Woke (// wohk) is a term, originating in the United States, that originally referred to awareness about racial prejudice and discrimination. It subsequently came to encompass an awareness of other issues of social inequality, for instance, regarding gender and sexual orientation. Since the late 2010s, it has also been used as a general term for left-wing political movements and perspectives emphasising the identity politics of people of colour, LGBT people, and women.
The phrase stay woke had emerged in the United States by the 1930s. Developing within African-American Vernacular English, woke referred to an awareness of the social and political issues affecting African Americans, especially racial prejudice and discrimination. In this form, it appeared in various contexts, for instance, in songs by Lead Belly and Erykah Badu. Following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, the phrase was popularised by Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists seeking to raise awareness about police shootings of African Americans. Widely used on Black Twitter, it gained traction as an Internet meme and was increasingly utilised by individuals who were not African American, often to signal their support for BLM; some commentators criticised this as cultural appropriation. Mainly associated with the young millennial generation, the term spread internationally and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017.
As use of the term has spread beyond its African-American origins, woke has increasingly been used as a catch-all term to describe left-wing social-justice movements and ideologies. The terms woke capitalism and woke-washing were coined to describe companies who signalled their support for such causes. By 2020, parts of the political center and right wing in several Western countries were using the term woke, often in an ironic way, as an insult for various leftist movements and ideologies perceived as over-zealous or insincere. In turn, some left-wing activists came to consider it an offensive term used to denigrate those campaigning against discrimination.