A Brief History of Woke

A Brief History Of Woke

Joanna Ligon

Performance Space and LabAnino's

Performance Space and LabAnino's "This Here.Land" (photo by Jade Cadeliña)

People have taken waking up in the morning on a whole new level. Apparently, opening your eyes for the first time requires a great deal of responsibility and is a shining badge of honor because “woke” is not just the past tense of wake. You will never use the word “woke” the same way again after knowing what it means and where it came from.

The word “woke,” as we use it today, signifies social awareness. It was a political term of African-American origin in the 1900s, but the first notable use of the term researchers can trace back to is Erykah Badu’s 2008 song “Master Teacher” from the album New Amerykah Part One (4th World War). The lyrics translate to how the singer stays woke in search of a beautiful world despite poverty and racial injustices: “Even though you go through struggle and strife to keep a healthy life, I stay woke. Everybody knows a black or white, there's creatures in every shape and size. I stay woke”.

Succeeding the song, a virtual community known as “Black Twitter” loosely used the term to spread more awareness. But despite Badu’s effort, it was only in 2013 when the Black Lives Matter movement popularized the term as a chant for rallies and marches that the word “woke” took a whole new meaning in mainstream culture. The newly ignited flame was a byproduct of police brutality involving African America teen Trayvon Martin.

Penetrating Social Media

Badu went back to business the same year the Black Lives Matter movement popularized the term. Badu began using the hashtag #StayWoke on Twitter in support of the feminist protest punk rock group Pussy Riot. Some members of the band were imprisoned in 2012 after a performance condemning the current Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

The Woke Culture solidified after the said events and has reached the attention of other social media platforms around the world. “Woke” extends beyond a call to action for racial equality as it now represents other political and social issues like feminism, unemployment, mental health, and corruption. “Woke Twitter” became a free platform where people from pole to pole can express their views and opinions while promoting healthy discourses and political change.

It’s More “Woke” In The Philippines

Without a doubt, Filipinos were already “woke” long before the word was invented. In the 1800s, Jose Rizal wrote Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo to awaken the soul of his countrymen and reveal the inhumane practices of the church and the state. In the 1970s, Nick Joaquin firmly stood his ground to secure the release of poet Jose F. Lacaba under the Marcos Regime, refusing to accept his National Artist for Literature award if the authorities would not release Lacaba. In 1986, protesters of the People Power Revolution ended the authoritarian rule of Ferdinand Marcos.

It is clear that social and political injustices are still rampant today. Rizal, Joaquin, and the People Power Revolution ended an era, but we still need more of the likes of them to ignite the flame of “Woke Culture” and hopefully achieve harmony and stability. In the age of mainstream media and with the influence of the millennial generation, where are the people, platforms, and movements worthy of recognition?

Woke Twitter

Juan Miguel Severo (left) and Chai Fonacier (right)

Juan Miguel Severo (left) and Chai Fonacier (right)

Filipinos just needed a shove to bring Woke Culture to Twitter by posting their political opinions in 280 characters for all the worlds to see. In the age of “Fake News,” everyone will surely appreciate the presence of genuine watchdogs and keen observers like poet Juan Miguel Severo, column-writer Irish Dizon, artist Chai Folicier, as well as Twitter users who handle the accounts Punongbayan_, jaicabar, and millenialOfMNL.

These personalities are saving the country from historical revisionism through viral memes, healthy discourses, and witty comebacks. Who would have thought that comedy and woke culture can be a great combination? Social and political injustices are no laughing matter, but one should be open to trying unconventional means to reach a larger audience.

Artistic Activism

Female Fighter by Nikki Luna

Female Fighter by Nikki Luna

Art has the power to bring life to social movements. Artistic activism can truly raise awareness about the misdeeds of the current Philippine government. This act isn't exactly new, but today's generation of Filipino artists are changing the way it's done.

Nikki Luna, a visual artist and a fine arts graduate from University of the Philippines, is one of the advocates of feminism in the country. But beyond that, she also calls out extrajudicial killings and human rights violations through art. One of her greatest pieces, "Female Fighter," is a linear drawing of a woman's womb traced with M4 bullet holes shot by the state's security forces. It’s a condemnation of  President Duterte's order to “shoot the vagina” of women revolutionaries.

Overseas, the "This Here.Land" theater work of Performance Space and LabAnino proves that the Filipino Australian community in Sydney won't let geographical distance stop them from executing a public protest through art.  The group has conducted numerous protests via performance, installation, writing, animation, and sound. In 2017, they performed a vigil for the victims of President Duterte's “ war on drugs,” =smoothly turning it into a shadow theater. The show weaved together stories of characters whose fates are intertwined with death and social injustice.

Rallies And Marches

#BabaeAko Independence Day protest (photo by Dino Manrique)

#BabaeAko Independence Day protest (photo by Dino Manrique)

Demonstrations or rallies are probably the loudest and most effective forms of protest; we have the first and second EDSA Revolutions as receipts. There are also rallies today that have marked modern Philippine history.

Earlier this year, the #BabaeAko movement through social media and live protests bravely stood up against President Duterte's blatant display of sexism and misogyny. Initially, the movement was pitched by the Coalition for Justice, a local organization which supports former Chief Justice Sereno. Last June, the founders and members of the movement landed a spot among the "25 Most Influential People on the Internet in 2018" by Time Magazine.

Another group, #WalkOutPH, called on students to join a mass walkout rally against the Duterte Administration. Recent protests have addressed a lot of pressing issues such as federalism, martial law, Jeepney phaseout, price hikes, and tax reform law. 

Manila Science High School students at #WalkOutPH (photo by Jed Marcueto)

Manila Science High School students at #WalkOutPH (photo by Jed Marcueto)

Joanna Ligon

Joanna Ligon is a scriptwriter, content writer, and copywriter based in Manila, Philippines. She enjoys reading Young Adult


Published on : 16/07/2019 by Puerto Parrot

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