The "woke" generation
Black Lives Matter and other movements working to change social injustices have continue to bring African American millennials to the forefront. The millennial generation has redefined the term "woke" as resurgence of social consciousness. Movements such as these have triggered a trend of growth in cultural appreciation and for many in the black community an overall pro-black message.
"Woke" was redefined through its usage in African American Vernacular English and since has been added to Webster's dictionary, July 2016, and is becoming more understood by people of all backgrounds. To be aware of systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those related to civil and human rights, is the definition the term woke has been given.
“For so long black people have played it safe. I don’t feel like we had any choice but to become woke,” said Wyman Stewart, EMU senior.
The process of becoming woke is a knowledge based journey to achieve a greater cultural understanding. A by product of becoming woke is displayed through cultural appreciation. The movement is making strides to obtain equal opportunity, and develop a society in which to be different no longer has any negative connotation.
“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.
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.”
The young people within this movement 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 visible 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,” he said.
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 conscience 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.
Social movements have a pattern of being magnetic. The trendiness of things has allowed millennials to be so interested in being at the table that now they find them self sitting at the table.
“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.”