Cathy Tyson believes negatively labeling someone as “woke” is the equivalent of using a racial slur.
During an interview with The Telegraph, Tyson said the word “woke” is used to “undermine” progressive ideas.
“I imagine some of the readership use the word ‘woke’. For me, it’s as bad a term as an offensive racial slur,” the British actress told the publication. “The terms ‘woke’ and ‘race card’ are deeply offensive to me.”
Tyson also objects to the phrase “race card” which she feels “is thrown in your face if you make a criticism of anything.”
“Even the term ‘white privilege’ is very, very divisive,” Tyson said. “I’m not about sides.”
Tyson is best known for her roles in Mona Lisa and The Old Man Who Read Love Stories. Currently, she plays Vivian on BBC One’s Boiling Point. She was raised in Liverpool by her Irish-descended mother who worked as a social worker. Her father was a lawyer who lived and worked in his native country, Trinidad.
“My father didn’t live with us,” she said. “He visited us occasionally from Trinidad, but I’m still proud of his achievements. … My mother was called, you know, a ‘N-lover’, by certain people.”
Tyson attended Brunel University in west London, where she studied English. She told the outlet that the experience “taught me how to open my mind to different viewpoints.”
The actress ultimately questions the role of identity in the film industry. Tyson, who operates the production company Brown Girl Films, argued casting should be “colour-blind, size-blind, age-blind.”
“Society is always ahead of the industry,” she said. “There are women of my age doing all sorts of amazing things.”
The term “woke” and its evolution in the modern vernacular has been repeatedly rehashed by critics, with some hoping to reclaim the term while others want to write off the word. After Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, the phrase “stay woke” was used by activists as shorthand for being aware of police brutality.
The term ultimately evolved “into a single-word summation of leftist political ideology, centered on social justice politics and critical race theory,” reported Vox in 2020.
“On the left, to be ‘woke’ means to identify as a staunch social justice advocate who’s abreast of contemporary political concerns — or to be perceived that way, whether or not you ever claimed to be ‘woke’ yourself,” stated Vox. “On the right, ‘woke’ — like its cousin ‘canceled’ — bespeaks ‘political correctness’ gone awry, and the term itself is usually used sarcastically.”
The Guardian argued in 2019 that the term was needed despite its use as a pejorative term.
“The more woke is used as a slur, joke or shorthand to mock the hypersensitivity of the left, the more we need it,” wrote journalist Chitra Ramaswamy in 2019. “We need it to understand the subtle difference between being an ally and speaking on behalf of others. We need it to shut up and try listening. And we need it to fight oppression, injustice and racism.”
Joel Anderson, a writer for Slate, expressed a similar sentiment to Tyson. He has repeatedly argued that the term “woke” had been stolen from Black people.
“If you’re not black and started using ‘woke’ pejoratively sometime post-2018 or so (or worse, don’t know anything about the earlier iteration of the term), I think it’s fair to consider it a racial slur,” he wrote on X in November of 2021. “And it doesn’t mean I’m gonna do anything to you, or that anyone else will. But it doesn’t mean I won’t either.”
Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis defined “woke” as a “form of Cultural Marxism” during an interview with NBC in June of 2023.
“It’s about putting merit and achievement behind identity politics, and it’s basically a war on the truth. And as that has infected institutions, and it has corrupted institutions,” said the Florida governor, per The Hill. “So, you’ve got to be willing to fight the woke, we’ve done that in Florida, and we proudly consider ourselves the state where woke goes to die.”