What does woke mean? Definition of the term as Boris Johnson is asked to comment on Joe Biden's wokeness

Boris Johnson said there’s “nothing wrong with being woke”

On Wednesday, during Joe Biden’s inauguration, Boris Johnson was asked whether the newly sworn in president was woke.

The question, posed by Sky News’ Sam Coates, at first left the Prime Minister stumped.

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He initially rejected to be drawn on the issue, stating: "I can't comment on that.

Boris Johnson was asked whether he thought Joe Biden was 'woke' (Getty Images)

Before responding that there was ”nothing wrong with being woke” and then countering that it’s “important to stand up for your history and your traditions and your values and things you believe in”.

What did Boris Johnson say about Joe Biden being woke?

With cultural issues dividing the US and the UK public alike, Boris Johnson appeared taken aback by the question. The prime minister has often been labelled Britain’s Trump, due to his frequent opposition to political correctness and to taking the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Coates later explained the reason for his question, writing: “the question of culture warriors and weaponised social policy issues are an intractable feature of US and UK elections now and politics will always be about dividing lines.

“The new president is often called "woke" by his enemies on the right and "insufficiently woke" by the US left and does not often appear to use the term approvingly.”

The Prime Minister attempted to deliver a balanced answer to Coates’ question, stating: "I can't comment on that. What I know is that he's a fervent believer in the Transatlantic Alliance and that's a great thing and a believer in a lot of the things we want to achieve together and in so far as there's nothing wrong with being ‘woke’.

"But what I can tell you is that it's very, very important for everybody and I would put myself in the category of people who believe it's important to stand up for your history and your traditions and your values and things you believe it."

What does woke mean?

The Old English Dictonary defines woke as: The original meaning of adjectival woke (and earlier woke up) was simply ‘awake’, but by the mid-20th century, woke had been extended figuratively to refer to being ‘aware’ or ‘well informed’ in a political or cultural sense.

“In the past decade, that meaning has been catapulted into mainstream use with a particular nuance of ‘alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice’.”#

The term was popularised by the African American community in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – “stay woke” evolving into a call from activists to remain watchful and aware of police brutality. Since then, woke has been assigned to the those in favour of social justice and those who hold left political ideology.

One of the terms earliest uses was in 1962 in essay "If You're Woke You Dig It" by William Melvin Kelley in The New York Times, and in 1971 play Garvey Lives! which reads: "I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I'm gon' stay woke. And I'm gon help him wake up other black folk."

In recent years, the sensitive origins of the term has been dismissed by sections of the right wing and used as a derogatory term to mean overly politically correct.