Erykah Badu popularized the term “woke” in her critically acclaimed song “Master Teacher” in 2008. The term, which has become a political buzzword in recent years, is used to describe people who are aware, conscious and informed of social injustice and racial inequality.
During an interview with MSNBC, Badu sat down with reporter Ari Melber to break down the true meaning of “woke.” She also addressed how conservatives have transformed the word into a divisive tool to attack the Black community.
“There’s a song on [New Amerykah Part One] called ‘Master Teacher,’ and in that song… the chorus is ‘I stay woke,’ so ‘stay woke’ was introduced to the world by this album,” the 52-year-old neo-soul icon said. “And I tweeted it about this group that was detained, Pussy Riot… In my tweet, I said ‘Free Pussy Riot…stay woke.’ After that, ‘woke’ took off.”
Badu says conservatives have weaponized the term “woke”
In recent years, Black musicians like Donald Glover and Georgia Anne Muldrow have played a pivotal role in pushing “woke” to new heights. They have used it as a statement in their music to bring awareness to issues like police brutality and social inequity.
But conservative hardheads like Gov. Ron DeSantis and former president Donald Trump have talked down on the term. Some right-wing politicians have weaponized the word to attack progressive values and communities of color.
“I think they mean ‘Black,'” the singer said. “It’s just another way to say ‘thug’ or something else, right?”
Expounding upon her thoughts, the “Window Seat” artist continued, “It is what it is. It doesn’t belong to us anymore, and once something goes out into the world, it takes a life of its own. It has an energy of its own.”
Badu then explained her definition of the term.
“It means being aware, being in alignment with nature,” the Texas native added. “It’s not only in the political arena. That means with your health, that means in your relationships, that means in your home, that means in your car, that means in your sleep.”
Gov. DeSantis passed the STOP Woke Act last year
Over the last few years, conservatives have co-opted the term, using it as an insult in the political world.
In 2022, Gov. DeSantis passed the STOP Woke Act, which restricts how racism and other parts of history can be taught in schools and workplaces. It also prohibits educators from making students feel guilty or responsible about the past transgressions of other races.
After passing the legislation last year, DeSantis tried to further institute the law. The controversial conservative attempted to use the bill to place a ban on workplace diversity and race training, but a judge blocked the move. According to NewsOne, the judge argued that a portion of the law violated free speech.
This came months before DeSantis blocked a crucial African American AP course from entering classrooms in Florida using the legislation.
Erykah Badu wasn’t the first to use “woke”
Badu may have popularized “woke,” but she wasn’t the first to use the term.
In 1938, American folk legend Huddie Michael Ledbetter (aka Lead Belly) coined the term during an interview discussing his hit song “Scottsboro Boys,” according to NewsOne. In the interview, Belly urged Black people to stay vigilant when traveling through Alabama to avoid racial tension.
Then, in 1962, Harlem author William Melvin Kelley popularized the term after he used the word in his New York Times essay If You’re Woke You Dig It, according to Medium.
In the piece, Kelley explored the origins of Black slang and how it’s been transformed and reinvented over the years to retaliate against white people and mainstream media.
The term took on a whole new meaning in 2020 when Black Americans began using the phrase during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. The word was often used to highlight the racial injustice and systematic oppression that Black people face in today’s society.
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