Wokeness & Wokeism, Defined (And Yes, There’s More Than One Definition)

“Stay Woke”

A term originally coined during the early beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement, staying “woke” began as a simple warning phrase used by community activists and members of the Black community, encouraging others to always stay diligent in recognizing police brutality and mistreatment by law enforcement. Since then, the term has exploded. “Wokeness” and “Wokeism” are phrases used by all sides of the political aisle… which makes context exceedingly important when attempting to decipher the true meaning. Sounds confusing? That’s because it is.

In this guide, we will break down the true definitions of what it means to be “woke”, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Wokeism, while it may be considered a controversial subject, effectively summarizes and showcases various issues that still press upon the generations when it comes to racial equality and social trends overall.

Have you heard the term “woke”? What are your initial thoughts about the true definition of this generationally-unique term? Be sure to leave a comment below sharing your perspective! Our readers love these weekly deep dives into generational topics such as this one, so be sure to subscribe to our award-winning newsletter!


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Why is “Wokeness” So Polarizing?

When discussing a politically charged concept such as the term wokeness or wokeism, it’s important to remind ourselves that everyone will have an opinion on the term. Generationally speaking, this term has become commonplace in the discourse of younger generations such as Millennials and Gen-Z. “Fake” wokeness is addressed with scrutiny, authentic wokeness is often celebrated by left-leaning individuals, and wokeness overall can be used as a derogatory term by those with conservative belief systems. Like much of everything else, this term is subjective, and again: context matters.


“Woke” as a Positive

For those younger generations who are invested in leftist political ideology, wokeism may mean a variety of different things. The basis of this term, however, includes the notion that when someone is woke, that means they have an acute sense of the current issues that afflict marginalized communities or society as a whole. These people take care to stay informed on situations, earnestly try to understand the social issues that affect their communities, and are willing to adjust their viewpoints based on new information.

Additionally, this term can be used to describe individuals in situations which require an additional level of circumstantial awareness or caution, much like the origins of the term itself. As legislation is continually passed, elections occur, or significant cultural events take place, “staying woke” remains a positive and powerful metric to follow in the face of uncertainty.


“Woke” as a Negative

Utilizing the terms wokeism or wokeness in a negative light is an action taken by all generations, typically those who subscribe to conservative belief systems. Just the same as “social justice warrior (SJW)” evolving into a derogatory term, so has being “woke”. Individuals and leaders with right-leaning political ideologies often detest the consequences which are associated with steering off the path of wokeism (i.e., cancel culture, which could be an entirely separate article in and of itself). Many people believe that political correctness and/or wokeism is an overexaggerated display of virtue signaling as a means to avoid being canceled.

But conservatives aren’t the only ones to use woke as an insult. Fake or inauthentic wokeness is easily identified by activist groups, and a perfect example of this would be the notorious black square movement on Instagram after the horrific murder of George Floyd. “Performative wokeness” is seen as deeply disturbing to those marginalized communities who are truly fighting against inequality.



Wokeism as a concept is incredibly interesting to discuss, especially when you consider the way in which it lands on everyone’s psyche, spanning across each and every generation. When the term holds such immense power with regard to social movements and is thrown around on the news each day, it’s important to stay informed and fully understand the language in question.

Wokeness is no longer a term for the younger generations, it is up to each individual to decide how to engage with it and use it, in a respectful and informed way. As always, we want to hear your thoughts on the subject! For more guides that aim to connect generations through education and information, subscribe to our top-rated weekly newsletter.

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