Being “woke” is an African-American Vernacular English term.
Awwwww C’mon! Really? What does “Woke” actually mean? According to some sources, it means that you are aware of social injustice. Then why don’t they say Aware? Woke is the past tense of Wake. They wake up today, and they woke yesterday. So you can’t actually be woke because that mixes past and present tenses. Just like you can’t rode your bicycle, and you can’t went to the store later. That’s like Cockney Rhyme Slang. They say a string of unintelligible phrases which rhyme with the actual words and only those people conversant in those references can understand them. More and more people are adopting that slang. They even use in the movie, “Ocean’s Eleven.” And, of course, the Cockneys are abandoning it. But it used to be that using that accent indicated that you were lower class, possibly criminal, and not very bright. But unlike Cockney Slang, African-American Vernacular English is not relegated to a single locale, it’s throughout the country. But it is rarely spoken outside the black community. It’s another instance where people take pride in looking stupid.
Cockney Rhyming Slang was used to confuse the uninitiated, namely police. What does the African-American Vernacular English do? Confuse the police? Why would a whole sector of a country have to do that? See, the Cockney mostly live in East London, and they were the working poor. If a crime was committed, the first suspects would be Cockney. They had the worst jobs in the worst conditions with no hope of escape. Sound familiar? Michael Cain is Cockney. Does he speak Cockney on the set? Well, he does in his Austin Powers movie. The rest of the time you’d be hard pressed to hear him speaking with anything other than the Standard British English. But he falls into it so easily when the part calls for it. In order to blend in, you couldn’t speak with a Cockney accent because immediately your perceived IQ would drop 40 points. You’d never be taken seriously, and most people would assume you had a “dodgy” character. It’s the same with African-American Vernacular English.
Now, we all have some idiosyncrasies in our day to day verbiage. One guy I knew couldn’t pronounce Statistics–he always added an extra s. We advised him to just say Stats as that’s what he could say before everything went south. He paid no attention. He was aware of his short-comings in communications, he just didn’t care. There’s a man who, when he addresses his associates, uses the thickest Georgian accent and clichés to make himself sound like he is a regular guy–nothing special. But when he’s talking to the movers and shakers of the world, he changes his accent and his choice of words and can rattle any CEO’s cage. He often says he’s not the shiniest apple, or the sharpest crayon, or the fastest gazelle, but when you see him in action, you know for a fact if there is a shinier apple or a sharper crayon or a faster gazelle, it would be rare air indeed. When Mr. Obama was the president, he spoke very eloquently. He did not use the African-American Vernacular English except to make a point. Those people I know and consider friends are actually bilingual. They use a different English when they speak with me than when they speak with their friends.
I am a language elitist. I can’t help myself. I cannot fathom how anyone would want to sound less educated, less enlightened, or less intelligent. I thought the purpose of public schooling was to have everyone speaking the same language and have the same basic skills one needed to survive in our country. Do they teach ESL for children who speak mostly AAVE? Can the children of Cockney Parents speak anything other than Cockney? “No’ if ‘ay ang o’ wif only ‘ose ‘a’ toke uh same. D’ya know wa’ Oi mean?” *translation: Not if they hang out with only those that talk the same. Do you know what I mean?”
Let’s look at this then. WE NEED to be aware of the prejudice and social injustice around us. But attaching a word or set of words stolen from AAVE to prove that we are aware is perpetuating the problem. I have learned several languages because I love linguistics and love how expression is so different. I love to converse with people in their native language because the perceptions one receives are different because of the idioms used and the cultural aspect of the communication. What happens when the people develop their own language (like the Cockneys) because of their station in life? Doesn’t it change when their station is upgraded? What happens when all the people have the same TV programs they watch, the same news, the same literature, the same schooling? Why do they choose to retain the language that indicates a subservient position in life? Why would people want to imitate their language? TO KEEP THEM IN THEIR PLACE. How underhanded is that? If they imitate the language, aren’t they mocking them because now they are privy to the code.
You understand when we were young and rebellious, we developed our slang. Cool, Groovy, Dig it, Far Out. It became second nature to us. How many of us continue to use those terms? How did it sound when our parents used those terms? It was like orchestral musicians trying to emulate jazz. It’s like a beginner’s class in Salsa. It sounded fake, forced, ingenuine. So when we talk about being “woke” it gives the impression that we are in solidarity with those oppressed people. Which means, after the protest march, we come home, put our signs in the garage, sit in our living rooms and watch ourselves on the television as we eat pizza. Our involvement is done. We are now “Woke.” Um, nope. Awareness would mean we acknowledge that there is disparity in treatment. Then we move to fight that disparity. We insist that police and other businesses treat everyone the same. We don’t use AAVE because we’re not African American. We don’t have the right. We also can’t use Cockney because we’re not Londoners and we don’t have the right, and it takes too long to translate. Parents and grandparents do not use the current slang of our children. They’d have to come up with a completely different language to rebel with.
So though you may be aware, NO you ain’t WOKE!
2 thoughts on “Are you “woke?””
We need to have a long convo abt AAVE bc it is not just a way to glorify stupidity or confuse the cops. It is a dialect that developed organically in a community that was forcibly removed from the white community. It has structures and rules just like any other English dialect. The discussion shouldn’t be “why would you want to talk like you’re not smart.” It should be “why are certain language conventions deemed indicative of low iq.” The evolution of AAVE from Modern English follows the same pattern as Old English to Middle English and Middle to Early Modern English.
I would enjoy your perspective!
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