The Great Awokening: Examining the Debate Around the Term ‘Woke’

Americans are divided on the meaning of the term “woke” with 56% of those surveyed defining it as being “informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices” while 39% find the word to reflect the GOP’s definition of being “overly politically correct and police others’ words.”[0] This comes as Republican politicians wage a so-called war on “wokeness” and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has declared that the Sunshine State is “where woke goes to die.”[1]

The term “woke” first entered the global consciousness alongside the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, as a way to show empathy for the plight of Black Americans in the wake of racially motivated killings.[2] “Stay woke” was an urgent appeal: to reexamine how institutions of power benefit some while oppressing others; to speak out and act against systemic injustice.[3]

In a poll from USA Today and Ipsos, 40% of respondents said they would perceive being described as woke as an “insult,” while just 32% said they’d consider it a “compliment” (26% of respondents said they didn’t even know what the term meant).[4] This raises questions about whether Republican campaign promises to ban policies at schools and workplaces they denounce as ‘woke’ could boost a contender in the party’s primaries but put them at odds with broader public opinion in the general election.[5]

Perhaps the debate around the term is similar to one that happened before—and Democrats didn’t exactly benefit.[5] However, linguistics professor John McWhorter argued in a 2021 New York Times op-ed that the term has been rebranded with positive connotations, such as “inclusion,” “equality,” and “safety.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has proposed the “Stop WOKE” bill, which would limit some classroom discussion about race and gender.[6] Clark said that DeSantis is able to avoid explicitly attacking Black parents for wanting Black history taught, because instead, “he can say that wokeness and the left are getting out of control”— a more politically appealing framing.[0] In the end, the jury is still out in terms of whether the Great Awokening is winding down.[7]

0. “A brief history of ‘wokeness'” Yahoo! Voices, 11 Mar. 2023,

1. “Most in new poll view ‘woke’ as positive term” WGN Radio – Chicago, 8 Mar. 2023,

2. “Wokeness explained: When politics and morality collide” News9 LIVE, 9 Mar. 2023,

3. “What happened to ‘woke’?”, 5 Mar. 2023,

4. “Most Americans view ‘wokeness’ as a positive term even though many conservatives don’t: study” The Christian Post, 11 Mar. 2023,

5. “Analysis | Understanding what ‘woke’ means isn’t the same as viewing it positively” The Washington Post, 9 Mar. 2023,

6. “Majority of Americans Think Being ‘Woke’ Is a Good Thing: Poll”, 9 Mar. 2023,

7. “ANALYSIS: Wokeness has peaked, but it’s not going anywhere, experts argue” Campus Reform, 6 Mar. 2023,

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