Most people think that wakefulness and consciousness are synonyms. That is to say, we think that to be awake, is also to be conscious. While it is most common for consciousness and wakefulness to occur simultaneously, in cognitive science however, these two terms have important distinctive definitions.
Consciousness is the state of being awake and aware, able to perceive, receive, and process stimuli and information from one’s environment. When you go to sleep, this is an altered state of consciousness, with limited, to no ability, to perceive, receive, and process stimuli and information from one’s environment. When Neuroscientists study the EEG brain waves of a sleeping person, they find that during a night’s sleep, a portion of the time is spent in the waking state, even though the person is not fully conscious. Parasomnia disorders such as “sleep walking” or “sleep talking” are examples of instances where a person is in a waking state, but not fully conscious. Daydreaming is another example of a mental state where a person is awake, but not conscious of their immediate surroundings. Conversely, Sleep paralysis is a condition where the mind is awake and conscious, but the body is not awake and unable to become active. What we can take away from all this is that
1. Consciousness and wakefulness commonly occur seemingly simultaneously
2. Consciousness also requires one to be awake
3. It is possible to be awake but not conscious
4. It is possible to be conscious and mentally awake but not physically awake and active
The preceding deliberation served as a primer for our discussion on the terms “Woke” vs “Conscious” as it relates to African American English Vernacular.
The term “Consciousness” in the Black community has a long and storied history throughout Africa and the African diaspora, stemming back to the early 1900s, and has to do with an awareness of one’s black identity, and nonconformity to mainstream social, political, economic, religious, and spiritual constructs. The UNIA, Moorish Science Temple, Nation of Islam, 5 Percenters, Hebrew Israelites, Ausar Auset Society, Black Panther Party, SCLC, and BLM, are all examples of black conscious movements in America.
The term, “Woke,” is an idiom that has surfaced in recent years, essentially referring to the same concepts, precepts, and principles as “conscious”, but with more of a focus on social, political, and economic awareness. In recent years, the term “conscious” has become associated more with a focus on historical, cultural, religious and spiritual awareness. The Activism of someone “Woke,” tends to be of a social, political, and economic nature, whereas, the activism of someone “Conscious,” tends to be of a historical, cultural, religious or spiritual nature. If we were to retrospectively apply the new definitions and connotations that the terms “Woke” and “Conscious” have taken on in recent years, to the aforementioned groups, then we could classify the UNIA, Black Panther Party, SCLC, and BLM as “Woke,” and the Nation of Islam, 5 Percenters, Hebrew Israelites, and Ausar Auset Society as “conscious”.
After a multitude of scandals erupting in the Black Conscious Community in recent years, and many Black people feeling critical of, or unserved, underserved, or unrepresented by the modern Black Conscious Community, in some regard, “Woke,” seems like a re-branding of “Conscious”. In 2017, the difference in the socio-economic disposition of Black People willing to label themselves as “Woke” versus “Conscious” can also be observed.
But if “Woke” has become used to refer to more social, political, and economic awareness, and “Conscious” has become used to refer to more historical, cultural, religious and spiritual awareness, then just like in cognitive science, it is most common to be simultaneously “woke” and “conscious”, that is to say, having simultaneous affiliation and interest in organizations concerned with both social, political, and economic issues as well as historical, cultural, religious and spiritual issues.
Also, just like the concept of Sleep walking and Sleep Talking in cognitive science, it is possible to be “Woke” but not “Conscious”, that is to say, have affiliation with, and interest in, organizations primarily concerned with social, political, and economic issues, and having no affiliation with, or interest in, organizations concerned with historical, cultural, religious and spiritual issues. These individuals are aware of the social injustices in the world, but have no knowledge of their historical past or traditional systems of spirituality.
And lastly, just like the concept of Sleep Paralysis in Cognitive Science, it is possible to be “Conscious” but not totally “woke”, that is to say, having interest in historical, cultural, religious, and spiritual issues, and having no interest in social, political, and economic issues. These individuals are fully aware of their historical past, have “knowledge of self”, and practice some form of traditional spirituality, but have no concern or activism in regards to the social, political, or economic injustices in the world.
Who knows what new terms will emerge in future vernacular, or what new areas of awareness may come to the forefront. In the foreseeable future, “Scientific Awareness” may become a movement of its own. Essentially, “Woke” and “Conscious” are mental states, and the ultimate goal is to become Active, with an expression of one’s awareness demonstrated through practical application.