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Friday, June 9, 2023

How "woke" identifies the mean and stupid

 I cringe when white people bandy the term "woke" about as if they know what they are saying.  It is a term that has a special meaning and a special history.  It comes out of the American black community where one might hear a person say, "He be woke."

To white people, it sounds like an ungrammatical term for being awake.  Most white people don't realize that much of black language that sounds ungrammatical to them is code language that means something quite specific to an American black.  There is a vocabulary and a body of songs and stories that fool the honkeys but sustain the blacks.   We refer  to Negro Spirituals and assume they are songs about going home to Jesus, such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."  It is actually a song about the UnderGround Railroad and escaping slavery.

When a black says "he be woke,"  it means a person who understands the oppression that black people have been subjected to and is willing and able to provide a way out of it.   The term woke comes directly out of the Underground Railroad.

William Still, a black man in Philadelphia, who had family held in slavery, operated an Underground Railroad station.  He compiled a book of letters exchanged in conducting the business of helping people escape slavery.    One of the letters he received announcing that some fugitive slaves were being sent to him was from Petersburg,  Va., in 1860 signed by an agent who called himself Ham and Eggs.  In part, the letter says,

I want you to know, that I feel as much determined to work in this glorious cause, as ever I did in all of my life, and I have some very good hams on hand that I would like very much for you to have.  I have nothing of interest write about just now, only that the politics of the day is in a high rage, and I don"t know of the result, therefore, I want you to be one of those wide-a-wakes  as is mentioned from your section of country now-a-days, &c.  Also, if you wish to write to me, Mr. J. Brown will inform you how to direct a letter to me.

No more at present, until I hear from you; but I want you to be a wide-a-wake.

                                                    Yours in haste,

                                                    HAM & EGGS*

To be aware of the failures of our democracy and endeavor to correct them is what t means to be woke, in the jargon of abolitionists. A woke person will understand that slavery and segregation have vestiges that still operate in our institutions.  Critical Race Theory posits that remnants of discrimination and oppression linger in some of our laws and institutions and can be identified and rooted out, as part of making democracy more perfect.  Some people who rail against anything woke are simply too ignorant and stupid to understand the origins of the term. And some actually long for the good old days of racial oppression. Critical Race Theory is not a subject matter that can be taught in schools.  It is a process of being aware that racial discrimination still exists and is practiced in parts of our culture.

It really gets tiring to hear the term woke because it is so misunderstood and misused.  At one time it referenced the efforts to make democracy more perfect.  Its contemptuous use identifies those who would repeal the Thirteenth Amendment and re-establish racial oppression as the American way.  Rather than call oneself woke, it is better to simply advocate for the principles of American democracy--liberty, equality, and justice.

But if you want to know who the opponents of democracy are, note who rants and raves against woke.  Then you have to decide if they are simply incredibly stupid or if they are among those who would like to end democracy.  

 *William Still, The Underground Railroad Collection:  Real Life Stories of the Former Slaves and Abolitionists



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to fact-check any of this or try to dispute the main point of the post in any way. With that, I'm going to say: Sure, this is a great background on the term and it's very interesting to learn of it's origins and where it came from.

Conceding that, I think that the meaning of the term has changed significantly since then and what it means now is NOT the same thing it meant 160 years ago. This is not uncommon in language as it evolves and shifts. It is good to realize and understand where things came from, but also to know that the current meaning has changed over the years, sometimes more than once.

Consider the meanings of these things in 2023 as compared to 1860:
...the list could go on

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