Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America by John McWhorter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
John McWhorter’s lastest book, Woke Racism, diagnoses and dissects an ideology that has, of late, reached a crescendo. Call it woke-ism, antiracism, CRT, cancel culture, or as McWhorter cleverly refers to KenDiAngelonism. It is an ideology that has come out from esoteric academic departments to take front and center in local and national debates. Understanding it is important. Countering it is a necessity, if, that is, we wish to live in a free, liberal, and diverse world.
McWhorter’s basic argument is first, we have to understand that this ideology is a religion, and second, its credo, while purporting to be antiracist, is actually destructive of progress on race. In particular, it rests on beliefs that are ultimately demeaning and belittling of black people. And because its adherents, The Elect as he calls them, regard themselves as possessors of The Truth, this ideology is undermining free thought and rational discussion.
The first part of the book lays out his argument for why and how this is a religious movement. The second part of the book explains how The Elect’s dogmas are harmful: to black people, to social discourse, and to real progress. The last part of the book offers some advice. First, on how to actually make progress on race. Second, on how to work around woke-ism.
For those familiar with McWhorter’s public intellectual work, there is not much new in the first or second parts of the book. It is still written in McWhorter’s pithy and approachable style and so worth a read in any case. The last part of the book might be more novel for most readers. McWhorter presents a three-point plan for improving things for Black America. He argues that these three things, while not bringing about utopia, will dramatically improve life for Black Americans (and all Americans). First, end the war on drugs. Second, use phonics to teach kids to read. And lastly, get past the idea that everyone has to get a university diploma, and create and value more vocational-type education programs. He keeps it to three points and these points because, as he argues, these are political feasible and also would have the deepest and widest impact.
In the last chapter, “How Do We Work Around Them?” McWhorter offers some advice on how to deal with this Great Awakening of Woke-ism. First and foremost, McWhorter explains “there is no discussion to be had” (157). What he means is that a person who has committed themselves to this viewpoint is not open to a constructive and rational discussion; any more than a practicing Roman Catholic is open to a discussion about the existence of God. This is a key idea because getting drawn into what you think is an open-ended conversation governed by evidence and logic, when it is not that at all, can get messy and leave the well-meaning discussant chastised and accused of racism. This connects to another point he makes. You will be called a racist (or if Black, self-hating) for not accepting this woke dogma. He counsels that we ought to trust own judgment and rationality, to know that we are not racist or a white supremacist. The Elect may call you all kinds of names, but one doesn’t have to accept these epithets. And the refusal to do so helps stem the tide. He then ends with several examples of people who stood up and survived; those that refused to accept the label of racism or go along with the woke mob and weren’t cancel or hounded out of a job.
If there is a weakness to the book it is that it isn’t really a critique of any particular thinkers’ work. While he discusses at points the ideas of Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi, and other ‘prophets of the elect’, McWhorter doesn’t engage them directly. But I think this is on purpose. First, that’s a different book. McWhorter is writing about a general ideological trend. Focusing on any one thinker makes it just about them. Second, McWhorter is explicit that a direct engagement with such thinkers is pointless. They are not open to a constructive dialogue.
This book is for anyone concerned about the state of American culture. It is not a left-right book; it is a call to reason, to logic, to evidence, to common sense, and to decency.
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