Tech billionaire Elon Musk really needs a history lesson about what Twitter stood for before he bought the company. The new Twitter CEO released a video where he found multiple “#StayWoke” t-shirts in Twitter’s storage room. While Musk continued to berate the old Twitter administration for designing such a product, others had to remind the new Twitter owner of the true origins of the shirts, and what the old Twitter team stood for.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “woke” is defined as paying attention to societal issues, which include issues of race and social justice. But the term’s roots are specifically in Black activism, and in particular “stay woke” has been in use in Black communities for almost a century. Among other instances, legendary folk/blues artist Huddie Ledbetter AKA Lead Belly, in his 1938 protest ballad “Scottsboro Boys” about Black teens falsely accused of rape, advises his listeners traveling through Alabama to “stay woke,” by which he meant remain alert to the very real dangers of a brutally racist Jim Crow-era law enforcement. And that’s what these shirts were designed for, to bring to light an important racial issue brought out by one of Twitter’s employees.
New York Times reporter Ryan Mac released a thread that explains the shirt’s origins. They were popularized by Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey after the quote came from one of the company’s Black employees. Dorsey wore this shirt when he was in Ferguson, in protest of the shooting of Michael Brown. While Dorsey was heavily criticized for wearing the shirt, he intended to call awareness of police violence against Black people, and to support his Black employees.
People called Musk out for not learning the origins of the shirt before ridiculing them on social media. In response, Musk released the Department of Justice findings from the aforementioned shooting. It claimed that the police shot Brown due to “self-defense” after he didn’t stop after the police told him to. Musk also claimed that the protest was based on a “false premise,” yet he’s acknowledged that other injustices may have occurred.
After Musk explained his stance on why he criticized the shirts, he released a ‘redesign’ with a new quote, “#Stay@Work.” Kinda ironic since he laid off multiple staff members, plus he locked the Twitter building due to fears of sabotage. While his design received some praise from his fans and followers, the new shirt completely misses the point of why the old ones were created.
It’s no secret that Musk wants his employees to work for long hours. Not to mention, he gave an ultimatum last week where they could leave with three months severance or work “hardcore” to build “Twitter 2.0.” These new shirts no longer stand with the employees and what they believe in. They now spread a message about what Musk wants, without caring about the well-being of his employees.