Why the misuse of ‘woke’ has to stop
Its co-option and misappropriated by mainstream media means we’ve forgotten what and who the word was created for, says Hanna Flint
Saturday 29 October By Hannah Flint
Spike Lee once said, ‘I’ve been saying “wake up” before it was chic to be woke.’ His filmography certainly backs up that claim. His second feature, School Daze, ends with Laurence Fishburne breaking the fourth wall to tell the audience, after running around the entire campus, to ‘wake up’. It’s the 1988 film’s last line of dialogue and the first line in his next, Do The Right Thing, which came out the following year and speaks more explicitly to the violent injustices against Black people in America.
‘Wake up’ means to stay alert and not get complacent about the discriminatory societal ills that plague marginalised communities – especially if you are part of one. ‘Woke’ has been used by Black people since the 1930s but by the 2010s it had earned even more attention in the African-American vernacular as a necessary means to stay vigilant to potential racially motivated threats and microaggressions. Nowadays, it’s clear that the word has been co-opted and misappropriated by mainstream media.
The Welsh actress Rakie Ayola was confronted by this while making an appearance on BBC Breakfast to talk about the second season of her show, The Pact, in which she plays a social worker who is contacted by someone claiming to be her long-lost son. Presenter Victoria Fritz asked what she would say to someone claiming that the Black family she heads up in the show is a ‘woke version of a Welsh family’. Ayola gave a blazing response.
‘If anybody wants to say that to me, what I would say first is explain what you mean by “woke” and then we can have the conversation,’ the actress said. ‘If you can’t explain it, don’t hand me that word. Don’t use a word you cannot describe. Because you don’t know what you mean.
‘Or maybe you know exactly what you mean and you’re afraid to say what you mean, so let’s have that conversation… You daren’t, do you know what I mean? Sit there and tell me what you mean by “woke” and then we can talk about whether this show is “woke” or not. Because then I will introduce you to a family just like this one.’
Is Shirley Bassey a woke version of a Welsh singer? Come on, guys. The idea that Black people or families don’t have historic roots in every corner of Great Britain is simply racist. Ayola, who was born in Cardiff, shouldn’t have to prove her Welsh credentials and that’s exactly why her eyes rolled so hard on that BBC Breakfast sofa.
‘So when you say they don’t exist when they clearly do, are you saying that they’re not allowed to exist? What do you mean by that?’ Ayola said. ‘Let’s have a proper conversation. Don’t throw words around willy-nilly when you’re not afraid to say exactly what you mean. If you don’t know, please be quiet because you’re incredibly boring.’
It is incredibly boring to see the bad-faith usage of ‘woke’ nowadays. It’s been turned into a pejorative word to define anything that is considered remotely socially or culturally progressive or to criticise diverse representation. I’m certainly finding it very gauche to see the word used inaccurately, especially by people outside of the culture it was created. I recently read a House Of The Dragon review by a white critic who described a character’s secret web of spies as a ‘woke mob of sex workers’ and rolled my eyes harder than Ayola.
She said what needed to be said and I can only hope people, especially those in mainstream media, will take heed and wake up to the discriminatory narratives they are perpetuating by hiding behind this word.
Well, well, well…
Pour a lemon drop out for Leslie Jordan. The American actor sadly passed away on October 24th in a car accident at the age of 67 and the world is darker for it. I grew to love Jordan as Beverly Leslie, Karen’s frenemy in Will & Grace whose perfectly-timed ‘Well, well, well’ arrivals never failed to earn a cheer from the audiences watching in the studio and at home.
Since then, he has lit up the silver screen, small screen and, more recently, phone screens thanks to his Instagram videos. His pieces-to-camera have been hilarious and blunt; he told ‘Miss Putin’ to come out of the closet in response to the Russian president’s homophobic policies and his ‘Daddy, watch me twirl’ routine went viral.
Jordan was a delightful, Southern darling and brilliant talent who knew exactly how to steal a scene and turn a simple line into an iconic statement. He will be missed.