Friday, February 10, 2017

The Black Consciousness Movement, Spike Lee's Movie "School Daze", & The Vernacular Meaning Of "Stay Woke"

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest revision: 7/3/2017]

This pancocojams post provides information and comments about the African American afrocentric use of the English word "woke" (also given as "Stay woke!)".

The content of this post is presented for etymological, historical, and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
This post serves as a companion to the pancocojams post "The Egyptian Word "Hotep" & Its Various Contemporary African American Meanings"

I confess that I wasn't aware of the contemporary afrocentric use of the word "woke" until I happened that word's use in the Douglass- Tubman 2020 twitter page er he. That twitter account -which purports to be the campaign site for the self-resurrected 19th century African American historical figures Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman- has as its campaign theme "#MakeAmericaWokeAgain". I recognized that slogan's play on Trump's theme "Make America Great Again". But at first I thought that the word "woke" in that slogan was incorrect English which was purposely used to infer that the very articulate 19th century Black American Frederick Douglass spoke that way.

My apologies to whoever is responsible for that twitter page.

After doing some on-line research about the contemporary use of the word "woke" I now recognize that the Douglass-Tubman 2020 twitter page's "campaign slogan" is one example among a number of other examples of how witty and "down" (as in "hip") that twitter account's principle writer is.

Click for "The Self-Resurrection Of Frederick Douglass (Examples From The Douglass - Tubman 2020 Twitter Page" That is Part #3 of a three part pancocojams series about Frederick Douglass.

[added May 2, 2018]
The saying "stay woke" means "stay conscious about and vigilant regarding socio-political realities/issues". That meaning has its source in the African American consciousness movement and has expanded to the political ("Resist!") movement in the United States on twitter and (probably) elsewhere.

Here's one link to the use of "stay woke" in that context: "DeRay and Stay Woke Activists Launch Resistance Manual, an Open-Source Site Designed To Take on Trump" by Lindsey Ellefson, January 17th, 2017
*DeRay is activist DeRay McKesson, DeRay McKesson is African American.

Here's another example of that usage from the Resist! movement from a blogger who (from his avatar photograph) doesn't appear to be Black:
[regarding Trump's presidency ending in imprisonment, and/or resignation, or impeachment]

-Puesto Loco‏ @PuestoLoco May 12 [2017]
"It could have happened. Obama and GWBush have been working together to save us from our nightmare. Stay woke."

"According to, the contemporary African American Vernacular English meaning of the word "woke" is "being in a state of awareness: "Being Woke means being aware.. Knowing whats going on in the community" specifically relating to racism and social injustice....

Woke .... describ[es] someone who is enlightened and has a greater understanding of social injustices."
The vernacular meanings of "being woke" and "staying woke" are closer in meaning to the present tense of the word "awake" than it is to the past tense of that word. The opposite of "being woke" is to be "asleep" to (and unconscious of) the realities of neo-colonialism, institutional racism, and injustice, particularly as they refer to Black people (or as these refer to all People of Color).
for an article about the Black Consciousness Movement

In the late 1960s I was involved in the Black cultural nationalist movement in the United States (Committee For Unified Newark (CFUN)* which for most of the time I was a member was headed by Imamu Amiri Baraka (formerly known as LeRoi Jones). Members of that organization considered ourselves (and some other, but not all people who called themselves "Black nationalists") to be "conscious". And we also believed that it was our duty to encourage other Black folks to also become "conscious" (in the same way that we were). Once a week our organization would invite Black community members to attend a program that featured performances by the Simba Wachungas (Young Lion "African" boot dancers), a group that was composed of male only members of our organization who were in their teens or were young adults. That program also featured poetry readings and speakers who blasted the "establishment" and encouraged Black folks to unite to better themselves and their community. Similar to the exhortations that are heard during some Black church services, when Imamu or other speakers said something about institutional racism members of our organization would shout "Pull the covers off!", "Tell it!", "Yeah!" etc. "The covers" symbolized the obfuscations and institutional apparatus that hid the truth about this nation and the truth about who we really were: i.e. another common saying that we chanted is "We are an African people".

It occurs to me that our late 1960s' concept of being "conscious" is similar if not the same as the late 20th century or 21st century concept of being "woke" and needing to "stay woke".

I believe that the term "conscious" in the context of the Black consciousness movement/Black power movement and Spike Lee's "Wake Up!" scene have greatly influenced the coinage of the contemporary afrocentric terms "woke" and "stay woke". While reading articles about and examples of "staying woke" in this afrocentric context, I immediately thought of the "Wake Up!" scene from Spike Lee's 1988 movie, School Daze. That said, the lead character's yell that other students "Wake Up!" may have had more to do with them becoming aware of and ridding themselves of self-hatred and colorism than it did for them to be aware of institutional racism and other forms of social injustice. Then again, being aware of self-hatred and colorism is probably also what "being woke" and "staying woke" means nowadays in its afrocentric context and beyond (i.e. America and other nations need to wake up as to what has been going on and what is still going on regarding institutional racism.)
*For the record, I'll add that -unlike some other Black nationalist organizations at that time- The Committee For Unified Newark was a non-violent, cultural nationalist organization that didn't advocate violence and didn't advocate that Black people separate ourselves from non-Black people in separate states or by immigrating to Africa.

"School Daze is a 1988 American musical comedy drama film, written and directed by Spike Lee, and starring Larry Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tisha Campbell-Martin. Based in part on Spike Lee's experiences at Atlanta's Morehouse College, Spelman College, Morris Brown College and Clark Atlanta University, it is a story about fraternity and sorority members clashing with other students at a historically black college during homecoming weekend. It also touches upon issues of colorism and hair texture bias within the African-American community. The second feature film by Spike Lee, School Daze was released on February 12, 1988 by Columbia Pictures.

Vaughn "Dap" Dunlap (Fishburne) is a politically conscious black American student at Mission College, a leading historically black college whose motto is "Uplift the Race."[2] The college administration is portrayed as inept.

Dunlap leads anti-apartheid demonstrations encouraging students and school administrators to divest from South Africa. When his buddies go into town, they find the local boys are not impressed with their activities, but think of them as privileged college boys. Open conflict breaks out between the groups.[2]
Dunlap feuds with Julian Eaves (Esposito) aka Dean Big Brother Almighty of Gamma Phi Gamma Fraternity, Incorporated. This group is characterized as "wannabees," as in "wannabe better than me." The fraternity brothers are preparing for a big college football weekend and Homecoming parties. Meanwhile, Dap's younger cousin, Darrell (Lee), aka "Half-Pint," is a Gamma pledge.

The Gamma women's auxiliary, the Gamma Rays, who are sleek and light-skinned, confront non-Greek black co-eds, particularly over skin color and the nature of their hair…

The film received positive reviews for its exploration of issues within the black community. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times noted, "There is no doubt in my mind that 'School Daze,' in its own way, is one of the most honest and revealing movies I've ever seen about modern middle-class black life in America."[3] He also noted its frank exploration of issues of discrimination within the black community related to skin tone and nature of hair. He said it was significant as a film with a "completely black orientation. All of the characters, good and bad, are black, and all of the character's references are to each other."[3]...

SHOWCASE VIDEO: School Daze - WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!

6FT1BRUH, Uploaded on Jul 6, 2008


Dap's point in this movie was "to encourage the student body to wake up and take notice to what was going on around them. Things was getting out of control and it needed to stop.”…
Selected comments from this video's discussion thread:
These comments are numbered for referencing purposes only.

1. Veronica Williams
"Whenever I hear the song that's playing in the background, I start to cry. Especially when that horn part comes through. But the message itself and the idea that this scene stands for is so important. Go vote people...wake up....please.."

2. Nina Stephens
"thank you for saying that,No one could've said it better. Wake Up America,You need to vote,your voice needs to be heard"

"It's called "Wake Up Suite" by The Natural Spiritual Orchestra"

4. Nina Stephens
"people really need to "check that alarm clock and wake up",To whats really going on in america."

5. Stacy Seecharan
"too true, as Malcolm X said 'the greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to WAKE THE PEOPLE up first, then you'll get action' . This goes for all folks, in british show about northerners catching hell 'Boys from the blackstuff', the working class liverpudlians refuse to wake up and booze is the sleeping pill"

6. Ramon LeBlanc Harts
"WAKE - UP from self-hatred, greed, racism, etc.! Can I get a thumbs up?"

7. Maddygurl12304996
"The music ties in so well with the scene, I'm crying. The world needs to wake up and realize that we as people need to do better to make the world better."

8. Mike Instructor
"WoW... this is why Spike Lee is an artist of relevance. This clip is timeless... After watching Selma and just the current events in America... We need a Lauren Fishbourne call to Wake us up. That caption on this clip says it all...."PLEASE........WAKE UP.

Dap's point in this movie was "to encourage the student body to wake up and take notice to what was going on around them. Things was getting out of control and it needed to stop.
The calm and conclusive "WAKE UP" to the audience means "wake up from all the bulls&&t* we bring on ourselves and that we perpetuate in our community and neighborhoods and in, most of all, society."
But that sh&t was crazy the way he just woke up everybody out their sleep."
*This word was fully spelled out in this comment.

9. Andre Patterson
"One of Spike Lee's best scenes in any of his movies! I was 8yrs old when I saw this at the movies. I didn't fully understand the message, "Wake Up" then, but man do I have an appreciation for it now. I miss black movies and black TV shows with this type of message......."

10. Alexis Golden, 2015
"what are they waking up from?"

11. Joe L
"+Alexis Golden From their stupidity and ignorance."

12./ Honey Chiles
"BLACK PEOPLE!.......ITS 2016!..................WAKE UP!"

13. jojoko64
"Be awoke enough not to allow yourself to repeat history. Division is the fall before destruction, pull folks on all sides together. You are your hope, do not continuously allow yourself to be deceived. Peace!"
Notice that the commenter wrote "be awoke" instead of "be woke". I wonder if the phrase "be awoke" was used first and then shortened to the word "woke".

From "How to Stay Woke Without Making Everyone Hate You" By Dara, Jan 26, 2017
"So you’ve finally made it to the other side of #woke. Welcome! Don’t you wish you had a guide, somewhat like Neo had in The Matrix, to gently rouse you from your slumber? A Trinity to make staying woke less terrible? You’re woke…now what? Or, you’ve been woke, but no one took the time to explain how to be “conscious” without alienating everyone else. I’m late, but I’m writing this short guide to help all “woke” people be better humans.

Why are so many “woke” people so obnoxious?

I think most people wake up to the truth via clanging emergency siren. Woke people are some of the most annoying folks to be around. Cranky, impossible to satisfy, snappy, just like me when Bean wakes me up two minutes before my alarm rings. That must be why, when they encounter other people who still seem sleepy, they smugly smack them the rest of the way into being woke. So now everybody is irritated. I’ve come to realize that knowing the truth about oppression is not fun. It’s actually rather burdensome.

Being woke isn’t necessarily about recruiting others to join your cause, but in a lot of cases, it is. We always need more people to stand for justice. But we often make horrible ambassadors. The most common trait of being woke is unfortunately not compassion…it’s condescension. It’s almost as if learning how awful the world can be slowly makes us equally insufferable. Woke describes your awareness. It’s not a character trait. You can still be an a**hole no one likes, despite your stellar understanding of neo-colonialism.”…

And if you aren’t giving yourself respite from politics, social justice, and oppressive histories, then you should. It’s good for your mental health, and for everyone else’s around you, too. Go get some joy so we can enjoy the freedom we fight for.

4. If your freedom hinges on another group’s oppression, you aren’t all the way woke.

I understand why people get offended at the pejorative use of the word “hotep.*” However, I also understand how that word earned its negative connotation. Hotep as a diss would not exist if so many woke people did not routinely step over other groups in their quest for liberation. You can’t claim woke and exclude women’s rights. Black LGBTQ people have shown up for every major modern (American) freedom movement without having that same courtesy extended to them by other “woke” people.

5. You can’t “save” everybody. But your politics should.

The world is becoming more woke by the minute. But you also have to realize that not everyone will come to the same understanding as you. (Even that sounds condescending, sheesh!) Every debate isn’t worth it. Learn when to avoid a futile, unproductive shouting match. Everyone will not come to your conclusions, no matter how much you present your evidence. That’s frustrating as hell. I know. Even if they don’t agree with your stance, even if you can’t stand them, the liberation you fight for has to be for them, too. Just disengage them rhetorically."...
Click the link given above for the pancocojams post about the word "hotep".

Update: 7/3/2017
"A category on “Jeopardy!” Friday night woke audience members right up, but for not quite the reason you’d expect.

The popular quiz show unveiled a category called “Stay Woke,” prompting celebratory Tweets from some viewers because the term is used by groups like Black Lives Matter to encourage people to stay aware of social and political issues....

But as it so happened, the category didn’t feature questions on current events or injustices. The term, which the Oxford English Dictionary last month noted is derived from African-American vernacular, was instead about sleep and staying awake, in the literal sense. The questions’ answers included melatonin, caffeine, and the stimulant product NoDoz.

Obviously, Twitter had a lot to stay on the matter, with some viewers suggesting that the category was “disappointing” and suffered a “major miss.”...

[including this tweet]

Cover to Credits @Cover2Credits
#Jeopardy is like, "Let's do a category called 'Stay Woke' and then only ask the three white, male contestants about sleep habits."
7:07 PM - 30 Jun 2017"

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