I hate the word “woke.” It is defined as a heightened state of social, political and cultural awareness. Being woke is like taking the red pill from The Matrix, drinking a Red Bull and reading a Ta-Nehisi Coates essay while listening to a Talib Kweli song with Solange on the hook.
The only word in the English language that rivals “woke” in terms of Negrosity is “swole,” which is on the short list of the blackest words of all times.
When “woke” first popped into the universe of black vernacular, I thought it was cool, clever and descriptive. But like everything else, including New York City’s Brooklyn, dabbing and taking a knee, once white people found out about it, they ruined it. The word “woke” has become as overused, fucked over and stretched out as the neck hole of one of Laurence Fishburne’s T-shirts. (Oh, so y’all gon’ sit there and act like Laurence doesn’t have a Georgia-watermelon-sized ... you know what? OK ... let’s move on.)
Although everyone claims they are “woke,” most people don’t know there are distinct levels of woke-osity, each having its own distinctive characteristics. In an effort to decipher the trite phrase, we decided to break down the different categories of wokeness in a handy-dandy guide so you can determine where you fall on the scale.
Level 1: Asleep
We all know someone who traipses through life in a state of blissful ignorance. This category is reserved for those black people who believe they live in a post-racial America during a time when people their age “just don’t care about race that much.” These are the black dudes in the commercials eating boneless mild wings at Applebee’s with their three white friends. These are the black women in tampon commercials biking with Becky and Susan during their heavy-flow day.
When white people explain how they can’t be racist, these are the black friends they proclaim to have. These black folks don’t like to talk politics, once voted for a Republican state senator and get uncomfortable if they run into one of their black family members when they’re out with their white co-workers.
Also, these are the motherfuckers who gave away our secret by teaching white people the Electric Slide.
Identifying call: “But when you think about it, shouldn’t all lives matter?”
Examples: Raven-Symoné. Ben Carson. Black guys who wear running shoes with khakis and never seem to have a fresh edge-up.
Level 2: Groggy
One day, while sleepwalking through life, Jimmy (his full name is Jamaal, but that sounds so black) happens upon a video of a cop shooting an unarmed black man at point-blank range. (It doesn’t matter which one: Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Sam Dubose, Sylville Smith, Anthony Lamar Smith ... ) Or maybe Jimmy overhears one of his best Caucasian friends telling a racist joke, and he realizes, “Wait ... what the fuck am I doing?”
Jimmy begins noticing the things he’s ignored, like oppression, racism and historical truth. People who are just getting woke have the perpetual facial expression of someone who just walked into a gas station bathroom immediately after a person with explosive diarrhea just finished. They notice there’s shit everywhere.
Identifying call: “White people did what?”
Examples: Barack Obama during his first term. Dak Prescott. Mixed kids’ freshman year at an HBCU.
Level 3: Newly Woke
If you want to keep me away from you, all you have to do is find a way to weave into our conversation the fact that you recently watched Hidden Colors for the first time, which comes standard issue in the newly woke starter pack, along with a dashiki and copper jewelry of ankhs and Egyptian symbols.
The neo-woke are the most extreme segment of the woke community. Once they realize they live in a capitalistic society built on oppression, they quit their “good job” because they can only work at black-owned businesses (or, alternately, at the only white-owned establishment that
capitalizes off employs the newly woke: Teen Vogue). They quit their church because they no longer believe in organized religion (except for Islam; all newly woke people have a Muslim phase for some reason I haven’t yet figured out). They even quit their friends, because all of their old associates are blind to the truth, but their “real eyes realize real lies.”
And nothing irks the spirit of the woke-ing dead like White Jesus. And white people. They keep an obnoxious dissertation chambered about how “our people” stupidly believe in the religion and beauty standards given to them by our oppressors. If you remind them of that time they told you that they “only dated redbones,” or mention how they were running around with blue contacts, a blond weave and a Jesus fish bumper sticker just last week, they always respond, “Well ... when you know better... ”
Identifying call: “I used to be lost just like you before I opened my third eye.”
Examples: Malcolm X (before he became el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz). The staff of Teen Vogue. Your cousin who just got out of prison.
Level 4: Eyes Wide Open
This is pro-level wokeness. At some point, the newly woke realize that they still have to live and function in a racist world built on the pillars of capitalism, Christianity and white supremacy. It usually happens about a month after they leave their job and realize their landlord doesn’t give a fuck about economic inequality and legalized injustice unless it comes with the rent check.
They call their supervisor and ask for their job back, but for a few minutes of each day, they daydream about starting a nonprofit doing something like teaching black girls how to rock, or helping young boys grow up to believe in themselves. (They haven’t gotten the details ironed out yet, but it sounds good so far, right?)
They begin to mellow and learn how to navigate “the system” without compromising their blackness, existing in that pocket between respectability and unapologetic blackness. They no longer seek the acceptance of white America, but they understand that not everyone who straightens their hair and goes to church on Sunday is a sellout, a “lost soul” or a “coon.” The mellowing mostly comes from growing older and wiser, understanding others and the discovery of the calming effects of marijuana.
Wel ... mostly marijuana.
Identifying call: “Do I look like I care what white people think?”
Examples: Shannon Sharpe. Melissa Harris-Perry. That Delta you had a crush on when you were in college.
5. Woke AF
First, you loc your hair. Then you turn vegan. (You can’t be woke still consuming animal flesh and inflicting genocide on your hair follicles with the creamy crack.) During the rare moments when you aren’t telling people how long you’ve been a vegan on a natural-hair journey, you start performing spoken word under the name “Universal N.R.G. Da Poet.” You begin referring to yourself as an “activist.”
This is also when you start adopting the woke-abulary. You no longer discuss things; you “unpack” them. Everything that once made you laugh when your cousin said it at a cookout is now “problematic.” You suddenly notice how often you are “triggered” by “microaggressions” like your boss asking you why you are late to work for the fourth time in a month. You quit your job again and file for unemployment because your workplace wasn’t a “safe space.”
You put in an application at Teen Vogue.
Identifying call: “I have a beef with anyone who eats beef.”
Examples: J. Cole. Anyone who dates Erykah Badu. Universal N.R.G. Da Poet.
This is the highest level of woke-osity. It is a combination whose chemical makeup includes 73 percent frustration of living in a racist country, 14 percent listening to Hotep conmen (don’t act like y’all don’t know who I’m talking about), 8 percent believing internet conspiracy theories and 5 percent deciding to stop wearing deodorant.
You can’t have an intelligent conversation with someone with a Ph.D. in wokeology because, when losing an argument, they can always counter actual facts with: “Who told you that? The white man?” They are more well-versed in inane conspiracy theories than Alex Jones or Jesse Ventura, and you can’t convince them that the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t put fluoride in red Kool-Aid to make black children score lower on their SATs.
They have documented proof (not with them right now, but the next time they see you, they’ll show you) that the Ancient Egyptians invented the iPhone 38, and we’re just catching up. Also, did you know there’s a clause in the Constitution that says your Social Security number is actually your account number for the Federal Reserve to trade you on a secret Negro human stock market? Real eyes realize ... my nigga. Look it up! (“Look it up” is the Hotep version of “on my mama ... ”—an affirmation whose power ranks second only behind “real talk ... ”)
Identifying call: “That’s what they want you to think!”
Examples: Erykah Badu. B.o.B. The guy at the barbershop who takes 45 minutes to cut your hair because he’s explaining how Hillary Clinton, the queen of England, Beyoncé and the Rothschilds run the world. The people who leave comments on The Root’s Facebook page saying, “Y’all know they’re owned by whites. They’re operatives of ‘the man,’” as they use a Facebook account owned by a white man.
But not too woke.