Entertainment & Culture
The Top Ten “Woke-est” Characters of All Time

By Michael Harriot

Woke

adj.

1. The incorrect tense of being awake
2. Being aware of what’s going on and prepared to do something about it.
3. A state of perceived intellectual superiority one gains by reading articles by people who read books by people who actually read “The Isis Papers.”

As Black America collectively enters into a new age of consciousness facilitated by increased access to information, changing demographics and a pussy-grabbing dictator whose face is the same nuclear-orange hue of a glass of Sunny-D, the concept of being “woke” has grown as a cultural barometer of consciousness. Even though we all know actual people who are conscious and informed, are these people reflected in our media? Were there fictional characters who were “Woke” while we were still slumbering, eating pork chop bacon double cheeseburgers, wearing perms, Jheri curls and believing in a blue-eyed Jesus with surfer good looks?

Have no fear. NegusWhoRead has pored through our catalog of millions of hours of Black TV and movies (21,202 of them were on VHS,  11 were on laserdisk and we even had to watch one on Betamax–if you’re under 30 you have no idea what this parenthetical statement means) to find out who was the woke-est character of all time. We did not include characters from movies or TV shows based on real-life people (sorry Joe Clark, Cinque and Malcolm X). These were strictly fictional. Making the list required a combination of intellectual awareness, Black consciousness and knowledge of self. No one really knows what “knowledge of self” really means, but you automatically get it by wearing a kumfi, a dashiki or reciting 3 quotes from someone who has already gained the Woke Scouts’ “Knowledge of Self Badge,” including, but not limited to: Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey or the Honorable Minister Reverend Louis Farrakhan. But if you have to ask, then you really don’t have knowledge of self.

Here are NegusWhoRead’s list of the Woke-est characters of all time.

10. Djanjo

Django is really a Black superhero fulfilling all of Black people’s wildest dreams. He gets to wear cool hats. He gets to shoot Wypipo. You can see him waking up as the movie progresses, even learning how to read. How do I know Django was woke? Django was so rebellious his masters decided to sell him after a number of escape attempts. Plus, all Django was concerned about was getting back to his wife and starting a family.

Family first. That’s woke as fuck.

9. Lyric/Stoney/Ronnie/Lena James

Look, I know this is cheating, but Jada Pinkett Smith has been typecast as “woke” for her entire career. As Lena James on A Different World she played a tough city girl from Baltimore who left the streets for education. In Jason’s Lyric she was the poetry-writing conscious girlfriend to Bokeem Woodbine’s lack of eyebrows. She tried to wake up Caine and get him to leave town in Menace II Society (Why does Jada’s characters always want to leave town so bad? Hmmmm…) and (again) she was Woke enough to be the only survivor from her bank-robbing crew in Set it Off.

Evidence of Wokeness: She wasn’t homophobic and didn’t mind Cleo’s relationship in Set It Off. Plus, on A Different World, her ex boyfriend was Tupac, who showed up at The Pit wearing an all red Pelle Pelle outfit. You gotta be woke if you fucked with Tupac.

8. Oswald Bates

Oswald Bates on In Living Color was the prototype for the original Hotep. He only used words with more than three syllables. Although he spent most of his time in jail, he was a voracious reader. Bates created the program that helps people who don’t know what they’re talking about hypnotize dumb people using big words (I actually think that’s where “Dr.” Umar Johnson achieved his doctorate). He started a literacy program in jail, and even met Barbara Bush.

Woke Credentials: He was repeatedly denied parole because “The man” didn’t want him teaching the world the truth about the powers that be.

7. Justice

In Poetic Justice Janet Jackson gives the world the one thing we all needed at the time: Box braids. In a time when women wanted ballers, men with diamond chains and FUBU shirts, Justice was willing to ride in the back of a mail truck with a dude she hardly knew. Her knowledge of self came from the hours of reflection writing poetry and–wait.. let me interrupt this for a brief rant:

Is there a verse in the Bible that says all woke characters must write poetry? And it’s never good poetry. It is terrible poetry. Between Jason’s Lyric, Love Jones and this movie, I bet Wypipo thing Black poetry is trash. Listen, I know you like “Love Jones” and so do I, but if you ask a real poet about the poetry in the movie, stand back–because they are going to spit as they’re laughing at the seventh-grade love poems in the film–and I LIKE THE FILM! Maybe it’s because most screenwriters are terrible poets or maybe it’s because most people are terrible poets. And I’m a poet. I know.

Woke Bona Fide: Again, if you fucking with Pac, your Woke Card gets automatically stamped.

6. Brother Mouzone

When Avon Barksdale was locked down and needed to protect his territory, he hired the only person who could handle the job–Brother Mouzone from New York. Even when thugging out on the streets of BMore, Mouzone stayed impeccably dressed. The only wrinkle you could find on him was in his bowtie knot. The Brother kept his mind sharp by reading copies of The Economist, Harpers and  New Republic while he was out on the block overseeing the corner boys.

Woke credentials

  • He wasn’t homophobic because he teamed up with Omar in one of the greatest opening scenes in television history.
  • He helped stop gentrification by killing Stringer Bell
  • Like all “woke” people, he had a little hypocrisy in him. Brother Mouzone was a staunch Muslim–except when he needed a drink.

5. Freddie Brooks

Before there was a natural hair “movement”
Before dashikis and African print became the trend
Back when “woke” was grammatically incorrect

There was Freddie from A Different World. Freddie waited tables and served food at The Pit to pay her way through college, and stayed active in her community. She organized protests against apartheid and always shared Black conscious thoughts with her friends. Although no one ever saw her report cards, she must have had good grades because Hillman’s law school doesn’t accept just anyone, and Freddie got in and then made the law review! Freddie was also a victim’s rights advocate after she endured a sexual assault, and even though she cheated on her husband, she still ranks up there with the woke-est of all time.

Woke Freddie Fact She married a dude named Shazza Zulu. She eventually cheated on him with Ron–a member of team lightskinned, but still..

His name was “Shazza Zulu.”

4. Furious Styles/Maurice Phipps/Dap Dunlap/Morpheus

If we were ranking the woke-est actors of all time, Laurence Fishbourne would rank in the top three. As Doughboy’s dad in Boyz In The Hood Furious Styles tried to drop knowledge on his son. Plus, if he would’ve let Tre leave the house that night, he might’ve ended up just like Ricky. In Higher Learning Fishbourne played a professor who taught his students about life and perspective, and he was the Malcolm X of Mission College in School Daze.

But his woke-est role ever was as Morpheus in The Matrix (a metaphor for being aware and maybe the woke-est movie of all time).

How woke is he? It depends on if you take the red pill or the blue pill.

3. George Jefferson

George Jefferson was a self-made son of a sharecropper  who owned his own chain of dry cleaners. He hired a Black maid and went from Harlem to the penthouses after serving as a cook in the Navy. He started his own business after working as a janitor and his wife as a housekeeper. through all of this he never forgot where he was from. Oh, and the dance was everything.

Evidence of Wokeness George Jefferson hated  Wypipo. He treated them like shit. He even called them “crackers.” On television. In the 70’s.  George Jefferson was one of the woke-est.

2. Huey Freeman

Maybe I’m biased, because I was actually Huey Freeman growing up (so much so, that he’s on the masthead of this site) and in the promo video (released a year ago today). I hated conspiracy theories with as much fervor as I hated people living in oblivion. Plus, we both wanted to be kung fu masters. Huey’s main burden in life is sharing a room with one of the most unwoke people on the planet–his brother Riley, but between fighting BET, Tyler Perry (what I believe to be the funniest animated episode ever), Thugnificent, A Pimp Named Slickback and Uncle Ruckus, Huey’s woke-ness is all his family has to keep them safe.

1. Michael Evans

If we are listing woke brothers, no character on TV or film has a longer, stronger history of Wokeness than Michael Evans. Called “The Militant Midget” by his family, Michael was smart, informed and unapologetically Black. Michael was so Black he wouldn’t even let his mother put a White Jesus on the wall and often went to the encyclopedia or the dictionary to explain things to his family. Mike was the ultimate activist. Florida and James had to visit the school every other week to calm down the revolutionary subversive actions Michael repeatedly organized against the school administration.  Even when the Vicelords tried to jump Michael into a gang, he wouldn’t join, but when one of the gangsters thought about catching a case and hitting his mama, Mike jumped in and said “You can catch these hands, nigga!”

OK, maybe that wasn’t the exact quote, but you get my drift.

How do we know Mike was Woke? Michael grew up in the projects in the 70’s raised by a dedicated, hardworking father, a strong mother who refused to conform by perming her hair, a brother who was one of the preeminent Black artists in Chicago’s ghettos, and a sister who almost married an African prince. The Evans family was the model of strength and unity even when you didn’t grow up as the son of privilege like Theo or even in a working class home like Eddie Winslow. Mike didn’t have the fortune to live in Bel Air like Carlton or a deluxe apartment in the sky like Lionel – but he kept his mind sharp and his eyes open.

He stayed woke.

Honorable Mentions:

Darius from Atlanta Never sleep on the quietest and most irreverent member of the crew. Darius is a low-key Hotep.

Buggin’ Out from Do The Right Thing He organized the boycott against Sal’s Pizzeria

Akeem Joffer from Coming To America He came from the motherland, knew Akido and jiu jitsu and is one of the few African immigrants who likes independent, feminist women.

 

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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