The millennial generation of African Americans has redefined the term "woke" as resurgence of social consciousness.
“Essentially it’s your life that becomes manifested as “wokeness.” Being woke is that consciousness all the time,” said Nyambura Njee, EMU senior, “For me it's like oh that was a micro-aggression, oh that was colorism, oh thats was racism, oh that was sexist. It’s through the everyday interactions that being woke is manifested.”
Black Lives Matter and other movements working to change social injustices have continued to bring African American millennials to the forefront. Movements such as these have triggered a trend of growth in cultural identification and appreciation within the black community, and for many an overall pro-black message, which has led to the creation of the current connotation attached to the term “woke.”
"Woke" was redefined through its usage in African American Vernacular English and since has been added to Webster's dictionary, July 2016,due to the terms growing usage it is becoming more widely understood by people other backgrounds.
“There have been conscious people since controlling systems and ideology has occurred. Since then there has always been people resistant to it, so people have always been conscious, but the term came about from black millennials and has been co-opted and put back into mainstream,” said Njee.
The process of becoming woke is a knowledge based journey to achieve a greater cultural
understanding, often accompanied by a greater cultural appreciation . Woke is defined as, to be aware of systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those related to civil and human rights.
“Being woke is a huge matter of the way one thinks and processes, and one experiences the world that makes you woke or not,” said Njee, “I think there are people that are aware of the things that define someone as woke, such as being aware of race, systems of control, but don’t have the words to describe what they are feeling, and in some cases that can be the difference between a person being viewed as woke”
“Woke” millennials or millennials within the transition to become “woke” have been labeled as fearless by many, including scholars such as Dr. Victor Okafor, EMU professor and Department Head of Africology and African American Studies.
According to Dr. Okafor, the current era of social consciousness has similarities to the level of consciousness experienced by young black men and women during the civil rights movement. However one difference is the more widely broadcasted showing of the extrajudicial killings of young African American men that have occurred in succession in this country.
“Teenagers said to themselves it could have been me, for example Trayvon Martin could have been them,” said Dr. Okafor. “That jolted many young men and women and caused them to rethink some assumptions they had made about where America is, and where it is headed.”
“People are not born with racial consciousness. Racial consciousness is a function of how the environment has shaped the psychology and thinking of an individual,” said Okafor.
“This generation at times puts a lot on the line to use their voices, and that could hurt them down the line if they lose their decorum and integrity through their expression of being woke,” said Gregory Thomas, EMU Interim Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs, Diversity Community and Involvement.
However, Thomas believes the aggressiveness of this youth movement will work as a change agent through the awareness it creates. Beyond cultural appreciation this term has manifested into protest, rallies, marches, demonstrations, and so forth.
“I believe millennials are braver than prior generations,” said Kya Fordham, EMU sophomore, “It is no slight towards them because they had to survive, but millennials have become less willing to back down.”
Social media helps to nourish social consciousness and social awareness within this era because it distributes information and brings more people into the fold. It’s human nature for conscious people to identify themselves with a movement perceived as “good” or designed to secure the freedom of fellow human beings.
“The trend itself is pushing them to become woke. I believe some people are drawn in because they see it and view the movement as these are my people, and they are doing it so I want to do it. In that motion of doing that, they begin to learn, and in that learning process they begin to feel like this is what it is all about,” said Thomas
There are not only positive benefits of reaching as state of being “woke.” Several millennials expressed feelings of exhaustion associated with more obstacles due to greater consciousness achieved through their transition into becoming “woke,” but they expressed more positive outcomes than negative, and many expressed an overall feeling of responsibility that have to themselves and their heritage to become “woke.”
“When you're woke you have to become more empathetic, more critical, more so many things that you weren’t when you weren’t woke, and so I think that being woke is just better for the world,” said Njee.
The term woke has become a huge part of the conscious social movement in the African American community. Social movements such as these have a pattern of being magnetic. The trendiness has allowed millennials to be so interested in being at the table that now they find them self sitting at the table.
Emanuel Terrel, EMU alumnus, recently created a documentary titled, “Noir Voices,” that touches on millennials view on race, the history of African Americans in America, and current social issues within the black community.
“Noir Voices, touches on topics that assist in furthering the audience's level of “wokeness” because the documentary expands on topics the African American community doesn't expand on,” said Terrel, “To me being woke isn't just using the term and voicing all the negatives about African American people and their communities. However, to me it's more about literally opening your third eye and looking at different perspectives from all kinds of viewpoints and coming up with an interpretation of your own through the understanding of all different perspectives.”
“Woke” millennials are working to make strides to obtain equal opportunity, and develop a society in which to be different is no longer associated with a negative connotation.
“If you truly want to connect with a culture or who you are then you can’t just be one sided and not the other,” said Fordham. “You can’t just be the person that has their fist in the air if you aren’t going to also be the person that fights for change.”