or tweet, DeSantis has mentioned it. But his silliest “woke” battle, in my opinion, is his warpath on Disney, which resides in our Sunshine State. This feud followed the controversial “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” that was passed in March 2022, when several members of the corporation and even their then-chief executive, Bob Chapek, made remarks criticizing the bill. That was when DeSantis granted Disney their new nickname; “Woke Disney” (clever) and decided to sue the company (also clever).  


He even went as far as to say this during a recent event in Virginia regarding Florida’s wokeness: “We have made Florida the state where woke goes to die. The woke mind virus represents a war on merit. It represents a war on achievement.”


What does that even mean… Genuinely asking. 


I will say, Republicans are not the only party at fault for how “woke” has been misused and misrepresented, obviously. Their hatred for the term had to stem from something other than it representing social and racial injustices, that would, again, be too easy. 


The perception of “woke” as a negative term began to gain some traction in the 2010s, particularly among those who viewed it as associated with excessive political correctness, identity politics and what they saw as overly zealous social justice activism. It intensified in 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd protests and the polarized discussions surrounding racial and social justice issues. When the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement began and bore the term “Stay Woke” it seemed like the tides were shifting. “Woke” went back to its original origin — highlighting racism, discrimination and racial inequality. 


Cue the too-far-left Liberals.


Following the death of George Floyd and the rise of the BLM movement, the already polarized political parties split even further. Peaceful protests turned violent in the name of BLM and “staying woke.”  While the intentions may have been pure in the beginning, they didn’t stay that way for long. Liberals took “woke” and made it something wholly different. It was now a war cry for overcorrection. 


Sometimes being too politically correct is a bad thing, well, most times. Just as Republicans have their far-right extremists — Trumpies — the far-left has something equally as terrifying — Libs. (Not to be confused with your run-of-the-mill Liberals. There is a difference.)   


During the lockdown in 2020, when everyone became chronically online, something very, very strange happened, but that is to be expected when the entire world shuts down. We saw a surplus in the LGBTQ+ community — or as the Republicans would call it, the alphabet army (sarcasm). Now let me preface this, I wholeheartedly support the LGBTQ+ community. Everyone has a right to be who they are and love who they love, that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about the moral superiority that came with it and how members within the community began overreaching in the name of being “woke.” Or when opposing opinions simply could not exist, and if they did? People were then deemed homophobic or transphobic for simply disagreeing with a few of the remodeled terms and conditions that most had not realized changed, the overreaching alienated moderate supporters. 


Once again, driving the wedge between the two parties even further because “wokeness” in gender ideology is not a pretty sight. 


Take, for instance, the case of Canada’s oldest women’s domestic violence shelter in Vancouver. In 2019 they lost their local authority funding because they stood their ground on the admission of trans women (biologically male). Sure, they could’ve handled things differently, but in the name of “inclusion,” the local authority claimed a short-term victory. And the result? An essential service became crippled, division intensified and the long-term damage to the cause was undeniable.


 It seems people now demand nothing short of rigid conformity to their newfound focus on gender ideology and a pecking order of wokeness that’s tearing apart the progressive agenda.


The term “one bad egg could spoil it all” is essentially exactly what happened. (Albeit, it was a few more than just one egg).


When the Libs took the term and morphed it to fit their agenda, that is where “woke” went to die (at DeSantis’s discretion). Once a symbol of heightened awareness to racial bias and discrimination is now more like a badge worn proudly by those leaning a tad too far to the left, which conveniently becomes ammunition for those a tad too far to the far right.


It’s unfortunate, really, for all of the moderate Democrats. Being “blue” does not equal being “woke.” But in the eyes of politics, and everyone within the sphere, you are what your party is. How drab. 


A perfect example would be this fascinating piece of mail we received only a few days ago when we sent out our Holiday Ad Gift Guide: “As I don’t agree with your ‘Woke’ agenda, I would not even consider advertising in your rag.” (Thank you, SignsPlus! And oh, yes, thanks for being a “Folio” reader too!)


Now, what “woke agenda” are they referring to? As an alternative news magazine (emphasis on magazine), I don’t see us having any real agenda, other than to inform and entertain. But since we are a bit left-leaning (thank you, Ronny Boy), of course, that means we are “woke”… how silly! 


We’ve reached a juncture where the true meaning of this word is as clear as mud. Republicans tossing it around seem to be in the dark about its real essence, while the Libs are contorting and reshaping it to suit their ever-evolving agenda.


So we are left at a standstill. Do we reclaim the word? Or let it die at the hands of those who don’t quite grasp what it stands for? 


Or, do we pull a Nancy Pelosi and be damned to an eternal hell of “wokeness” for wishing American citizens a happy “Schwanza” instead of “Kwanzaa.”

About Carmen Macri

Since a young age, Carmen Macri knew she wanted to be a writer. She started as our student intern and has advanced to Multi-media Journalist/Creative. She graduated from the University of North Florida and quickly found her home with Folio Weekly. She juggles writing, photography and running Folio’s social media accounts.