Thoughts on “woke” from the “definition of wokeness” herself


Credit: Genevieve Morrison

WSPN’s Genevieve Morrison discusses the partisan discourse surrounding the concept of “wokeness.”

Genevieve Morrison

For the past few months, critics have flooded my WSPN comment section. They’ve had a wide range of complaints, from my field hockey skills to my writing. These commenters have (falsely) accused me of “mutilating a young girl” and referred to me as several fun names, from “menstruator” to “the definition of wokeness” to “literal cancer.” And oh, the threats! They’ve wished that I get stung by a horde of wasps and even threatened to my journalism class to hold me hostage. The most extreme of which was when these commenters leaked the address of my old house (thinking I lived there). There is a common thread in between this variety, however. Somewhere, hidden behind the warnings and sprinkled in between the misogynist nicknames, all of these comments labeled me as “woke.”

Opening my writing up to the lawless abyss that is the internet obviously invites some level of criticism, so I can’t be too offended. If anything, it makes me proud that someone is reading my little articles. Not only that, but they feel a reaction from them, albeit a negative one. After some initial shock, I took my haters in my stride. All publicity is good publicity, right? But I kept thinking. The comments themselves, even the harsh ones, weren’t what fazed me. What intrigued me the most was how this one word could become my defining criticism.

I have never claimed to be woke. In fact, I criticized the concept in an article last year. In spite of this, something about my opinions seem to scream it, for better or for worse.

Woke wasn’t always a weapon. Just a few years ago, “woke” was a positive word, and “wokeness” was a positive concept to have. It was initially used in the African American community as a word for those who were aware of social justice issues, namely discrimination against the Black community. Terms like “cancel culture,” “politically correct” and “social justice warrior” have suffered this same doomed fate. Not bad words, just badly connoted.

Instead of remaining the simple, positive concept that it was in its inception, wokeness suddenly warped into a perpetually moving goalpost, doomed to be chased by progressives. Its definition changed day to day, and the proudly worn badge of honor that it granted its possessors was always under the threat of being snatched away by the mob without warning.

Woke-ism served a dual purpose. Not only was it a way to communicate progressiveness, but it was also a hip way to say you’re speaking the language of young people, something that out-of-touch politicians are always desperate to do. It isn’t just young people-speak though.

It’s impossible to talk about this issue without recognizing how “staying woke” is just another saying that finds its etymological origins in African American vernacular. In an age where Black language is constantly commodified and misused by nonblack people, it’s not surprising that this word has changed in the way it has. In some ways, that is the nature of language: to evolve over time. However, there is something to be said about how Black vernacular is incessantly used and abused until unrecognizable from its original meaning.

The word sat ill-fitting on the tongues of self-proclaimed “hip” progressives for a time. Then, conservatives caught wind of this concept and rode it off into the sunset. Seeing it as the next big talking point, our Grand Old Party drove the word into the ground, drilled it with a jackhammer and then built a mall on top of it. The terminology was relentlessly mocked by everyone from Donald Trump to Marco Rubio and my commenters. As shown by these acclaimed figures, wokeness finds its most impactful meanings in politics.

Republicans unabashedly use the terminology even in legislation. Rubio recently introduced the Mind Your Own Business Act, stating the intentions of the bill as “[enabling] shareholders to hold woke corporations accountable.” It’s the quickest way to debunk any policy you don’t like. If it’s bad and left-leaning, it’s woke, and that’s the end of the conversation.

When it comes to a tangible, clearly defined meaning, the co-opters really don’t have much. It’s used to own the libs, and that’s enough for them. As South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick so aptly said, “I guess it’s just instinctual — like you know when you see it.”

So I humbly ask you, readers, to consider my articles not as the malicious agenda of a “woke menstruator,” rather what they truly are: subjective commentary from a 16 year-old journalist.”

— Genevieve Morrison


To their credit, it’s a smart debate strategy, if a lazy one. Call someone this dreaded word and then whatever they may respond with will be heard through hands clapped over the audience’s ears, believing that your only objective is to seem empathetic to your fellow liberals.

It goes without saying that this is not the goal of my writing.

I humbly ask you, readers, to consider my articles not as the malicious agenda of a “woke menstruator.” Rather, consider them as what they truly are: subjective commentary from a 16 year-old journalist.