Erykah Badu on Right-Wingers Co-Opting “Woke”: “I Think They Mean ‘Black’”

Erykah Badu has a reminder for those who may have forgotten the true meaning of the word “woke.” In a recent interview with MSNBC, the artist discussed her thoughts on right-wing politicians who’ve turned the term into a pejorative, saying: “I think they mean ‘Black.’”

Although the origin of the phrase “stay woke” is widely credited to William Melvin Kelley’s 1962 essay If You’re Woke You Dig ItBadu played a huge role in bringing it to the mainstream with her 2008 track “Master Teacher.” Her use of the phrase on social media also contributed to its explosion in popularity: “I tweeted it about this group that was detained, Pussy Riot,” she explained to MSNBC’s Ari Melber, referring to the Russian protest art collective. “I said ‘free Pussy Riot’… After that, ‘woke’ took off.”

Melber then proceeded to show Badu a series of clips in which “stay woke” is used, ranging from Childish Gambino’s 2017 hit “Redbone” and Black Lives Matter rallies to GOP leaders like former President Trump and Florida governor Ron DeSantis: “We will never ever surrender to the woke mob,” DeSantis yells in the video. “Florida is where ‘woke’ goes to die.”

Responding to conservatives’ misappropriation of the phrase, Badu said: “I think they mean ‘Black.’ Yeah. That’s just another way to say ‘thug,’ or something else, right?”

The singer 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. 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 Badu’s interview with Melber below.

Badu’s last LP was 2010’s New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), but she’s been keeping herself busy in the music world. In the past few years, she’s been featured on albums by the likes of Teyana Taylor and Big Sean, as well as BTS leader RM’s debut solo album from last December, Indigo.