Woke (// wohk) is a term originating in the United States which originally meant to be alert to racial prejudice and discrimination. Beginning in the 2010s, it came to encompass a broader awareness of social inequalities such as sexism, and has also been used as shorthand for left-wing ideas involving identity politics and social justice, such as the notion of white privilege and slavery reparations for African Americans.
The phrase stay woke had emerged in African-American Vernacular English by the 1930s, referring to awareness of the social and political issues affecting African Americans. The phrase was uttered in a recording by Lead Belly and later by 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. After being popularized on Black Twitter, the term woke became an Internet meme and was increasingly used by white people, often to signal their support for BLM, which some commentators have criticised as cultural appropriation. Mainly associated with the millennial generation, the term spread internationally and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017.
The terms woke capitalism and woke-washing were coined to describe companies who signalled support for progressive causes as a substitute for genuine reform. 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.