Skip to Content

What does it mean to be woke these days? Media Matters attempted to find an answer by combing through years of Fox News coverage to find over 200 things that were considered woke, and published the results last week. The precise definition remains unknown, although the watchdog outlet did discover that mall Santas and dressing like Mick Jagger have now gone woke.

As an adjective in AAVE, "woke" was originally intended to mean that someone was socially aware of racial injustice or discrimination. The connotation was primarily positive, except for when it was used to make fun of hoteps. Within the last decade or so, right-wingers began to use it as a dog whistle. The thing accused of being "woke" doesn't actually need to be socially conscious or inclusive; it just became the most efficient way for someone to conceal a bigoted thought. It's Lee Atwater for a new generation.

By design, there's no societally polite definition for the current usage. It's so you can say anything you want without saying it, but if you admit that, you reveal the secret. That's why conservative columnist Bethany Mandel was stumbling all over herself earlier this year when she was asked to explain what "woke" meant to her.

Even Donald Trump can't figure it out. “I don’t like the term ‘woke’ because I hear ‘woke woke woke,’" he said while speaking to his fans at a conservative club in Iowa earlier this month. "It’s just a term they use, half the people can’t even define it, they don’t know what it is." This surprisingly useful point is not something he actually believes: Hours after that gripe, Fox News aired a prerecorded town hall in which the former president complained that the U.S. military was not "learning to fight" and wanted to "go woke."

With respect to Media Matters, whose investigation is thorough and worth reading, Defector has also been compiling its own document of things that are now woke. Ours doesn't focus exclusively on Fox News, and we don't have a wonderful supercut to complement our work, but consider this a secondary source. Below is a non-exhaustive list. If you've seen any others, feel free to share it in the comments, with sources.

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter