“Woke”: A Sterilization of Street Smarts

Wassup wit it doe. Shout out to my folks in Hip-Hop culture who have integrated our common terms into their everyday language seamlessly. There are so many competing cultural pressures/expectations, whether from the workplace or conversations with people outside of our culture, that can make it hard to be natural sometimes. Other times, that pressure and expectation can appear within our community, or in this case of “woke”, as a branch to it.

Woke sounds Hip-Hop though. It sounds like street jargon. Yo it’s not even in the right tense. The correct tense would be “awake.” Yet to be woke has often meant, for me personally, to highly censor myself (and subsequently others) when it comes to expression of street culture.

I’ve learned to eliminate the word “nigga” and “bitch” from my vocabulary as a sacrificial offering for my initiation into wokeness. On that shrine next to those two words was all the ratchet music I had ever loved and… I hate to say it but… twerking. Years later, somehow the spirit of those 4 artifacts sneakily crept back into my life. “Noooooo!” I thought, “I’ll never be able to be a purely woke woman again!” I thought of the ancestors shaking their heads at me in despair. I’d be talking back to them like, “no but, I say it like ‘biIIiiiIItchh!’ It’s in a loving way! I’m sure you can feel the intent from up there, right?”

Dogma and The Struggle of Extremes:

I recently had a conversation with a close elder of mine and he talked my ear off about how most black folks were and are Moors- the first pioneers- not black former slaves. So the identity and idea of black folks as slaves is debilitating because the real term is Moor and… basically we need to stop calling ourselves black. Or else it’s like “cutting off your legs below the knees”.

I’m thinking like “WOAH WOAH WOAH DER- THAT’S QUITE EXTREME, SIR.” I can’t help but think about how “black” culture is responsible for the formation of Hip-Hop, Jazz, Blues, the Black Panther Party, The Black Freedom Movement, MLK, MX, and so much more. It’s a resilient, fertile, amazing culture. Despite being built from an imposed construct and a history of pain.

What would I look like now, I thought, to try to abandon the word “black” and all of the pride that comes with it? *Cue Buddy and A$AP Ferg*

To be woke to the extent that I abandon “black” is to abandon pure pride and sterilize so much of the cultural context that made me and the community around me. Also likely creating more of a social divide. But had it been a few years ago, I’m sure I would have tried to offer it up on the shrine along with the others.

The issue for me was that I’m too complex, multi-layered and diversely influenced to keep up such a stiff expectation for no apparent reason on an energetic level aside from Dogma.

Dogma is the same thing that a lot of woke folks complain about when it comes to church folks being “asleep”. The irony.

Street Woke: The Brilliance in Technicalities of Both

Obviously, to embrace your intelligence and to not be an ignorant, impressionable dum-dum consuming toxic culture is a great thing! And also, certain speech patterns, for instance “she be like” “he be doing” etc. trace directly to many African languages linguistically. To speak “black” is to speak African. To speak “proper” and black is to be bilingual. Again, the resilience there is striking. I put it in a poem “our slang hops over waters.” In fact, it’s within the water, salts, plasma and protein that courses through our veins. It makes sense if you’re of the oldest living cultures that your tongue would be the hardest to colonize.

-Jada Imani

Extra Reading Material/ Article Scraps:

For over 20 years there has been a polarizing classification between “conscious” Hip-Hop and gangsta rap, or now “lit” rappers, and trap. But that’s not exactly what this article is about.

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I’m sure there have always been folks on the block who spit free game in their own language. Sometimes it’s folks without homes who look into your soul and tell the whole truth about ya life.

Yet in this new “woke” culture, it’s like a different take.

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Words do carry energy to so I use them in a light-hearted and conscientious way. It is still way too whack for white folks to ever use the N-word and for men to use the B-word as far as I’m concerned. In rap culture, the B-word often refers to women and the N-word generally to men-generally. However, I’m more than happy to give up the N-word so that men don’t ever think it’s okay to call me or any of my sistas a bitch just because we’re women. Okurrr. (I love Cardi B, but she feeds directly into that shit too.)

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When Woke Gets out of Hand:

Fake woke. Or just people throwing around spiritual and maybe political buzzwords that they know very little about- and then going around trying to teach people.

Hotep. A recipe with about 3 ingredients: ancient African culture, new-age spiritual thought, pseudoscience. Often an undercurrent of patriarchy as well.

AKA a man who calls me “Queen” yet turns every talk into a contradictory lecture instead of a conversation. He also wants me to have enough babies to start a new village, and put me in the kitchen. That’s a whole other article. Or simply listen to “Side Effects of Being Woke” episode on Small Doses podcast with Amanda Seales!