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'Woke Racism': John McWhorter's Take On What's Wrong With Antiracism

Updated: Apr 23, 2022

The religious excesses of 'woke' antiracism closely parallel old-time religion and much of what ails the left

"How is Woke Racism?" my friend asked. "I'm curious, but I want to make sure this guy isn't an Uncle Tom before I buy it."

'Uncle Tom' John McWhorter ain't. The critics of the Columbia University linguist, New York Times writer, race relations author and regular commentator who hurl that epithet are angry he isn't part of what McWhorter describes as 'The Elect'. He is not, in their minds, a 'real black person' because he challenges their strict antiracism orthodoxy.

Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America responds to what McWhorter describes as modern antiracism's excesses. McWhorter's thesis is that Third Wave antiracism (TWA) arose most recently out of the civil rights protests and riots of the previous decade and assimilates a distinct template lifted directly from American religious fundamentalism. 'The Elect's' secular religion requires no gods or afterlife beliefs but contains many elements of faith-based True Believers, as described by social philosopher Eric Hoffer in the 1950s.

McWhorter carefully analyzes and dissects the 'new religion' and lays out how he feels this hurts black Americans by infantilizing them, treating them as children and chronic victims even if they don't feel like they are. He argues it sets black children up for failure and promulgates policies consequently harming black communities. He neither damns antiracism nor denies white racism, but he refuses what he sees as racial essentialism coming from certain black antiracists which closely mirrors the traditional racial stereotypes of the past.

He finishes with a three-point focus he feels will better serve an ailing, left-behind black America he says is only partially attributable to racism and 'white supremacy'.

John McWhorter. Public domain photo by Jasy Jatere on Wikimedia Commons

New-Time Religion

McWhorter calls today's TWA the birth of a new religion. If some of its more popular claims seem 'out there'--that white supremacy permeates everything, that you are white supremacist (by birth), that America's twelve-generation slavery institution is the sole definition of American history, or that white people must regularly genuflect, grovel before, or even wash the feet of black people to virtue signal their commitment as 'allies'--once viewed through the lens of religion, McWhorter argues, it all makes more sense.

McWhorter counts the ways TWA closely parallels America's long-established culture of literalist Christianity. Here are a few of his points:

The Elect have superstition. Have faith. Be skeptical, critical, or even downright hostile to facts or challenges to the belief system. Don't ask, for example, whether more white men are killed by cops than black men.

The Elect have clergy. The High Priests (and Great White Priestess) of TWA are Ta-Nehisi Coates, promoter of the 'slavery reparations' idea; Ibram Kendi, author of the bestselling How To Be An Antiracist; and White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo, one of the few white people TWA approves of because she offers zero challenge to TWA's racial excesses.

The Elect Have Original Sin. 'White privilege' is that which sinners (by birth) must regularly atone and never be completely free from.

The Elect are evangelical. Like fundamentalist Christians, their beliefs are the One True beliefs and there's no such thing as an alternative valid opinion. If you've ever argued with a religious proselytizer you'll recognize that same feeling when arguing with The Elect who ignore all their own logical fallacies and contradictions.

The Elect are apocalyptic. There's a Judgment Day coming, and no one knows when. Unlike Christianity's Great Judgment, which is described quite concisely in the Bible (it will arrive with all the subtlety of a nuclear bomb), TWA's Great Judgement is some fuzzy day when America has fixed racism, which will only happen after enough groveling and 'self-mortification' occurs.

The Elect ban the heretic. This includes old 'racist' tweets, ancient unfortunate Halloween costume choices, and any challenge to TWA holy writ [See: The Elect's clergy]. Cancel culture. 'Nuff said.

McWhorter argues TWA's 'woke' racism harms black people with its attempts to 'dismantle hegemonic structures' in a way that accomplishes nothing. He describes a pervasive sense of performative outrage and response doing little more than serve to point a blaming finger and make white people feel bad about themselves. McWhorter has long been a critic of where black people, in his eyes, fall short of attaining the American ideal by holding themselves back. He notes, "People claiming that the 'work' of white-privilege consciousness-raising is a prelude to political action are like kids pretending their forts are for protection. It feels good to say all of this rhetoric and dismissal [cancel culture job loss and reputation destruction] is necessary for changing 'structures'. But the real reason they are engaging in this suspiciously lengthy prelude is that there is a joy almost all of us take in hostility."

How effective is it ever to enact change, especially trying to change minds in power, by telling people how awful they are, how they're responsible for everything wrong with society? 'Deplorable' is now a badge of honor in the Trump camp. Good luck convincing them they need to change.

Real action for real reformers

"I will not retract [this innocent thing I said or wrote], and you can call me anything you want. And if you want to get me fired, I will push back and write about *you* on Twitter." - Sample script

McWhorter's plan for action is what he feels will truly benefit black people more than virtue signaling, performative acts of professional or personal destruction, or even protests. Don't be surprised 'defunding the police' isn't one of them.

McWhorter's suggestions:

  • End the war on drugs, which will remove this attractive career path for those unmotivated to do more with their lives.

  • Teach kids who are not from 'book-lined homes' (i.e., culturally disadvantaged black kids) how to read via the phonics method rather than the newer 'whole word method', which teaches kids to approach words as chunks rather than sounding them out, since English spelling is considered too irregular for the phonics route. Phonics better benefits kids who grow up without books, where household language is mostly oral.

  • Fund and promote two-year vocational colleges more, rather than trying to make a college education the only route to a successful professional life. He notes not everyone is cut out for college (including many from middle-class homes) and one can earn a perfectly good living as a mechanic, plumber, hospital technician, and many others, all of which pay more than dealing drugs unless you're at the top of the pyramid (which most dealers are not).

McWhorter challenges the reader to stand up to The Elect and get used to being called a racist, the Elect's knee-jerk reaction to any critique. He doesn't leave the reader without the proper tools. The last few pages list how to challenge The Elect, or how to handle them if arguing and debating isn't your cuppa. He includes sample scripts on how to handle charges you're a white supremacist, or who are pushing onto your school system a hardcore antiracism curriculum, or what to do if you get flamed and shamed on social media. He encourages the reader not to apologize when they know they haven't done or said anything wrong, and to avoid 'confessions', especially for birth color privilege.

McWhorter's tone is straightforward with a thread of subtle sarcasm throughout. His critique is aimed squarely at what he considers the excesses of 'woke' antiracism, and not the movement itself. His language is somewhat academic but not pedantic; he's easily understood without resorting to the 'academic jargonbabble' of the insecure masking that they have nothing really important to say.

I've been a follower of John McWhorter for over a year now, on YouTube as well as his written work. What attracted me early to his views on America's race issues is how closely his criticism of antiracists and American blacks closely paralleled my own complaints about the similarly self-infantilizing victimhood-obsessed elements in feminism. One can also easily transfer such critiques to the trans rights movement, which has become hijacked by a small group of loudmouth, in-your-face trans-activists (almost exclusively transwomen) whose words, actions, and reactions to challenges by natal women closely resemble traditional cis-het misogyny, committing all the same fundamentalist religious errors.

The American left in many ways has gone as off the rails as the American right, itself steeped in divinity-based fundamentalist religion. The left's religion may contain no gods or Sunday ritual requirements, but too much of it has become no less dogmatic or destructive than the right's old-time religion.

The readers who will enjoy and derive value from Woke Racism are found on both sides of the political spectrum and with all skin shades, but not so far down either side that they've become infected with each side's respective unshakeable ideological sanctimonies, and who want to challenge the racial essentialism and downright bigotry against both blacks and whites. It's particularly valuable for those who seek understanding of what's behind antiracism's Elect and need the justification, along with the right words and mindset to challenge them, or simply walk away with one's dignity intact.

Woke Racism is a starting point, in my opinion, for everything wrong with the left. It provides useful, real-world advice on how to handle antiracism extremists one can easily apply to whatever 'woke' social justice extremists are screaming in your face. It will strengthen your backbone and if nothing else, make you sleep easier the next time an Elect calls you a racist for some silly reason. Or a rapist or a transphobe or whatever is the epithet du jour.




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