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The audacity of ‘woke’

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Aware. Knowledgeable. Active. Here's a look at the co-opted word that just might be the rallying cry of the next countercultural movement.

The meaning of the word "woke" used to be so simple before modern culture co-opted it. 

It was the past tense of wake: to become conscious after sleeping. 

But in some circles "woke" has taken on a deeper meaning. 

Woke, defined.
KPCC/Maya Sugarman
Woke, defined.

The new definition can be explained by Funmilola Fagbamila, an activist in residence at UCLA's Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy and an instructor in Pan-African Studies at Cal State LA. 

You might think of "woke" as a three-parter, Fagbamila said. That's because the definition doesn't just end at knowledge. To achieve the "woke" label, you must be willing to analyze the conditions in your community. Lastly, you must act. 

"It's essentially having your social justice ideologies be aligned with your daily practice," Fagbamila says. 

Woke owes much of its popularity to neo-soul artist Erykah Badu, who, in 2008, released the song "Master Teacher," which features the repeated refrain, "I stay woke."

Though "woke" originated in communities of color, Fagbamila says the term's meaning isn't about race, gender or income. However, "It is informed by all of those various forces within society and the world," she says. 

A case for 'woke'

While some are quick to write-off "woke" as an urban fad, Fagbamila contends that it's a significant part of the American vernacular.

"It's important that we acknowledge that to be "woke" means that you don't turn away from what's happening politically; that you engage, that you stay informed, that you do your research and figure out why it's happening," she says.

How does one do that? Fagbamila recommends looking to the past. 

"A lot of what's happening politically in this country now is not coming out of nowhere," Fagbamila says. "We have a lot of racial tension. There's a lot of gender tension. Religious freedom, academic freedom, gender justice — all of these issues are not just stemming out of nowhere," she says. 

She adds that, while woke is used to define a civil response to political forces, it's not party specific.

"The way that largely being woke is defined is acknowledging the intricacies of systems of oppression, what they have meant historically and what they mean now," she says. 

Press the blue play button above to hear why Funmilola Fagbamila says Donald Trump supporters aren't woke.

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