John McWhorter verbally reviews DiAngelo’s and Kendi’s most well-known books

November 3, 2021 • 12:15 pm

Over time, John McWhorter’s assessment of Ibram Kendi’s book How to be an Antiracist has gotten worse and worse. I suspected—as he admits in this 6-minute video—that McWhorter was loath to go after Kendi early on, but when Kendi started going after him, he took off the gloves. So now we get to hear what McWhorter really thinks of Kendi’s book. And it isn’t pretty.

He also takes on Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, which, says McWhorter, is the “second worst book he’s ever read.” (He does tell us the worst one, too.) When he’s finished with both, they’re in tatters.

Nevertheless, I recommend that you read both of them, for two reasons. First, you need to know the thoughts that are influencing so many people these days. These books are the manifestos for a lot of woke racism, including the assertion (from Kendi) that inequity of representation in organizations or groups is prima facie evidence for ongoing racism.

Further, a few readers have actually praised these books, and before you think there’s any credibility to such opinions, you need to read the books themselves. If you like them, so be it, but then go back to reason #1.

I have indeed read both books, and share McWhorter’s opinion, except that one book that’s possibly worse than White Fragility is The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. (The movie was quite good but the book is so shabby, so full of hyperventilating and purplish prose, that it takes the prize for Worst Book I’ve Ever Read. But it was still a bestseller!)

h/t: Paul

22 thoughts on “John McWhorter verbally reviews DiAngelo’s and Kendi’s most well-known books

  1. I’m a huge fan of John McWhorter. I have a great deal of respect for his views, his teaching skills, and his character. But he had an unusually easy life as a child and didn’t experience much of what the average inner-city person of color experienced. I respect many things about him, but I don’t respect his criticisms of what others less fortunate went through (and still go through). It’s one thing to tell someone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, it’s another to actually do it when you don’t have access to bootstraps. John never experienced the struggle.

    1. I am presuming you’ve read the books (if you haven’t, do say so). But you’re implying that nobody can review Kendi’s book unless the reviewer is a black person who has come up the hard way. Is that right? Also, to say McWhorter’s solution to black oppression and poverty is “to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” is way, way too simplistic. Yes, part of it is to work hard and study, but part of it is for America to invest widely and sensibly in the black community. He’s never blamed the plight of minorities solely on the minorities themselves.

      Finally Glenn Loury dislikes both Kendi’s and Di Angelo’s books as much as does McWhorter, and Loury DID come up the hard way.

      From his Wikipedia bio:

      Loury was born in the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, growing up in a redlined neighborhood. Before going to college he fathered two children, and supported them with a job in a printing plant. When he wasn’t working he took classes at Southeast Junior College where he won a scholarship to study at Northwestern University. In 1972, he received his Bachelor of Arts in mathematics from Northwestern University. He then went on to receive his Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976 awarded for his doctoral dissertation, titled “Essays in the Theory of the Distribution of Income”, under the supervision of Robert M. Solow.[5] During the completion of his Ph.D. at MIT, he met his future wife, Linda Datcher Loury.

      Loury (and Mcwhorter) on Kendi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgY7L9u2WKM&t=3s

      1. I’ve read a couple of Kendi’s books, but haven’t read DiAngelo’s book, although it is on my to read list. I’m not implying anything here. I’ve stated that McWhorter goes beyond a book review. At least that’s what it sounds like to me. You may not hear it that way, but I do. And in comparison to many inner city black kids, he had an easier life. Some are lucky and make it out, but the system isn’t designed to give black youth a boost out of the muck.

    2. It’s funny you should accuse McWhorter of suggesting black people “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” because on Sullivan’s podcast, he actually criticizes Obama for that attitude and also recognizes that he is of a privileged class of people. I think it’s unfair to dismiss someone based on their social class when McWhorter is simply addressing ideas purely on the merits of those ideas as others should address his ideas solely on the merit of his ideas.

      1. Ok, perhaps I am getting a different impression of how McWhorter is coming across. There is nothing wrong with reviewing books or ideas, but it almost seems as though it goes further than that…or at least it seems that way to me.

    3. So you think that a black man like McWhorter has less actual experiences with racism than a white woman like Robin DiAngelo?

      1. Jeff, I never said that. Ten people can look at a painting and see something different or point something out that another didn’t notice. It happens with everything. I’m noticing something that you aren’t or maybe you’re noticing something that I’m not. We all take away something different based on our experiences or tastes or whatever. I hear a tone or criticism that some haven’t picked up on. That doesn’t make me right and that doesn’t make you right.

        I have read a couple of Kendi’s books, but I didn’t read the book by DiAngelo, so I don’t have an opinion one way or another of that book.

    1. Thanks Coel! On an (ostensibly) unrelated subject, BBC Radio 4’s Feedback on Friday is going to discuss the recent Nolan Investigates podcast about the corporate capture of the Beeb and other influential organisations by Stonewall. (Although my brief contribution will be voiced up by a member of the programme’s team.)

  2. In addition to his appearance on Real Time and Andrew Sullivan’s podcast, he also appeared on Sam Harris’s Making Sense podcast and it was a very good discussion.

  3. There exists no evidence whatsoever (historical or otherwise) to support the a priori assumption (which lies at the heart of “woke” ideology and of the misguided principle of “equity”) that, in the absence of discrimination, every demographic category into which can be divided a given population (by sex, by race, by language, by ethnicity, by religion, etc) will produce equality of outcome by health or by wealth or by any other metric. Disparity need not imply discrimination any more than correlation must imply causation.

    1. I sympathize with your sentiment. But your statement is rather strong and thus vulnerable to “gotcha” counterexamples.

      That said, McWhorter writes in Woke Racism that there is little hope anyway to deconvert a committed Elect by reason, not any more than to deconvert any other fundamentalist religious believer.

  4. Sort of a tangent, but I could not agree with you more about “The Bridges of Madison County” including the fact that the movie was pretty good (it was Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, so how horrible could it be?), but the book was TERRIBLE…especially when read aloud by the author while you’re listening to it during a very long drive because your wife’s coworkers convinced her that it was wonderful. And then he sings a terrible little song he wrote about it at the end.

    I haven’t (yet?) read either of the books discussed above, mainly out of fear for my blood pressure, and with recognition of my mortality and therefore the finite time I have in the world, but if they are contenders for “Bridges” quality…I don’t know, man.

    1. Just wait til you get to the modern sequel; The Inherent Structural Racism Of The Imperialist Monuments To Toxic Masculine Power Of Madison County
      🙂

  5. “When he’s finished with both, they’re in tatters”.

    Oh, come now, that’s silly. The only stated quibble with the first book is that it merely urges society to confront a supposed issue, without providing a long-term actionable solution. That’s it. He doesn’t say that the issue isn’t real, or is less severe than how it’s presented in the book; he doesn’t say that society has nothing to gain from confronting it; he doesn’t even have anything constructive to say about the methods suggested by the author to confront the problem — just that there’s no long-term solution proposed. What’s the problem here? The book is subtitled “Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism,” not “A panacea for systemic racism in 200 pages”. It seems McWhorter has either missed the point of the book entirely, or else has a personal aversion to this kind of book (which is fine, but he should say as much, rather than stating that the book is worthless except where it might be used furniture).

    The discussion of the second book (to even call it a discussion of said book is enormously generous) is almost entirely focused on the author himself. What’s funny is that what little discussion there is of the book is the exact converse of what was disliked about the first: Where DiAngelo didn’t offer any solutions (and, again, as far as I can tell, she never claimed to), Kendi offers up too many, and they’re all stupid/pathetic/etc. Cue ad hominems, which make up 90% of McWhorter’s speaking time (especially in the discussion of Kendi).

    I suppose this brings in a good number of views (and, clearly, given this post, some praise from those who already agree with the views presented in the video), but it certainly doesn’t constitute a substantive evaluation of the merits of the books (as ostensibly suggested by PCC(E) in the opening quote). Really, McWhorter has been mulling for “years” over the impractical and ill-informed ideas of Kendi? Perhaps he could provide just one specific example from the book he’s just told his entire audience never to read. No? Okay, that’s fine, then just compare the author to a stupid naive child. This is mudslinging dressed up with big words and a thinly (if at all) veiled superiority complex.

    I’m glad that you encouraged the audience here to read the books, that alone has you doing vastly better than McWhorter. But the title of this post ought to be revised to “John McWhorter verbally berates DiAngelo and Kendi” since there’s practically nothing in here about the contents of their respective books. To the credit of the person who uploaded the video to YouTube, that’s exactly what they did. If indeed McWhorter had been meaning to provide a critical review of the books then this was a downright pathetic and unprofessional effort. Of course, that clearly wasn’t his intention, as it’s not hard to see how tickled he was by the chance to pontificate in front of a microphone about how little he thinks of Kendi and DiAngelo.

    As someone who’s read neither book, and very little of McWhorter, seeing this poorly focused, grandstanding diatribe does little to alter my impression of the books in question but rather taints my view of the man behind the microphone. Perhaps there is an actual, good faith discussion of the two books buried somewhere in the other 44 minutes of this conversation, but I certainly have no interest in seeking it out after viewing this snippet.

    1. McWhorter has written formal criticism of the books ​elsewhere, as I’ve pointed out before. Here is a piece in the NYT:

      https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/26/books/review/john-mcwhorter-woke-racism.html

      From Education Next:

      McWhorter has written formal criticism of the books ​elsewhere, as I’ve pointed out before. Here is a piece in the NYT:

      https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/26/books/review/john-mcwhorter-woke-racism.html

      From The Atlantic:

      https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/07/dehumanizing-condescension-white-fragility/614146/

      Perhaps I should have included these with the video, as they support it. But yes, Kendi offers dumb solutions and DiAngelo offers none. If you want to see more, read the reviews, but don’t chew my tuchas over a six-minute discussion of the books. McWhorter’s assessment of the books is accurate, to my mind, and I’ve read them. You haven’t, so you don’t have any ground to evaluate McWHorter’s take.

    2. McWhorter’s latest book, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America sets out very clearly his views on what is wrong with what he calls “the KenDiAngelonian gospel” and offers his own simple, practical solutions to “the race thing”. He also addresses the problems he sees in the “KenDiAngelonian” approach.

      Personally, I found some of the book didn’t match up to the very best of his writing on the issue elsewhere – nevertheless it is, in places, a powerful take on what is rapidly becoming the “white fragility” orthodoxy of the debate on race.

  6. I will not read the book White Fragility because I read DiAngelo’s original article with the same title published in 2011 [International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol 3 (3) (2011) pp 54-70] and was unconvinced by it. In the same way, I was loathe to read Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist because I read his prior opinion piece in the New York Times in 2018, “The Heartbeat of Racism Is Denial” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/13/opinion/sunday/heartbeat-of-racism-denial.html?smid=url-share), and was turned off by it, especially by the closing paragraphs. I am now reading his book.

  7. It’s a terrible situation when there’s still a) racism in society, b) cultural and political reasons why it perpetuates, and c) a lot of will to do something about it. I’m not qualified to say one way or another whether the books are pertinent or helpful, but I could easily see how the three conditions above would mean that there’s a lot of nonsense printed and perpetuated that proposes a solution. It’s easy to see how things could stagnate or even regress without more concerted action, so wanting to do something and people offering practical tips on what would make things better are going to spread.

    I think of it this way – there’s a myriad number of books that come out reconciling God and science. This happens because there are a) tensions between a scientific worldview and a theistic one and b) a lot of believers who also want to be inline with science. So we get unsatisfying solution after unsatisfying solution, not because there are cynics who want to grab that market, but because there are a lot of people who genuinely see that something needs to be said to make things right.

    I think, though, both cases create an environment when criticising the details is taken as criticising the project altogether. To go against the idea of white fragility or not wanting to be actively anti-racist is in effect wanting to perpetuate racism irrespective of whether those concepts are useful or practical or eliminating racism to begin with. It’s siding with the racists who also want to see those projects fail. Just as to point out problems in reconciliation attempts of God and science is taken as calling for the destruction of religion and the persecution of religious believers. The importance of the projects make the doubters equivalent to the haters.

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