What is Woke?

I have written several articles on postings related to Big Tech, Social Media and Corporations. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on these Industries.

Woke, as a political term originating in the United States, refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. It derives from the African-American Vernacular English expression “stay woke“, whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues. By the late 2010s, woke had been adopted as a more generic slang term broadly associated with left-wing politics, socially liberal and cultural issues (with the terms woke culture and woke politics also being used). It has been the subject of memes, ironic usage and criticism. Its widespread use since 2014 is a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. But popularity has diluted its meaning and the idea has been cynically applied to everything from soft drink to razors, attracting criticism if too liberally applied.

The terms ‘woke’ and ‘wide awake’ first appear in political culture and political ads during the 1860 presidential election in support of Abraham Lincoln. The Republican Party cultivated the movement to primarily oppose the spread of slavery as described in the Wide Awakes movement. J.  Saunders Redding recorded a comment from an African American United Mine Workers official in 1940 (“Let me tell you buddy. Waking up is a damn sight harder than going to sleep, but we’ll stay woke up longer.”) Lead Belly uses the phrase near the end of the recording of his 1938 song “Scottsboro Boys“, while explaining about the namesake incident, saying “I advise everybody to be a little careful when they go along through there, stay woke, keep their eyes open”

Many, perhaps most, Americans are just now waking up to the meaning of “woke.” What does “woke” have to do with looting, bricks, fires, and blood in Portland, Seattle, and Minneapolis? One asks oneself, “Am I woke (good)? Or not woke (evil)? How woke is woke, how much wokeness is enough, and who decides?” In short, woke implies a new state of elevated, more highly evolved moral consciousness. As such, wokeness requires a new vocabulary to express its new concepts.

Woke language is full of terms such as “toxic” (even “catastrophic”) masculinity, “whiteness,” “white privilege,” “white fragility,” countless new pronouns and genders, “systemic racism,” “cancel culture,” “social justice,” “gaslighting,” and “de-platforming,” most of which are casually or arbitrarily defined, if at all. Wokespeak also includes some old chestnuts from the ‘60s and ‘70s: “white supremacy” (kind of hard to square with the election and re-election of Barack Obama), “off the pigs” (kill the police), “police brutality,” political rants against segregationists like “Bull” Connor and George Wallace, and new complaints about previously sanitized-and-approved commercial images of long-suffering “Aunt Jemima” and “Uncle Ben.” Moldy slogans from 1965 lend wokeness a gauzy, almost nostalgic atmosphere—but pay heed. One thing wokeness does not tolerate is humor. Another is memory.

On June 14, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr, gave a commencement address called Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution at Oberlin College:

There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution […] The wind of change is blowing, and we see in our day and our age a significant development […] The great challenge facing every individual graduating today is to remain awake through this social revolution.

Michael Rectenwald is a Woke guide, a lapsed Marxist and former NYU professor, who gained Twitter fame as “@AntiPCNYUProf.” His latest book, Beyond Woke, collects 22 essays and speeches that help explain this reigning leftwing obsession. Rectenwald defines “woke” as “the political awakening that stems from the emergence of consciousness and conscientiousness regarding social and political injustice.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because woke and social justice are quasi-religious concepts. “Woke” evokes epiphany while “social justice” is best thought of as a whole new (god-free) religion, complete with original sin, confession, saints, and martyrs.

Our author explains:

Like the saved Christian, the social justice woke becomes penitent about previously unacknowledged sin, sin for which they must atone. Under social justice, sin is having acted carelessly from a position of privilege, without sufficient recognition or concern for those whose lack of privilege makes one’s privilege possible.

Beyond Woke plumbs the origins of woke social justice in the new religion’s sacred texts from Marx and Nietzsche to Popper, Foucault, and Marcuse. Rectenwald knows them well, having been a Marxist for 15 years.

The first modern use of the term “woke” appears in the song “Master Teacher” from the album New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) (2008) by soul singer Erykah Badu. Throughout the song, Badu sings the phrase: “I stay woke.” Although the phrase did not yet have any connection to justice issues, Badu’s song is credited with the later connection to these issues. To “stay woke” in this sense expresses the intensified continuative and habitual grammatical aspect of African American Vernacular English: in essence, to always be awake, or to be ever vigilant. David Stovall said: “Erykah brought it alive in popular culture. She means not being placated, not being anesthetized.”

Implicit in the concept of being woke is the idea that such awareness must be earned. The rapper Earl Sweatshirt recalls singing “I stay woke” along to the song and his mother turning down the song and responding: “No, you’re not.” In 2012, users on Twitter, including Badu, began using “woke” and “stay woke” in connection to social and racial justice issues and #StayWoke emerged as a widely used hashtag. Badu incited this with the first politically charged use of the phrase on Twitter; she tweeted out in support of the Russian feminist performance group Pussy Riot: “Truth requires no belief. / Stay woke. Watch closely. / #FreePussyRiot.” By the late 2010s, “woke” had taken to indicate “healthy paranoia, especially about issues of racial and political justice” and has been adopted as a more generic slang term and has been the subject of memes. For example, MTV News identified it as a key teen slang word for 2016. In The New York Times MagazineAmanda Hess raised concerns that the word has been culturally appropriated, writing, “The conundrum is built in. When white people aspire to get points for consciousness, they walk right into the crosshairs between allyship and appropriation.”

In an article for Time magazine journalist Alana Semuels detailed the phenomenon of “woke capitalism” in which brands have attempted to include socially aware messages in advertising campaigns. In the article she cited the example of Colin Kaepernick fronting a campaign for Nike with the slogan “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” after Kaepernick caused controversy by refusing to stand for the US national anthem as a protest against racism. The term “corporate wokeness” has also been used by conservative writer Ross Douthat. Feminist writer Helen Lewis wrote a long article for The Atlantic criticizing the minimal efforts some companies make to feign progressivism while maintaining existing power structures.

Both the word and the concept of woke culture or woke politics have been subject to parodies and criticism by commentators from both conservative and progressive backgrounds who have described the term as becoming pejorative or synonymous with radical identity politics, race-baiting, extreme forms of political correctnessinternet call-out culturecensorshipvirtue signalling and as part of a general culture war. It has also faced a backlash for its perceived negative influence on academia, corporate advertising and the media. British conservative author Douglas Murray expresses criticism of modern social justice activism and “woke politics” in his book The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity. He has also argued that woke is a movement with reasonable goals in mind but that it is “kind of overstretched and so a lot of people have been taking the mickey out of the woke in recent years and a lot of people themselves aren’t so keen to be described as woke.”

In 2019, Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked, described individuals who promote woke politics as people who tend to be identitarian, censorious and puritanical in their thinking or a “culture warrior who cannot abide by the fact there are people in the world who disagree with him or her.” He also claimed woke politics to be a “more vicious form of political correctness.” The former United States President Barack Obama expressed comments that were interpreted as a critique on the woke culture, stating “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re politically woke, and all that stuff — you should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.” Fictional internet personality and social activist Titania McGrath, who was created by comedian Andrew Doyle, has been described as parodying ideas promoted by woke thinking.  Doyle himself has criticized the idea of woke politics as being in a “fantasy world”.

Late last year, Andrew Sullivan wrote about woke social awareness as an equal but opposing position to Evangelical Christianity:

And so the young adherents of the Great Awokening exhibit the zeal of the Great Awakening […] they punish heresy by banishing sinners from society or coercing them to public demonstrations of shame […] We have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical.

In 2018, science fiction author John Ringo published a paper in which he argued that brands using overt political commentary in their advertising ran the risk of losing market reach and having profits decline. The idea has been encapsulated by the expression “go woke, go broke.” High profile examples of this phenomenon include the release of the film Terminator: Dark Fate:“Another possible reason for the new movie’s lackluster performance would be its reputation as a “woke” reboot of the franchise… Whether this is true or not, this reputation could have soured some potential ticket-buyers from attending Dark Fate showings in an era where many Americans are starting to feel movies, TV shows, and other forms of entertainment are just getting too politically-correct. Coined by bestselling author John Ringo, the phrase “Get Woke, Go Broke” certainly comes to mind.” (Jeremy Dick, MovieWeb). Other high-profile marketing campaigns to which the term have been applied by observers include Nike’s aforementioned Colin Kaepernick ads, and Gillette‘s “toxic masculinity” campaign.“Advertising is increasingly the battleground of the culture wars, with big brands like Target, Nike and Starbucks copping backlash, and praise, for taking sides in divisive social and political issues like race, gender and sexuality. But by alienating roughly 50 per cent of potential customers, many brands end up taking a hit to their bottom line – “Get woke, go broke.”” Another cited example of this approach is the 2020 film The Invisible Man.

Like COVID-19, the emergence and ubiquity of wokeness this year may have seemed sudden, but the Left has been seeding university curriculum with woke terms and concepts for years. Yet, unless you hang out in college lecture halls, you may find yourself struggling with this new political vocabulary. Clearly, we need a guide to help us understand Wokeland. Who better than someone who once was woke but then became an apostate?

Big corporations on the look out for ways to develop attachment with their target audience, saw an opportunity beyond adopting human traits (humility, passion, sophistication) to adopt human behaviours (activism). Riding on consumer tensions, corporations became activists, fighting for injustice. Nike’s social injustice campaign (featuring Colin Kaepernick), Pepsi’s short-lived advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner, and Gillette’s take on toxic masculinity, were among the most talked about examples. But brands without a clear moral purpose were perceived by an increasingly cynical public as inauthentic: lecturing in morality but not practising what they preached. This spawned the meme “get woke, go broke”. On the one hand, corporations triggered public debate on key issues, on the other hand, they damaged the woke concept.

Going forward, brands will likely balance activism with safer and perhaps less polarizing consumer engagement. Gillette’s latest campaign shifts the brand’s focus from big issues to more traditional local heroes. Fearful of global public backlash, corporations will first test their woke concepts and brand purpose ideas in more localized markets. Coca Cola’s recent pro-LGBT ad campaign in Hungary, or Cadbury’s “united in one bar” campaign in India are examples of this approach.

Brand activism has become the new marketing tactic of choice, and a brand’s stance on societal and political issues can offer a differentiating factor in a fast-paced corporate marketplace. Historically brands have not engaged in social and political conversations for fear of potentially alienating customers, but our current research shows savvy brands are recognizing that marketing budget spent on good causes can have the greatest reach and impact. However, while consumers expect big brands to take a stand, they may not believe them when they do. Brands can be perceived as being appropriate in their messaging around social and political causes, and yet not authentic. True brand equity for activism marketing thus hinges on whether or not the brand engages in practices that match its message.

Activism vs genuine practice:

This research inspired the creation of a brand activism typology. The purpose of the typology is to examine the alignment between the degree of activism marketing (high vs low) with the degree of authentic practices (high vs low). These dimensions represent the degree of brand practice that authentically aligns with social causes versus the degree of brand marketing and promotion around social causes. In other words, this approach measures whether brands are practising what they preach. The resulting typology reveals when brands are more likely to be perceived as “woke washing” – inauthentic in their marketing, as their practices may not clearly align with their messaging. Some brands have neither messaging nor practices that are pro-social. Some have both high authenticity of practices as well as clear messaging around their practices and support for social causes. For these brands, expectations and perceptions match, and they are “honestly not woke” or “honestly woke” brands respectively.

Some brands, however, have authentic social engagement practices yet do not take many steps to market and position themselves as being corporate social activists. These “woke but silent” brands have an opportunity to use marketing to highlight authentic practices. Other brands have unclear or indeterminate records of social cause practices even though they use social activism marketing to position their brands in the marketplace, referred to as “woke washing”.

No room for neutrality:

In today’s post-modern culture, corporate neutrality has been subject to criticism. Remaining ambivalent on controversial issues is now more of a failure than an asset, especially in the eyes of certain consumer groups. Yet, how can brands walk the line between consumer expectations and perceptions of in authenticity?

Our initial findings show brands should be genuine, relevant to their core purpose or brand promise, and ensure their practices support their communications. Marketing communications and campaigns that center on long-term brand engagement make the most sense to consumers. Companies seeking to embrace corporate social activism must also have patience. Be in it for the long haul, and brands might just find customer support in the connected world.

I have researched the hell out of this subject, trying to make sense out of it. I guess I am getting old, because it just seems like a lot of BS to me. And I know if Colin Kaepernick has anything to do with it, you know it has to be BS. I have written 180 plus articles for my blog so far, and I have to say I am at a loss with what to do with this Woke trend. It seems to me that no matter what you do to appease the left, they just want more. And each demand is more unreasonable than the last one. At some point in time the willingness the pour money into these bottomless pits will end. They will finally end when these large companies finally realize that no matter what they do, it will never be enough. I hope it is sooner than later. Colin Kaepernick was a second rate quarterback at best, but apparently he is very intelligent. Because he is making more money now than he ever would have playing football. Because he would have been a backup at best. Now he has countless corporations including the NFL bending over backwards to make him happy.


en.wikipedia.org, “Woke,” By wikipedia editors; jamesgmartin.center, “Woke Me When It’s Over,” By David Clemens; theconversation.com, “Where ‘woke’ came from and why marketers should think twice before jumping on the social activism bandwagon,” By Samantha Sophia; theconversation.com, “Woke washing: what happens when marketing communications don’t match corporate practice,” By Alba Vigaray; theaustralian.com, “Too woke or welcome? Oscars rules explained,” By KEVIN MAHER; nypost.com, “Oscars’ woke quota will backfire on Hollywood spectacularly,” By Kyle Smith;


The Oscars take another step into Oblivion:

The Oscars, we all know, have a diversity problem. When the Los Angeles Times reported in 2012 that the Academy membership was 94 per cent white, 77 per cent male and 90 per cent over 50, it was greeted with shock and a vague aspirational commitment towards inclusivity. When in 2015 and 2016 there were no black nominees in all four acting categories, the Academy made a commitment to membership change.

In 2019 the Academy announced that the membership was now 84 per cent white and 68 per cent male. In the same year all four acting categories contained only a single non-white nomination (for Cynthia Erivo, as Harriet Tubman in Harriet) even though some of the best films of the year were showcasing diversity, eg The Last Black Man in San Francisco, The Farewell, Clemency and Waves.

The problem inevitably reflects a wider imbalance in the industry. All the film sets that I visit, including those of the Hollywood blockbusters, are predominantly male and white, and often (especially in the UK) sprinkled with young martinets who are working for peanuts while Daddy foots the bills. The new Oscar inclusion rules aim to tackle that by asking for at least 30 per cent of crew members from under-represented groups (including women), with the same applying to interns.

Where the new Oscar eligibility rules come unstuck is in their attempt to dictate the creative narratives. It’s no longer as simple as white people telling white stories and black people telling black stories. Ditto for men speaking for men, women for women. To employ that decision-making strategy is a fatal error. One of the strongest black movies from last year, Waves, for instance, was written and directed by a white Texan called Trey Edward Shults (who handed his script to his black cast to be transformed by their experiences). The powerful drama The Last Black Man in San Francisco was directed by a white San Franciscan, Joe Talbot, from a story that he had written with his best friend, the black actor Jimmie Fails, who is also in the film. In the UK the choice of an actor of Indian heritage, Dev Patel, as David Copperfield in Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield was a masterstroke because it reinforced the boy’s sense of alienation from a mostly white establishment. But did that make it a non-white film? And if so, who cares?

Starting with 2024 films, your project can’t even be considered for a Best Picture Oscar unless it meets a set of diversity targets of the kind you’d normally expect to see credited to the Oberlin Freshperson Student Social-Justice Initiative & Sustainable Vegan Hemp Co-Operative. Good news, whoever staged that Rob-Lowe-meets-Snow-White dance number: You’re now the second-most embarrassing thing ever associated with the Academy Awards.

To boil down the long, complicated new rules: To be eligible for best picture, a film has to check two out of four boxes. One is to represent glorious 21st-century American diversity in its casting (a problem if your movie is set in, say, pretty much any other time and place); another is to have two minorities or women as heads of departments; another is affirmative action in the marketing and distribution departments.

The easiest criterion to meet is apprenticeships for members of underrepresented groups, meaning anyone but straight white non-handicapped males. Welcome to low-paid internships, people of color! I’m sure Hollywood race relations will feel totally chill five years from now, when every java boy and latte girl serving America’s showbiz aristocracy is black. Soon the last surviving copy of “Gone with the Wind” will be locked in a vault accessible only to scholars of racism, but you’ll be able to see Tara re-enacted in Burbank and Culver City. Yet since we know that the real controversy revolves around black representation, what the Academy announced this week isn’t going to mollify its critics for long. People who fancy themselves America’s most daring creative leaders will soon be cringing at another hashtag, conceding sin and publicly flogging themselves in the course of announcing yet another round of woke reforms. The Academy has, however, opened the door to considerations other than merit. Its reputation will suffer accordingly. Nobody would watch the Super Bowl if they suspected a great team was disqualified for reasons other than how well it played.

So it appears that we will give inferior movies the Oscar awards just because they are directed by black directors. If you are that director or actor do you really want an award knowing that you only got it was because of your skin color. Nobody in the industry will respect them. You are taking away the meaning and the value of these awards. So maybe they haven’t won anything in a while is because they are producing crap that nobody wants to watch.

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