You'll remember the term "snowflake", which reared its head during the early Trump era as an insult for "sensitive" left-leaning young people.
I never understood why being a snowflake – a stunning and unique facet of nature – could be a bad thing. But now the label "woke" has been commandeered by right-wing conservatives in the same way.
Somehow, they've decided "woke" (as in, to be awake and politically aware to the world) can be used as a pejorative.
I found this out two weeks ago with my call for New Zealanders to wake up about our own racism . I received a handful of e-mails from readers calling out my apparent wokeness as a bad thing. "You woke people are PC culture gone mad" was the common theme of the messages, although they were articulated with more bigoted and nasty words that aren't appropriate for this publication.
The hijacking of woke as an adjective is a petty attempt to silence the liberal future. It's used by those who are pale, stale, and afraid of a world where they have no power or relevance.
Their conservative ideals (which they misguidedly call traditional "family values") are all they're holding on to now because they feel the sea change coming in politics, race, gender and sexual diversity, and they don't know how to handle it. Sadly, this undermines those parents striving to instil the best values of love and kindness in their own families as they grow – regardless of what shape the family might take.
The original use of woke was developed in the African American context to denote someone awake to social injustice. It was used proudly by those who saw the current ills of Western societies, particularly concerning race and gender. The term gained prominence with both Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, and hit the charts in Childish Gambino's 2016 song Redbone. The expression "stay woke" has become a reminder to all socially progressive people to keep up the fight towards equality.
This is exactly why wokeness now needs reclamation. The 2020s are a pivotal moment in time. We have been presented with an opportunity to revolt against the historical bias and wrongdoings that straight white rich men have held over all others for centuries.
Many people are waking up to this realisation, as demonstrated in the widespread adoption of blacked out Instagram posts, anti-slavery demonstrations and statute removals, and greater social media movement about trans rights.
Tracey Barnett: Refugees are not your political footballs
So, when wokeness is thrown back at us, it's a sad illustration that the haters have nothing left to offer. They can't even come up with an original new slur.
The more being woke is used as a pejorative, the more we – The Woke – need to harness it. While naysayers think it's a synonym for naïve oversensitivity, wokeness should be the pride of our generation. Not unlike LGBT+ communities, who have reclaimed words used to put them down.
We need to keep debating when we see something is wrong. Keep speaking up when we've had enough. Keep listening sensitively and understanding the plights of the marginalised. We need to prove that our attention to a social issue is not a fad, but a commitment to a fair go for everyone. In short, we need to keep fighting.
When woke is used as a negative, it's to make socially conscious people look inferior, self-pitying, and silly. Something to be laughed at because the woke don't think it's permissible to be misogynist, or racist, or homophobic. We don't think it's okay to be the butt of "jokes" or someone's "sense of humour". The same gaslighting was used against the suffragettes as they fought for the political equality we now assume as normal under our third female prime minister.
The irony is, if woke were a bad thing, that implies speaking up about people being harmed is also a bad thing. It's a ridiculous privilege to tell someone they're full of self-pity, when the speaker isn't part of a historically disadvantaged group. The lack of empathy is astounding. Made more apparent in a society proud of its vocal opposition to Apartheid during the Spring Boks Tour among other historic milestones from Bastion Point to the first Hikoi.
So, if you're someone who is negatively accused of being woke, don't shy away from it. Anyone using the word this way is just trying to bait you; stoking divisions between us all. This keeps inequality thriving.
Instead, stay woke. Continue to listen and learn, to call out microaggressions, triggering experiences, and lazy hate. Be helpful, learn, and educate others. Being an activist means copping flak from those whose vested interests are to shut you down.
Don't be quiet. Double down on your wokeness. The use of woke as a derogatory judgement shall not be commandeered. To be woke is to be feminist, anti-racist, an LGBT+ activist, socially liberal, and empathetic of cultural sensitivities.
If any torpid pundit wants to tell you any of this is a bad thing, you can now smugly appreciate – just like the anti-fascists who fought World War II – only one of you is on the right side of history.