‘Stay woke.’

Former US President Barack Obama has been thrust back into the public limelight this week after comments he made seemingly criticising today’s ‘woke culture’ and the seemingly constant need to prove other people wrong emerged online. 

The former President was speaking at a summit of the Obama Foundation in Chicago on October 29th and said that today’s so-called ‘woke culture’ of social media criticism was not activism and won’t result in real change. 

The comments have earned a lot of attention online but what exactly is ‘woke culture’? 

Origins of the term ‘woke’

The term ‘woke’ first started to appear in the 1960s among African American activists who would use the phrase ‘stay woke’ in an effort to keep the issues facing society, in particular, the racism they were facing, firmly in the front of their minds rather than letting it slip out of public discussion. 

Since its early political use though, the phrase has gone onto be used in a more ironic sense and is often used in memes across social media.

What is ‘woke culture’? 

It’s hard to specify exactly what so-called ‘woke culture’ is in our society today as it manifests itself in a myriad of ways. 

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The most basic definition of the term would most likely see ‘woke culture’ explained as keeping important political issues and events firmly in the public consciousness rather than letting them slip out of peoples’ minds, much in the same way it was when the term first originated in the 1960s.  

Where we see ‘woke culture’ today

However, in his speech at the Obama Foundation Summit, the former US President criticised people for being ‘woke’ as he made a point about the fact that a lot of people often fail to listen in today’s political world, especially on social media, instead preferring to call-out others they disagree with which Obama said is “not activism.” 

It could be argued that this is simply a criticism of social media today and the polarising effect it has had on global politics rather than so-called ‘woke culture.’

Arguably a better example of ‘woke culture’ would be the constant criticism of US gun laws from students who have been victims of school shootings or possibly Greta Thunberg’s climate change activism. Both of which have received an unseemly amount of criticism from people on social media who hold differing views on the matters in question. 

Obama concluded his speech by saying: “if all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far” which is again pointing fingers at the quick-natured and hot-headed ‘discussion’ and criticism we see in the political regions of social media sites rather than the ‘woke culture’ which is coming under criticism.

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