Even the most casual social media user has almost certainly seen references to the slang term "woke," as in "stay woke." People who have not or do not have any idea what the term means are probably not woke, but even many who use it regularly are not always using it right.
"Woke" is a slang term that originated in the African-American community, gained traction on social media and has now permeated mainstream culture. In the vaguest terms, "woke" refers to an intangible level of awareness about community issues and social justice, but the specific meaning changes depending on the speaker. The Black Lives Matter movement is often credited with popularizing the term as a rallying cry for social justice. In fact, BET made "Stay Woke" the title of its new documentary about the movement, which premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. EDT.
According to Fusion, the first notable use of "Woke" is the 2008 Erykah Badu song "Master Teacher." In it, Badu sings about dreaming of a world with racial equality before urging listeners to "stay woke" — stop dreaming and confront racial injustice in reality.
After the Badu reference, the term slowly started to gain traction on "Black Twitter," a virtual community on the social media platform of loosely associated people discussing black culture and issues that affect the black community. However, it was not until the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old African-American teen, by neighborhood watchman George Martin in Florida and the subsequent birth of the Black Lives Matter movement that "woke" caught fire.
Now the term is commonly used to refer to an awareness about the persistence of racism in America, especially systemic racism, as well as to mockingly refer to people, especially white people, who have newly educated themselves on those social realities. Its use has also expanded to include other social justice issues, such as gender equality.
"Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement" will air on BET as part of the network's "Truth Series" and tell the story of the group that popularized "stay woke." The movie will highlight many Black Lives Matter protesters and how the movement has grown since its early beginnings in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting.
— Laurens Grant (@LaurensGrant) May 26, 2016
“While there is no easy answer on how to address or solve the systemic issues of race and justice across our nation, we have a commitment to bringing these conversations and stories of social change to light through platforms like our ‘Truth Series’. BET is determined to encourage meaningful dialogue that galvanizes change,” said Stephen Hill, BET's president of programming.
If the documentary does its job, a lot more people will be able to consider themselves "woke."