Erykah Badu wishes conservative politicians would just say what they really mean when they invoke the word “woke” to describe progressive policies and practices they are railing against. In an interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber on Tuesday night (March 28), the singer who sang about staying informed, educated and tuned-in on her 2008 song “Master Teacher” told the host that she can easily read between the lines of what those who rail against the word are really saying.
Badu said that the album that “Teacher” appeared on, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), was an example of the thoughtful, spiritually zoomed-in singer zooming out at what was going on in the world. But, she added, it had “no solutions… it’s just what I’ve observed.” And while Badu said she was happy to state what the problems were, “Master Teacher” was really part of “start[ing] a lot of stuff.”
In the song, Badu sings, “Even though you go through struggle and strife/ To keep a healthy life, I stay woke (I stay woke).” Melber then played a super-cut of talk show hosts, activists and musicians — including Donald Glover/Childish Gambino singing “I stay woke” from his 2016 song “Redbone” — using the term. Among those invoking it in a pejorative light in the montage were former president Donald Trump, who warned against what he described as, “woke fascism that will destroy our nation,” and Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who last year told a crowd, “we will never, ever surrender to the woke mob… Florida is where woke goes to die.”
Mincing no words, Badu told Melber, “I think they mean Black… yeah… it’s just another way to say ‘thug’ or something else, right?” Asked how she feels about the hijacking of the term, a non-plussed Badu said, “it is what it is. It doesn’t belong to us anymore. Once something goes out in the world it take a life of its own.”
The term has its origins in the racial justice movements of the early 1900s as a reminder to the Black community to be conscious and alert to social and racial inequality and injustice. Badu helped bring it to the masses with her song and again in 2012 when she used it in a tweet in support of Russian agit-punk activist band Pussy Riot. “After that, woke took off,” she said of the term that has gained mainstream usage over the past few years in connection with the Black Lives Matter and social justice movements.
“I can tell you what it means,” Badu said. “it just means being aware… being in alignment with nature, because if you’re in alignment with that you’re aware of everything that’s going on.” But, she added, that awareness is not limited to the political arena, but also encompasses your personal health, relationships, home, car and sleep.
Check out Badu’s interview with Melber below.