Genealogy of the term

From (Cammaerts 2022):

Woke is intrinsically tied to black consciousness and anti-racist struggles. It was a black slang word which was first referenced in popular culture during a spoken word section at the end of a recording of the 1938 protest folksong ‘Scottsboro Boys’ by Lead Belly. The song refers to the gruesome case of nine black youth who were falsely accused of raping two white women and whose lives were destroyed by the deeply racist Alabama justice system (Cose 2020). At the end of the song, Lead Belly says he met the men and told them to ‘be a little careful when they go along through there — best stay woke, keep their eyes open’. As such, woke and staying woke explicitly referred to the need for Afro-Americans to be acutely aware and conscious of the dangers and threats that were inherent to a white-dominated racist America.


  1. . . "The Abnormalisation of Social Justice: The ‘anti-woke Culture War’ Discourse in the UK". Discourse & Society. SAGE Publications Ltd, 09579265221095407. DOI.
  2. . . "The Saga of the Scottsboro Boys". ACLU, July 27, 2020. https://www.aclu.org/issues/racial-justice/saga-scottsboro-boys.
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