In the Know column: What does 'woke' mean?

The following is an opinion column written by one of the rotating writers of "In the Know." It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

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By John Stone

What in the world does the word “woke” mean? We certainly hear it in use and it seems to be mostly used in a negative way by some when they refer to some other’s concerns.

My old Merriam-Webster dictionary (2004) says woke is the past tense of “wake” as in “he woke up.”

Merriam-Webster brought new definition to the word “woke” in 2017 when it added to the term, “aware and actively attentive to societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice.)”

I don’t know, that seems pretty harmless to me. A couple of other definitions I found were “hip or open minded,” “very aware of social and political unfairness,” and “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination.”


I’d like to think I was considered hip and open minded! So would most political candidates of just about any political party. And I also would like to think that I was “aware and actively attentive to societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social injustice).” We all should be aware of such things.

A USA Today/Ipos Poll released last week reported that 56% of those polled agreed with the woke definition above about being attentive to social issues while 39% felt woke means to be “overly politically correct and police other’s words.”

Merriam-Webster’s online version goes on to explain that woke is a slang term derived from African American Vernacular English.

It further explains that it is “often used in contexts that suggest someone’s expressed beliefs are not backed with genuine concern.”

It can also used as a disapproving context meaning “politically liberal (as in matters of social and racial justice) especially in a way that is considered unreasonable or extreme.”

So maybe how it is used also depends upon what a person really feels is unreasonable or extreme. And just about everybody has a different view of that!

To that, being aware of social and political unfairness, is not a bad thing.

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, upon which this country was formed, reads as follows:


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their powers from the consent of the governed, that whatever form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such forms to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

And the first paragraph of the U.S. Constitution talks about “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…”

So having discussions about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is a core value of our democracy and it is the responsibility of the people of this nation as they do that to ensure that their government operates in a way that allows those rights to exist.

John Stone is the former mayor of Glenwood and former publisher of the Pope County Tribune and Starbuck Times. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.

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