Exploring the History of ‘Woke’

Navigating Racial Equity Terminology

I’m thrilled to connect with you again on our shared path towards building a racially equitable business. Today’s blog carries a topic close to my heart, one that holds immense importance in our collective journey: the concept of “woke.”

In the world of racial equity, understanding the meaning behind the words and terms we use is paramount. Misinterpretations or incomplete knowledge can lead us down the wrong path, hindering our progress towards true inclusivity. I’ve seen it time and again—people being influenced by unreliable sources, inadvertently adopting beliefs that do not align with their values, and consequently becoming disheartened with the work for racial equity. Often the feeling of “this is too hard” or “I don’t want to get it wrong” come to the surface and literally hinder us from growth. Ever heard of the saying growth never comes from a place of comfort? The same applies in our racial awareness journey.

So, let’s tackle this together. Allow me to shed light on the origins and significance of “woke” so we can navigate this term with clarity and purpose.

“Woke” finds its roots in African American vernacular English (AAVE). I’m not going to dive into that today because how AAVE came to be is a whole masterclass on its own and deserves the time and space to be unpacked properly. Perhaps an upcoming blog in the future? Let me know in the comments below.

Anyway, back to our lesson. The word woke dates back to the 1920s. It was a powerful call to the Black community to remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings, in a bid to help them stay safe due to the racial discrimination that was overt and rampant. The phrase “stay woke” originated after a moving blues song was performed in the presence of a Black audience, a poignant response to the unjust arrests of innocent young Black boys in Alabama.

As the years passed, “woke” underwent a transformation, gaining prominence in the digital era, especially on social media platforms like Twitter. However, this transformation brought both positive and negative consequences. While it allowed the term to reach a broader audience, it also led to a change in its connotation.

In the current landscape, “woke” has become a somewhat divisive word, associated with extreme views and ideological battles. It’s essential to recognise this shift in meaning so that one is not misled.

By understanding the authentic history of “woke,” we can reclaim its true essence—empowerment, awareness, and a commitment to positive change. When we have  this kind of knowledge, we can engage in meaningful discussions, challenge misconceptions, and work towards a society that is truly inclusive.

This is one of the reasons that led me to create my brand new resource. A free racial awareness glossary featuring 20 must-know words. This resource will not only provide you with insights into the historical context of these terms but also equip you with the knowledge to navigate discussions on race, privilege, and inclusivity with courage rather than fear.

Ready to embrace true understanding and empowerment in your journey towards racial equity? 

Download your complimentary copy of the Racial Awareness Glossary.

Together, we can foster a community that values empathy, compassion, and diversity—where everyone’s voice is heard, and no one is left behind. As we deepen our understanding of these important terms, we’ll be better equipped to cultivate environments that uplift and empower individuals from diverse backgrounds.

With Love,

How I can support you:

👉🏾 Want to build a racially equitable online business? Join the waitlist and be the first to find out when doors to my 10 week signature program REPRESENTED open in September 2023. Join REPRESENTED waitlist

👉🏾 Are you a woman of colour coach needing support to grow your coaching business? I’d love to help you grow a sustainable and profitable business. Find out more and book a free strategy call.


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