McWhorter: The anti-racist “Elect” are as antiscience as the anti-vaxxer and anti-masking Right

May 20, 2021 • 1:30 pm

John McWhorter’s latest article on his Substack platform may seem a bit hyperbolic, comparing as he does the antiscientific beliefs of “the Elect”—the name he gives to Woke, ineffectual, performative anti-racists—with Trofim Lysenko, the Russian agricultural charlatan who caught Stalin’s ear and subverted Soviet agriculture for decades. As a result, there were famines, and millions died.

Well, nobody dies from adhering to the tenets of Ibram Kendi or Robin DiAngelo, but, argues McWhorter, the Elect’s disregard of the facts is just as blatant as Lysenko’s disregard of the facts of genetics. Click on the screenshot to read:

Here are the areas that, claims McWhorter, are touted as incontrovertable truths by The Elect but have little or no empirical backing.

a.) Microaggressions (I’ve indented McWhorter’s words); they are not, claims McWhorter, defined as easily as their adherents assert, nor do they correlate so clearly with real racist sentiments.

Take the idea that microaggressions are a grinding problem for black Americans, exerting significant psychological damage upon us, and motivating claims that black students ought be exempt from certain scholastic demands as well as that entire programs and schools should be transformed into Antiracism Academies. A prime motivation of this, reported endlessly, is to relieve black people of the eternal harm that microaggressions condition.

But Edward Cantu and Lee Jussim have patiently demonstrated that the academic “literature” undergirding this depiction is too full of holes to even begin to serve as the basis for societal reform. This is frankly obvious from reading almost any of the work in question – I recommend taking up just one such article and noting the hopeless circularity of argumentation – but Cantu and Jussim have done a useful job in summarizing the lot of it. The literature ignores legions of black people it surveys who deny that acts are microaggressions, does not show that supposed microaggressions correlate with racist sentiment of any kind, is based on tiny sample sizes, is never replicated, and explains away discrepancies with glum little speculations that would not pass as scientific reasoning among any evaluators not cowed by The Elect.

I’ll let the authors speak for themselves:

“Microaggression research provides a veneer of scientific credibility to vested critical premises, as those studies have statistics, p-values, and reliability coefficients, all useful for creating the appearance of scientific foundations for assumptions, so long as one does not examine the methodological details too closely. But the undertone of much microaggression research is not one of caution commensurate with the guardrails normally imposed by the scientific method.”

b.) DEI training programs.  I think we’ve all read about the studies showing that DEI training is ineffectual at both diversifying the workplace and promoting inter-racial harmony. In fact, these programs seem to increase tribalism.

Another example – the jury has long been in: “diversity, equity and inclusion” training programs simply do not work. This has been proven by many scientific surveys. These programs neither further diversify the workplace nor foster interethnic harmony (and in fact, if anything, increase it).

This literature has no effect on the flowering of these programs nationwide.

c.) Racism-based killing of African-Americans by cops.  I think the data are pretty unequivocal that there is indeed a pattern of racism in encounters between cops and citizens: we know from several studies, for example, that cops tend to stop black people more often than white, a disparity that decreases during twilight when you can’t see who’s being stopped. And we also know that cops kill black people at a higher rate than the proportion of African-Americans in the population: in fact 2.5-fold higher. But data also show that when you account for the rate of encounters that could lead to violence, this disparity disappears, for African-Americans are disproportionately involved in such encounters.

Unfortunately, McWhorter appears to defuse the “cop-racism” accusation by claiming that many more whites than blacks are murdered by cops each year. But that is not the point at issue. The point is whether the murders are disproportional to the existing demographic proportions, which is undeniable, and whether those murders reflect racial animus or encounter rates (the latter seems to be the case). This is how McWhorter attacks the “nonscientific” claim of police racism:

As I mentioned in this space, it is an article of faith among The Elect that the cops murder black men out of racist bias. Arguments that the data do not demonstrate this are ignored as serenely as evidence against The Big Lie. Never mind that Roland Fryer has shown that when push comes to shove, it’s whites who are more likely to be murdered by cops; never mind calm, authoritative reports on these issues by black writers like Coleman Hughes; never mind that the numbers alone show that the cops murder many, many more whites a year than blacks.

Instead, we are demanded to assent to an idea that the United States is occupied by a murderously racist police force, as the media scrupulously neglect the myriad killings of whites by cops, leaving black people under the understandable impression that it’s only black people who the cops come after. (Remember, the fact that black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed than our proportion in the population would predict is a statistic known mostly to policy wonks – what primarily moves people to protest is the news, not this statistic.)

However, the Big Lie is hidden in the sentence below, but isn’t so clear in the above:

Never mind that Roland Fryer has shown that when push comes to shove, it’s whites who are more likely to be murdered by cops. . . .

A world of nuance is hidden in that link there, so have a look at it. Context is everything.

d.) “Systemic racism.” This has long been a beef of mine because I always thought of “systemic racism” as “racism codified within a system,” like legal segregation or policies concocted to promote racism (like voting laws).  Now, however, it seems to have become synonymous with “racism” in general, or, in a way I’d rather construe it, as “a systematic pattern of racism within an institution, even if it’s not codified.”  Yes, the idea of pervasive systemic racism in nearly every institution is presented as an unassailable truth, which I guess you could claim is a “scientific assertion.” And in that sense it doesn’t hold water, for part of the claim is that if there is a pattern of “unequal representation”, or “inequity”, it MUST perforce reflect racism in the institution at hand and at the present time. That idea comes straight from Ibram X. Kendi, and it’s an unexamined assertion in his book How to be an Antiracist. 

This even goes for academic departments in my University, despite the palpable lack of racism in the hiring process and desperate attempts to achieve diversity and equity (I’m not talking about “pipeline” problems tracing back to centuries-old racism). The assumption that unequal representation unquestionably reflects bigotry is clearly unscientific, and can be dispelled by data from the American Medical Association on the proportion of men vs. women in various medical specialities:

Based on key findings, women make up a larger percentage of residents in:

    • Family medicine (about 58 percent)
    • Psychiatry (about 57 percent)
    • Pediatrics (about 75 percent)
    • Obstetrics/gynecology (about 85 percent)

The data show male residents prefer to specialize in:

    • Surgery (about 59 percent)
    • Emergency medicine (about 62 percent)
    • Anesthesiology (about 63 percent)
    • Radiology (about 73 percent)
    • Internal medicine (about 54 percent)

Note that the AMA uses the word “prefer to specialize”, emphasizing that these data must reflect some element of preference rather than purely bigotry (though there may be some bigotry involved). But I’ve never heard anybody say that there are fewer male pediatricians because they are the victims of a bigoted medical system. These data may largely reflect preferences held, either culturally or genetically, by the two sexes.

McWhorter closes saying something he’s said before: it’s useless to argue with The Elect about these issues—just as useless as it would have been to argue with Lysenko about genetics. McWhorter goes after the open-minded and those on the fence, just as people like Richard Dawkins aim their anti-theism not at staunch theists, but at the young and those with doubts.

Be that as it may, you may think that McWhorter is exaggerating when he says stuff like this:

Of course, The Elect are not exerting the physical violence and assassinations that Stalinists exerted. My comparison is of the relevant frames of mind. However, The Elect are indeed doing great harm to our society. Anyone who thinks the transformation of our educational establishment is not a real problem is someone I’m not sure I quite understand. And it may be only me who is chilled, disgusted and frightened to see an enlightened Establishment being transformed not by suasion but by simple fear. However, I doubt it, and simply cannot see that what happened in Washington, DC last January means that my concerns are trivial.

The mask-resistant person who sits soberly insisting that Joe Biden stole the election should mystify and appall us no more than the people soberly insisting that microaggressions saddle black people with ongoing PTSD, that organizations will benefit from DEI programs, that any claim of victimization from a descendant of an African slave is automatically valid, that black people should walk in eternal fear of being iced by a cop, that any way that whites and blacks are not equal is due to bigotry “somehow,” and that to disagree with these claims is to be a backwards, heartless pig.

He’s got a point here, but we’re become inured to the unscientific and often non-rational claims of The Woke simply because it costs too much, psychically and reputationally, to oppose them.


Lysenko and his big buddy, Stalin:


16 thoughts on “McWhorter: The anti-racist “Elect” are as antiscience as the anti-vaxxer and anti-masking Right

  1. … cops tend to stop black people more often than white, a disparity that decreases during twilight when you can’t see who’s being stopped.

    A while back I had a look at that paper. If we assume (as the study does) that the stop-rate after dark is an un-biased rate, then the before-dark rate is about 15% higher. (The fraction — in Texas — rises from about 22% to about 25%; see fig 2 of the paper here) This means that, for every 10 times that you’d be stopped if white, a black person would be stopped 11 or 12 times. That’s significant and should not happen, but it is also not a massive effect.

    But, I also noticed that while the researchers have data from “21 state patrol agencies and 35 municipal police departments”, the paper only presents data from the Texas state patrol (that fig 2, I can’t see any equivalent for any of the other states). Now, when picking an example of ones data to show in a figure, researchers usually pick the clearest example showing the strongest effect (maybe people shouldn’t do that, but they do, they’re human!). So maybe the overall effect in the whole dataset is less than that 15% increase. Am I being too cynical in wondering how large an effect this actually is?

    1. I’m intrigued that you think that a 15% difference is not a massive effect. It seems quite substantial to me. How would you feel about a 15% cut in your salary, or in your life expectancy, or a fifteen percent increase in your taxes? I’m sure I would feel pretty aggrieved if I thought I was fifteen percent more likely to be stopped by police than other people, simply on the basis of my skin colour.

      Of course, if the study excluded data from police departments that pulled down the size of the difference that would be reprehensible. It is a fair question to ask why fig 2 of the paper only uses data from Texas but it may indeed be unduly cynical to suggest without further evidence that the reason was so they could claim a bigger effect than really exists.

  2. McWhorter’s “and motivating […] demands as well as that entire programs and schools should be transformed into Antiracism Academies” seemed a little hyperbolic, but the rest of the piece seemed pretty good. Although he threw the

    (Remember, the fact that black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed than our proportion in the population would predict is a statistic known mostly to policy wonks – what primarily moves people to protest is the news, not this statistic.)

    aside in without explanation, which was probably counterproductive.

  3. John McWhorter’s latest article on his Substack platform may seem a bit hyperbolic …

    More than a bit, I’d say.

    In this piece McWhorter does his usual credible job of demonstrating that the slice of the Left he labels “The Elect” are immune to scientific refutation of their outré ideas. But he makes no effort to support what seems to be the implicit assertion of his headline: that the anti-science views of the Elect are in someway comparable to the anti-science views rampant on the Right.

    As McWhorter observes:

    Watching the ouster of Liz Cheney, many of us marvel that so many of those serious adults in the Republican Party sincerely believe that the last Presidential election was stolen, or at least are willing to put up such a cast-iron front of pretending to.

    The mendacity, the numbness to truth, is especially appalling coming along with the denial of science in their positions on climate change and so much else.

    Two-thirds of self-identified Republicans believe the evidence-free Big Lie that Donald Trump won a yooge landslide victory in the last election that was stolen from him by massive voter fraud. I don’t know what percentage of self-identifying Democrats, or of people who otherwise identify themselves as left-of-center, ascribe to the views of McWhorter’s Elect, but I defy anyone to demonstrate that its anywhere near this number.

    It’s also interesting to note that apparently lumped in with McWhorter’s “so much else” that Republican’s reject about science is their wholesale denial of evolution (perhaps so as not to trigger recollections that McWhorter himself has played footsie with Intelligent-design creationist Michael Behe).

  4. It depends on how directly the Elect effects you.

    1. McWhorter wrote about Oregon education department saying math was racist and correct answers do not matter.
    2. My Oregon city had a school board election where the Elect chose “Equity” (their word) candidates for each position and the Elect/Equity/Woke candidates all won in a landslide.

    I have great worries for the students in this town. Fortunately, my youngest is graduating next month and will escape the Great Leap Forward to Equity.

  5. > nobody dies from adhering to the tenets of Ibram Kendi …

    In the sense that the adherents aren’t the ones doing the dying. Although I doubt many people well-read enough to have an opinion about Lysenko’s theories starved, either.

    But it doesn’t seem crazy to pin the thousands of extra murders which have taken place in the last year on these views, and their results on policing.

    1. 2019 had one of the lowest homicide rates per 100,000 people in the US in the last 50 years. There was a jump in homicides in 2020, back to the rates similar those in the late 1990s. 2020 was, of course, the year of pandemic lockdowns and of concomitant increases in firearms sales. So I think you need to offer some explanation for how this one-year increase in murders can be pinned on the views of the Elect. (And I don’t think “it doesn’t sound crazy” makes for much of a rigorous standard.)

      1. I believe social scientists will be studying this abrupt change for years to come. Firearms sales go up with every panic, but I can’t imagine that did much to increase the violence as they appear to be bought by the same over-armed people who already have a basement bunker full of weaponry. I could be wrong of course…But the pandemic, the lockdown(s) the job losses, the horribly unprofessional fear mongering by the outrage media on both sides and their racializing everything, political turmoil, political shit-stirring by both parties while pandering to their extremist wings, the uneasy election year, there were so many things going wrong at the same time and for such an extended period of time resulting in a dreadful positive feedback loop that affected leftists, right wingers, racists and “anti-racists”, police, citizens (law-abiding and otherwise)…it will be no doubt the source of a great many books, academic papers, and probably a few PhDs.

  6. I’m getting the impression that argumentation by The Elect takes a similar shape and is at a level similar to that between comic book fans arguing about issue numbers, characters, cosplay at the comic con, and so on.

    I’ll have to think about that…

  7. The Woke are postmodernists, and postmodernists aren’t friends of science, scientific objectivity&rationality, or scientific truth:

    “Many postmodernists hold one or more of the following views: (1) there is no objective reality; (2) there is no scientific or historical truth (objective truth); (3) science and technology (and even reason and logic) are not vehicles of human progress but suspect instruments of established power; (4) reason and logic are not universally valid; (5) there is no such thing as human nature (human behavior and psychology are socially determined or constructed); (6) language does not refer to a reality outside itself; (7) there is no certain knowledge; and (8) no general theory of the natural or social world can be valid or true (all are illegitimate “metanarratives”).”

    Source: “Postmodernism” in Encyclopaedia Britannica:

  8. As for the woke concept of microaggression:

    “1. What are microaggressions?
    Answer: Simply stated, “microaggressions are derogatory slights or insults directed at a target person or persons who are members of an oppressed group.” Microaggressions communicate bias and can be delivered implicitly or explicitly. An example of an implicitly delivered microaggression might be a White woman clutching her purse tightly when an African American man enters an elevator. An explicitly expressed microaggression can occur when a woman overhears a male colleague tell another male colleague that she is a “bitch” after she asserts herself in the workplace.

    2. How do microaggressions manifest? What forms do microaggressions take?
    Answer: Three types of microaggressions have been identified in the literature and supported by empirical work: microassault, microinsult, and microinvalidation.

    The term /microassault/ refers to a blatant verbal, nonverbal, or environmental attack intended to convey discriminatory and biased sentiments. This notion is related to overt racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and religious discrimination in which individuals deliberately convey derogatory messages to target groups. Using epithets like /spic/ or /faggot/, hiring only men for managerial positions, and requesting not to sit next to a Muslim on an airplane are examples. Unless we are talking about White supremacists, most perpetrators with conscious biases will engage in overt discrimination only under three conditions: (a) when some degree of anonymity can be ensured, (b) when they are in the presence of others who share or tolerate their biased beliefs and actions, or (c) when they lose control of their feelings and actions. Because microassaults are most similar to old-fashioned racism, no guessing game is likely to occur as to their intent: to hurt or injure the recipient. Both the perpetrator and the recipient are clear about what has transpired. For this reason, microassaults are in many respects easier to deal with than those that are unintentional and outside the perpetrator’s level of awareness (microinsults and microinvalidations).

    /Microinsults/ are unintentional behaviors or verbal comments that convey rudeness or insensitivity or demean a person’s racial heritage/identity, gender identity, religion, ability, or sexual orientation identity. Despite being outside the level of conscious awareness, these subtle snubs are characterized by an insulting hidden message. For example, when a person assumes the Black woman standing in an academic office is a secretary (and not a professor) the underlying message is that Black women belong in service roles and are not intellectually capable of holding an advanced degree. African Americans and Latinx individuals consistently report that intellectual inferiority and assumptions about being less qualified and capable are common communications they receive from Whites in their everyday experiences.

    /Microinvalidations/ are verbal comments or behaviors that exclude, negate, or dismiss the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of the target group. Like microinsults, they are unintentional and usually outside the perpetrator’s awareness.A common microinvalidation is when individuals claim that they do not see religion or color but instead see only the human being. Common statements such as “there is only one race: the human race” negate the lived experiences of religious and ethnic minorities in the United States.

    3. Are microaggressions always unintentional and unconscious?
    Answer: They may be either. Microaggressions vary on a continuum from being intentional to unintentional. They are often reflections of a worldview of inclusion-exclusion, normality-abnormality, or superiority-inferiority. As such, they are often invisible to the perpetrator. Microaggressions may be expressed in the form of implicit bias where the individual is unaware of the biased communication, or via explicit bias where the person is well aware that they are engaging in discriminatory actions. The theory identifies three forms of microaggressions: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations. Microassaults are most similar to “old-fashioned” racism where it is most often conscious and deliberately expressed. Calling a Person of Color a racial epithet, or preventing a son or daughter from dating or marrying outside of one’s race are examples of conscious intentionality. Although microinsults and microinvalidations may be intentional, they are most likely unintentionally communicated by the majority of dominant group members. Mistaking a Black person for a service worker, for example, is a microaggression that mistakenly views African Americans as less competent or capable.”

    (Torino, Gina C., David P. Rivera, Christina M. Capodilupo et al. “Everything You Wanted to Know About Microaggressions but Didn’t Get a Chance to Ask.” In /Microaggression Theory: Influence and Implications/, edited by Gina C. Torino, David P. Rivera, Christina M. Capodilupo et al., 3-15. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2019. pp. 3-5)

  9. “Anyone who thinks the transformation of our educational establishment is not a real problem is someone I’m not sure I quite understand.” McWorther is right. If you were an enemy country, that wanted to weaken the United Sates by disseminating harmful ideas, could you do better than “equity”, or “systemic racism”? I wonder if the Woke would agree that the priority for USA should be to remain the most powerful country in the world for the rest of the century and beyond.

    1. “I wonder if the Woke would agree that the priority for USA should be to remain the most powerful country in the world for the rest of the century and beyond.”

      I don’t know about the ‘Woke’ but it’s not a priority for me.

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