Wake up to what woke is

(Reuters)

(Reuters)

THE FIFTH COLUMN

A question you’re probably asking yourself is: What does it mean to be “woke”? And what are people referring to when they say it’s time to “get woke” or, more pertinently, to “stay woke”?

Well, wonder no more because here, finally, is your succinct definition of a baffling term.

Now, contrary to popular belief, being woke doesn’t mean waking up in the traditional sense, even though, strictly speaking, woke is the past tense of wake. In a nutshell, woke means to have had your eyes open, metaphorically speaking, since, like, yesterday.

Let me use a simile to explain this. Being woke is, metaphorically, that all-nighter you pulled at varsity on Corenza C thinking you were doing Bioplus because the bottles look kind of the same and you were stressed out of your mind when all the while it was the coffee that kept you awake, which wasn’t even that strong because it was Frisco but you only realised that the next day after the test.

Still scratching your head? Let me come at it from this angle.
Being woke is like when you wake up and you can still remember your dreams and you’re stumbling to the kitchen and you’re confused because in one of the dreams you were inside a cave made of Styrofoam with talking bats but you know for a fact bats can’t talk and even if they could the last thing they’d say is quitting your job was a grave mistake and there’s no turning back and you switch on the kettle and you stand there suddenly anxious not knowing what’s real and what’s not and you wake up some more and now you can hear the kettle and you come back to reality and you realise it’s just another day — and a Saturday at that — and that things aren’t that bad.

Okay, okay, I see you’re not getting it. I think I know why. Being woke actually has nothing to do with physically waking up. Stay with me.

Being woke simply means you see things. Like that time it was Christmas and you were small and Father Christmas came walking in the door but you could clearly see it was your fattest relative because his XX-large shirt was sticking out and you thought to yourself, “This can’t be right”, and you looked around and wondered why no one said anything and you walked around with that through childhood until somewhere in your teens a friend told you that they had the exact same experience and you looked at each other knowing it was a big moment for both of you but you kept it to yourselves because it was the Eighties and freedom of speech hadn’t been invented yet.

Still hazy? I really hate to say this but chances are, after all I’ve said — I really tried to make it as simple as possible — you’ll never get it. Don’t worry, it’s no fault on your part. A lot of people don’t get it. In fact, the majority of people simply get on with life, blindly going through the motions of not being woke. For the most part, that’s much easier. Not having to be woke, get woke or stay woke. It’s like living in a haze. Or under a rock.

JS Smit

JS Smit

JS Smit is a Cape Town-based freelance writer. Formally trained as a copywriter, he took a break from ads in 2010 to write a blog for the Mail & Guardian's Thought Leader and since 2015 has written for the Mail & Guardian. Read more from JS Smit

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