Erykah Badu on "Woke" Being Co-Opted by Republicans: "I Think They Mean 'Black'"

"That's just another way to say 'thug,' or something else, right?"

Photo: Nation19

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Mar 29, 2023

A term means something — that is, until right-wing politicians find it.

While the phrase "stay woke" is widely attributed to novelist William Melvin Kelley and his 1962 essay "If You're Woke You Dig It," Erykah Badu was instrumental in introducing it to the mainstream with her 2008 song "Master Teacher." She further goaded its explosion in popularity by using it on social media.

"I tweeted it about this group that was detained, Pussy Riot," the singer explained to MSNBC's Ari Melber, citing the iconic Russian group who will soon be awarded the Woody Guthrie Prize. "I said, 'Free Pussy Riot'... after that, 'woke' took off."

The host went on to show Badu a series of video clips that trace famous examples of "stay woke" in mainstream culture in recent years. Childish Gambino's Awaken, My Love! hit, 2017's "Redbone," was among them, as well as activists at Black Lives Matter rallies and GOP leaders, including Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

"We will never ever surrender to the woke mob," the governor yells in the video, adding, "Florida is where 'woke' goes to die," without registering a hint of irony.

"I think they mean 'Black,'" Badu said in response to the Republican's misuse of the term. "Yeah. That's just another way to say 'thug,' or something else, right?"

She continued, "It is what it is, it doesn't belong to us anymore. And once something goes out into the world, it takes a life of its own. It has an energy of its own."

"I can tell you what 'woke' means," Badu added of the plot that's been lost. "It means being aware, being in alignment with nature … It's not only in the political arena. That means with your health, that means in your relationships, that means in your home, that means in your car, that means in your sleep."

Watch the interview below.


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