The complete title of McWhorter’s new book is Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, and we’ve talked before about some of the contents that McWhorter posted on his earlier Substack column. The book isn’t yet out in paperback, but I got a hardback copy several weeks ago from interlibrary loan. (I have no more room to put books on my shelves–not even 2 inches of space.) The book is available now only in hardcover, but you can either wait until the paperback appears this fall, get it from the library, borrow it, or buy the hardbound copy for $18.01. But don’t wait to read it.
I recommend it most highly. (You knew I would.) It’s a short read—187 pages of text—and written in a simple but punchy style. McWhorter doesn’t pull any of those punches, either, describing the performative character of “woke racism” in a way that only a black man could get away with. (For instance, he says that a lot of people’s offense is simply a lie.)
You can get a taste of the style from the Amazon site “look inside” feature, and the topics from Table of Contents. Here are the contents and then a table from the first chapter which shows the contradictory nature of what McWhorter calls “third wave racism” (Electism):
A screeenshot, since I can’t transcribe it:
The lens through which McWhorter views “wokeism” is as a religion: a real religion, not just a metaphor for religions that worship a God. Although I don’t think this trope is absolutely necessary for McWhorter to make his case, but it does add considerably to our understanding of the phenomenon. The “Elect” (his word for the “woke”) will brook no dissent, believe in an original sin (racism, of course), demonize those who are against them, cast them to a social-media hell (or worse: getting them fired or banned), have a common set of tenets that, as shown above, contradict each other (cf. Christianity: God is loving but if you don’t accept him you’ll burn forever), and have a set of inerrant prophets, including Ibram Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Their words are not to be questioned; the prophets are to be worshipped and evoked as often as possible.
The book is not intended for The Elect because, as McWhorter asserts, their minds aren’t open. That’s true, just as my book Faith Versus Fact wasn’t intended for fundamentalist religionists. In both cases our books were intended for either those on the fence, those with open minds or, in McWhorter’s case, for those who already dislike Wokeness but want a critical analysis of its flaws as well as some bucking up. Wokeism may, for instance, repel you for reasons you don’t understand, and McWhorter supplies those reasons.
There are several, and since this isn’t a full review, I’ll just touch on them. First, “Electism” (or, as I prefer, “Wokeism”) is largely performative: it is a show of virtue without really accomplishing anything to lessen the inequalities that have plagued black people. How, for example, does firing a professor who explicates the “fill-in” word in Chinese “ne-gah” (just as “like” is a fill-in word in American English), accomplish anything to eradicate racism? We know of dozens of such performances. Academia is full of them, and they’ve spilled over into society at large. I see them every day.
Don’t get McWhorter wrong: he does see inequality of blacks and whites as a serious problem, but also thinks that black people have to lend a hand in helping us fix it. I’ll mention his solutions below. But by laying out the arrant stupidity (well, “misguidedness”) of performative Electism, he not only helps us understand it, but also to fight it and to stop flagellating ourselves as irreparably broken racists. In this sense it is heartening. It doesn’t aim to perpetuate racism by mitigating white guilt, but to show that much of that guilt is unwarranted.
In fact, McWhorter’s notion is that Electism actually harms black people in several ways. One way, which I’ve seen at my own university, is by infantilizing them: treating them as an especially sensitive group that must be coddled rather than respected. Once you realize how this infantilizing is done—and it’s done by both blacks and whites, but is especially odious when by whites—you can see signs of it everywhere. And this infantilizing leads to lower both the expectations we have for black achievement as well as the standards that we hold everyone to. It is, in fact, the very reason why the meritocracy is being dismantled, and why colleges and schools are getting rid of standardized tests. But this doesn’t help black people. How could it? It may get more of them into universities, but McWhorter claims that, in the elite schools at least, poor secondary-school education plus a culture not based prizing learning leads to many black students being underprepared, and either dropping out of or changing schools.
Another virtue of the book is that, like Mill’s “On Liberty,” McWhorter constantly anticipates the objections of the Woke and defuses them in advance. These include the idea that McWhorter must be a self-hating black, that we need affirmative action for all minorities, whether or not they’re disadvantaged, and that affirmative action must be based solely on how one is grouped racially. It must also last forever.
The initial chapters describe the phenomenon of Electism, make the case that it’s a real religion, and give many examples—you’ll be familiar with some—of how Electism plays out in everyday life. It’s horrifying to see what the Elect have gotten away with, but of course they get away with their shenanigans for one reason only: white people really don’t want to be called racists, and will do nearly anything to avoid that label.
Electness meets the road in the last two chapters. Chapter 5 contains McWhorter’s recommendations for how to really help black people. They may sound too few, or too silly, but the more one thinks about them, the more they make sense. In his view, there are only three correctives.
1.) End the war on drugs
2.) Teach reading properly (he recommends phonics, and knows whereof he speaks)
3.) Get past the idea that everybody must go to college
Each of these has wide ramifications that you can imagine if you think about them. But you needn’t, for McWhorter gives the rationales in detail. Sadly, none of these things are being emphasized or accomplished by the Woke, and none of them are the subject of the performative wokeism we encounter every day.
The last chapter deals with people who oppose performative wokeism but still want to help black people. What do you do when the Elect come for you? McWhorter sees acting on his advice as critical, for Electism is no longer a problem with colleges alone. It’s plagues all of American (and much of British and Canadian) society. McWhorter’s suggestion includes not engaging the Elect (they won’t listen), do not apologize for your actions or views if you advance them in reason good faith, and, most important, stand up to the woke. Don’t buy their bullshit, don’t let them make you feel guilty, and, if you disagree, just say so and walk away. And build your own group of like-minded people who are also antiracist.
That, of course, requires that you “out yourself” as an opponent of the Elect. I have already done so, but what do I have to lose? I don’t use Twitter, I have my own platform here, and I’m retired. Nobody can fire me. But there are many who do have things to lose. McWhorter’s advice is to stand up for your principles, even if you suffer by doing so. Just as atheists did, the more one “comes out”, the more heartened your ideological confrères become, and the more likely they’ll be to join you. The Elect, of course, will deem you a racist simply for opposing their mishigass. Don’t let them get away with it.
McWhorter finishes the book by addressing those who agree with his arguments:
The Elect will ever be convinced that if you join these brave, self-possessed survivors, you are, regardless of your color, a moral pervert in bed with white supremacy.
But you aren’t and you know it.
Buy and read this book. Surprisingly, the professional reviews have been good (it even got a star from Kirkus!), and it’s selling quite well. Don’t miss out.
Oh, and let me add that, as you might expect, the book is wonderfully written with simple and stylish prose. But if you’ve read McWhorter before, you’ll expect that. He’s a national treasure, a man whose voice is especially urgent as America tears itself apart over racism.
84 thoughts on “Quick review: “Woke Racism” by John McWhorter”
In his review in the Chronicle of Higher Education (https://www.chronicle.com/article/whats-a-woke-racist), Eduardo Penalver, president of Seattle University, has a different take. An excerpt:
“The title of his book — which uses the polarizing label “woke” and then accuses his opponents of being racist — seems designed to stop conversations, not start them. The book itself reads like a Fox News diatribe. His exegesis of his opponents is short on specifics and strangely personal (as when he calls attention to Ibram X. Kendi’s dreadlocks). Rather than striking the measured, analytic tone one would expect from an intellectual of McWhorter’s renown, Woke Racism reads like an extended Twitter rant. Virtually all of McWhorter’s critiques involve contestable empirical claims, and yet the book is extremely thin on the relevant social science. This is a recipe for selling a lot of books — not for elevating our discourse or changing minds”
I will reserve judgement, at least for now
I think that CHE is a pretty woke publication. I would not expect a positive review in such a place.
With all due respect, I find dismissing an entire publication as “woke” to be a bit of a cop out. Like the New York Times, The Washington Post, and many other outlets, The Chronicle publishes a variety of viewpoints. And I do think the objective in publication on all venues should be to start conversations, not to stop them. That was my intent in posting this link.
It’s good. Read it.
Mr. Eduardo Penalver: Pot, meet kettle.
“Higher Education” is an enemy. McWhorter’s second solution, ‘teach reading correctly,” is poison to the dominating (understatement) worldview of the schools of education in the USA. They despise systematic phonics.
If a reform of Government ordered the universities to insure that all licensed public school teachers were champions of phonics, skilled in its use, and dedicated to teaching reading that way … the outpouring of The Elite — and importantly, the teachers unions — would be deafening.
This reading war has been going on for 150 years. No exaggeration. The elite will fight this to the death.
“worldview of the schools of education in the USA. They despise systematic phonics”
My wife is a just-retired primary public school teacher (urban US district).
This statement may be somewhat true for the schools of education. It’s not true of teachers, generally. Anyone who teaches 1st and 2nd graders knows that phonics works for teaching beginners to read and “whole word” technique only works well with kids who would learn to read on their own, with almost no instruction at all.
“The Elite — and importantly, the teachers unions — would be deafening [against teaching phonics]”
This is simply wrong. Teachers’ unions don’t advocate for or against phonics (at least I’ve never heard of it; certainly my wife’s union did not). They advocate for the rights and well-being of their members, which is as it should be. (Certainly the districts don’t do that on their own!)
As noted, any competent (primary) teacher knows that phonics works.
I find this effort to tar (and destroy) teachers’ unions very interesting, especially coming from the Left. It’s certainly rampant now. It makes sense that the Right wants to destroy teachers’ unions: They hate unions and think all power should reside with owners. But on they Left? I don’t get it.
Teachers unions in California actively lobbied against measures that would have required a phonics-based approach to teaching reading. And most higher ed schools of education have been completely overtaken by the “Woke Racism” that McWhorter describes. Teachers learn to teach activism but not phonics. I’m a former classroom teacher and a reading specialist so I speak from firsthand experience.
My wife is a retired 1st and 2nd grade teacher in a large “Urban” school district. I’m speaking from (secondhand, daily) experience. I have no reason to doubt what my wife told me about her job on a daily basis.
Some unions may may oppose “requiring [a particular approach]” to teaching a subject. This is likely to allow teachers to choose what is working in their classroom. Opposing hard requirements on methods seems like a reasonable position. What do administrators and academics know about what is working in classrooms? (Answer: Very little in general).
I have no doubt that the academics in universities giving teaching degrees are captured by whatever the latest scheme for teaching reading is. Certainly it will not be old, tried-and-true phonics: You don’t get any points for “dog-bites-man”.
As I used to say to my wife, as the latest new teaching scheme or packaged curriculum was rolled out: “Someone needs to justify their PhD dissertation!”
Teachers at her school would genuflect in public to the new scheme (put out more flags!), as needed, to pass, then go into their classrooms and teach what works: Phonics for 1st grade new readers.
The most notably successful reading teacher in her school was noted for teaching phonics in a well defined progressive way, and “drilling and killing” on certain things that must be memorized (as Pinker defines it: Language is: Words (memorized) and Rules (applied to a general system).)
Jane, I confronted an activist in the California teachers union about this. She said “forcing phonics on little children is fascist. We know it, we hate it, we are fighting it.”
My eyebrows went up.
I was going to say something similar. The K-1 teachers in our local public school have no issue using phonics (I exclude 2 only out of ignorance, but am pretty sure they coordinated with the K and 1 teachers)
I am also not sure why John thinks it’s a good idea to demand all licensed public school teachers know this. Why should a HS chemistry teacher be required to be certified in teaching five-year-olds how to read via phonics? Perhaps he means *elementary* school teachers? But even that’s still a stretch. Elementary schools employ art, music, science, etc. specialists too. There’s no need to require such a certification across the board.
Dunno about the left. On the right, this can be seen as a side effect of sexism and bigotry. The “lazy teacher” and “lazy civil servant” seem to be very popular tropes on the right…and the “lazy” may simply be a dog whistle for mostly women teachers and mostly women and minority civil servants. So it’s a form of status or caste protection – we can’t let those people earn as much as we do!
McWhorter is clearly not writing about high school chemistry teachers. He’s writing about students learning to read: 6-9 years old/
Ah my apologies for the confusion. “John” in my post refers to commenter John Donohue and his post of Feb 1, 11:04am, not author John McWhorter. I was agreeing with jblilie’s response to him (Donohue).
I might have shorted the detail of my formulation. Naturally, I am only claiming that teachers who will have any part in teaching reading ought to be trained by their colleges of education to teach reading by systematic phonics first*. And school systems ought (normative) to require instruction of reading in that method as an absolute.
I will respond to challenges to that claim, but for clarity it is for teachers of reading, not other.
* the sensitive period for causing a natural and fun “writing and reading explosion” from phonics in a child is between 2.5 and 4.5 years … so Kindergarten is actual late. Children should be free decoders by age 5 or latest 6.
Hmm. Maybe things have changed since I was a kid. I had a teacher in any particular grade. The teacher taught all subjects. That’s the way it was until I got to Jr. High.
“But even that’s still a stretch. Elementary schools employ art, music, science, etc. specialists too. There’s no need to require such a certification across the board.”
I’m basically with you on your overall statement.
But for a K-6 license, you need to know how to teach reading. Reading is the fundamental building block upon which all other learning is based. Even the specialist teachers have to get their basic license first (at least where I live).
Since the “I find this effort ..” was an arrow shot at me, and now you have drifted into a paragraph of insinuation about sexism and bigotry, I would directly request confirmation or negation that your ‘caste protection’ construction is or is not intended to characterize me personally.
“Teachers’ unions … advocate for the rights and well-being of their members, which is as it should be. ”
Precisely – well put.
If you think teacher’s unions ‘only’ stick to wages and conditions for members, and do not engage with, contribute money for, and/or support policy and ballot measure having to do with practice and standards that their members will have to abide, you are naïve. It is all a continuum.
Your ‘tar and feather’ characterization is unnecessary and insulting.
Ha! He should try reading Ibram Kendi’s “How to be an antiracist” if he wants an undocumented rant that, moreover, is largely autobiographical.
In fact this review is very much like the kind of reviews that Dawkins got for “The God Delusion.” McWhorter is not addressing scholars here–he’s addressing the general public. I’ve read Kendi and I’ve read McWhorter, and Kendi is far less convincing, more polarizing, and full of undocumented statements like “inequities are prima facie evidence for racism.”
The stuff about “mesured analytical tone”, also leveled at Dawkins and Hitchens, is pure bullshit given the audience. McWhorter is writing for the average person, and they aren’t academics.
“inequities are prima facie evidence for racism.” [Kendi]
The NFL is 57.5% African Americans (players). African Americans are about 13% of the population. According to Kendi, the NFL is, “prima facie”, practicing racism against white players.
Note: the book is available at Amazon for Kindle and all devices (Kindle reader) for $16. Also available as audio book from Audible
I read Woke Racism within a week of its release and loved it.
I am really please that you show the table that McWhorter provided. To me, this is one of the most useful and powerful parts of the book.
I’ve had (liberal, very well educated, smart) interlocutors on FB explain to me how, according to I. Kendi, there are sensible ways in which one can state, “all white people are racist.”
Yes, there are: Logically flawed ones like applying both sides of the table that McWhorter provides. Which is what the Woke (or The Elect, as McWhorter describes them) do. (Aw sh!t!, I forgot that logic is just White Supremacy.)
“I’ve had (liberal, very well educated, smart) interlocutors on FB explain to me how, according to I. Kendi, there are sensible ways in which one can state, “all white people are racist.””
Once you start creating your own word definitions you can make a sensible-sounding argument for any proposition or its opposite. But it’s always question-begging, especially when Kendi does it. A good exercise would be to look at one of Kendi’s dogmatic assertions and see where it touches reality and how it is logically consistent. You soon find that Kendi is a sophist, nothing else. A pleasant sophist maybe; certainly a well-paid one. But a sophist nonetheless.
I’m growing in my conviction that when teaching science, students must be shown how science contrasts with pseudo-science. A medical test that can with high accuracy predict when a patient has COVID, but not when he doesn’t have COVID, would be largely worthless. Same with one’s ability to distinguish arguments that are indeed logically valid and well-evidenced from those that merely sound good. Kendi is a master of sound-bites.
Yes, one of the first moves by the Woke is to try to redefine words. Moving goal posts. Special pleading. Etc.
“inequities are prima facie evidence for racism.” [Kendi]
The NFL is 57.5% African Americans (players). African Americans are about 13% of the population. According to Kendi, the NFL is, “prima facie”, practicing racism against white players.
(Aw, I forgot that the Woke have defined racism and only being practiced by white people and others who are doing well in society!)
If you just define things as prima facie, then you don’t have to provide any evidence for your assertion. Convenient! I’m writing this sh!t down!
Prima facie doesn’t mean incontrovertible or the last word. Kendi likely knows this but I suspect, prima facie, he is betting his audience doesn’t.
I’m fairly certain he means it as, “accepted as correct until proved otherwise”.
In other words: I define my assertion as correct by default. You must disprove it.
Which is a convenient rhetorical move. People should never fall for it.
It is unfortunately true that many have much to lose by opposing the divisive and anti-rational madness of “wokeism”, while it is equally true that many have much to gain from promulgating the dogmas of this cult with zeal and fervor (not just the “prophets” but their many acolytes and epigones as well). Not all will have the courage or the strength to resist what has become a kind of cultural imperative, as pernicious as it is wholly (and fraudulently) convinced of its own moral rectitude.
Available in the UK from February the 15th. Very much looking forward to reading it. I share your problems with shelf space but will have to make room for this one.
I am interested in McWhorter’s argument for not sending everyone to college. It’s an opinion I agree with, but I want to read his arguments.
I am not entirely comfortable with calling Wokeism a religion. Aside from the legal implications in the US, I just don’t know whether this is really valid. We’ve seen other movements, like Communism, which also look, depending on your perspective, like religions. I think that there are movements that have learned to draw from the experience of religion as an organization and a movement to inform how they act and talk and congregate. I just don’t know that labeling them a religion gains us anything.
Wokeism isn’t, technically, a religion.
However, its adherents exhibit many of the same behaviors as the religious do (and McWhorter explains these well).
It is a useful discussion tool for understanding and predicting Woke behavior.
I forgot to add, but you’ve given me an excuse to, that that is the one point on which I may differ with McWhorter. It is VERY LIKE a religion, if not one, and the parallels are so similar to faiths like Christianity, or ideologies like Soviet Communism, that I don’t see whether it matters much whether it’s an ACTUAL religion or not. The similarities are sufficient to make us sit up and take notice.
I agree, it is very like a religion: especially the magical thinking part which, to me, is the hard line when comparing something to religion. Take “Kimilsungism” as another eg. which is officially secular but has all the hallmarks of a faith, complete with a holy trinity and kids in school told the 3 Kims are gods. Wokeism (as well explained variously) has many similarities w/ religion. Which is partly why it is so damn dangerous as you can’t talk people out of faith (usually).
That’s an interesting thought – I’ve been puzzling what to call astrology – supernatural? I don’t think so. Religion? Not really. More of a through-space interaction with no merit since ~16th c. developments…
Call it? A: Bullshit. Or, perhaps, more poetically, P. T. Barnum’s Pride.
I agree that it is very like a religion, but find this a bit tangential to McWhorter’s excellent core points about the social and political damage done by wokeism in the face of real racial inequalities that need to be fixed. At least, I wish he had used this as a supporting point somewhere and not as the frame for the whole book. As a frame for the whole book, I think it narrows the audience,
Yep, beside the original sin of racism, there is also the ever-present crime of blasphemy at play.
So many words that are sacrilegious…
And worse, thought crimes (oh my Hitchens), pervade. I am thinking right now, and by definition, my thoughts are racist and colonial. I hate myself. But that’s just white guilt sprung from fear of darker pigmentation…
Sorry…reading Kendi & DiAngelo hurt my soul.
It is ‘like a religion’ – correct. So like. Fanatics, fervour, blasphemy, thought crime, original sin, saviours…all the same behaviours. Another narrative, another theism to replace the old.
I’ve said nothing new…just venting.
ps: I have been advocating for Synthetic Phonics for so many years. I have used this method with superb results. It makes so much sense.
(Luckily, we have no ‘whole word’ here in Australia. But the primary school teachers I met did not seem to know much about synthetic phonics, or systematic phonic teaching. Having said that, they were still very good teachers. I’d still pay them more…)
Having dealt with theistic fundamentalist, it seems to me that the “Woke” are another type of fundamentalist: secular fundamentalists.
McWhorter makes a extraordinary elegant and clear case, not only for the above an, but so much more, including the problems of how children are taught to read.
Someone in this thread quoted the Chronicle of Higher Education to the detriment of McWhorter’s book. But frankly, trusting the CHE to give a fair reading of McWhorter’s book is much like expecting creationists to give a fair account of evolution.
I’m not sure this is something under our control to ‘get past.’ The US has been moving from a manufacturing to a service economy for many decades, and this pushes the value of education up. I don’t think we can return to the ’50s model of the HS diploma being the “working” degree, even if we wanted to.
There’s always trade schools…I’d like to think that the traditional trade professions are somewhat immune, but “smart” and sensor technology will (IMO) probably change them too. Mechanics already use computers to talk to car computers, I expect the same is likely to be true in the near future (if not already) for HVAC/electrical, and maybe plumbing in another 20. Some minimal technical knowledge of IT is become more and more a ‘basic training’ type of requirement for most professions.
Lastly, the push for longer education also makes sense from a demographic perspective. People are living and working longer, so we don’t need comparatively as many young people in the workforce at any given time. If out of every 100 jobs, 2 of them used to be done by people over 55, now probably 10 of them are. So what age group goes down in representation? The less experienced ones. And this sort of logic will hold even though the economy is not ‘zero sum’ but increases the number of real jobs; more jobs, yes…but more older people as well as younger people ready to fill them. So that’s another economic reason for young people to stay in school longer and get stronger credentials before entering the job market. Maybe the loss of the boomers over the next couple decades pushes the US back into needing more young workers, but even in that case, I’ll bet the need is for well-educated young workers…because again, we now have a predominantly service and technical economy.
Sounds like a solid argument for extending free public education in the US from 12 to 14 years. We can fund it with the money saved by ending the War on Drugs.
I’m not opposed to it. Though this SCOTUS might be.
42% of Americans graduate from college (I was astonished at how high that was).
That leaves the majority, nearly 60%, without a college degree.
I have to assume that some segment of the 42% would have preferred another path.
It makes sense to ensure that other, skilled, labor paths are available. Trades, professional certificates, etc., at less than a 4-year Bachelor’s degree.
I support (and would be willing to pay higher taxes for) making 2 years after high school publicly funded (free for the student), aimed at jobs that society needs filled.
From my four-decades-plus experience as a college professor, I conclude that during that tenure ‘college’ became what high school had been up to the mid-point of the 20th century. Extending high school to 13th and 14th grade might be a way of partially catching up–and forcing 4-year colleges to return to HIGHER education.
I’m always amazed that the blinking neon sign is not turned on: This is pure Platonism. Plato, the original architect of the authoritarian state, and the rock star of woo.
“The Elect” are Plato’s philosopher kings, and they know what’s needed for the unenlightened masses at the back of the cave. They are claiming their kingship — ownership — now.
The street Social Justice Warrior, and the spewing university undergrads, are minions of the elect. The media — ‘social’ or otherwise — are witting power structures of ‘the republic.’ Cartel Corporations are willing sycophants. The goal is to destroy the remnant of the Original American Revolution.
I could give (again) the tracing from Plato to Kendi, and ‘claim the name’ of my conviction of the true political philosophy as instantiated today. That is not necessary. This is Platonism in its most toxic form. It is not benevolent.
“2.) Teach reading properly (he recommends phonics, and knows whereof he speaks) 3.) Get past the idea that everybody must go to college.” Wokies not only fail to emphasize these recommendations, they actively oppose them, especially (as pointed out above) the phonics method to teach reading.
Indeed, recent fashion trends among wokies and in Schools of Ed have a clear common denominator.
The trends are: opposition to phonics; opposition to tests of accomplishment, advanced classes, and meritocracy in general; substitution of “ethnomathematics” for mathematics; “decolonization” of STEM.
The common denominator is the substitution of ideology and word magic for attention to the real world.
When it reaches the stage of substituting a Diversity Statement for proof of competence in licensing pilots to fly airplanes and surgeons to operate, then it will be time to bail out.
American Airlines recently declared that they have begun admitting candidates for hire, and newbies into their Flight School based on ‘diversity.’ Thy announced target quotas for various groups of intersectionality.
Does that count?
add: that’s for pilots, not baggage handlers.
I don’t see the problem – what’s wrong with a diverse pool of applicants? It is a good thing to make sure the pool of applicants is diverse.
[ deleted ]
Seriously? That is not irony or satire?
The “deleted” would have helped.
Forgive me for double-dipping, but Heterodox Academy has just illustrated the point in post #11, to wit:
“UNC-Chapel Hill professors in rhetoric and comparative literature and psychology and neuroscience, respectively, assert that it’s time to cancel the word “rigor,” arguing that it is both “outdated” and “an exclusionary concept.” For the whole discussion, see:
But how rigorous are their arguments for that position?
“He’s dead, Jim!”
“How can you tell, doctor?”
One way to help this along would be to select more SCOTUS (and lower bench) nominees from defense attorneys rather than prosecutors. [Shameless plug warning; I also suggested this in the Tuesday roundup.]
Ketanji Brown Jackson, who appears to be the leading contender to replace Justice Breyer, spent two years in the Washington, DC, public defender’s office.
She also spent two years as special counsel to the US Sentencing Commission and had an uncle sentenced to life on a drug beef and another uncle who was Miami’s police chief.
I like the points of her cv your provide Ken.
I bought the Amazon Kindle version last week for $3.99. And read it during our blizzard here on Cape Ann, MA last Saturday.
It should be mentioned that it is also available as a Kindle ebook for $15.99. Save a tree!
Most of the consumer reviews on Amazon are positive (4.6 out of 5) but there are a few negative ones. Some of the negatives are the silly, dismissive ones you would expect (“a good book for white people looking for excuses for their racism” or something like that). Surprisingly, several of the bad reviews detail their complaints. I haven’t read the book so I have no opinion on their validity. Just pointing them out.
4.) Write a book with Glenn Loury
I’m confused here. Wouldn’t standing up to the “woke” and telling them why you disagree involve engaging with the Elect?
I’ve always felt that refusing to debate a group on the principle that they’re a monolithic block incapable of listening or changing doesn’t comport well with the values of the Enlightenment. It only works if the individuals who “won’t listen or change” are defined in hindsight.
I haven’t read the book but isn’t McWhorter just telling us that not engaging with dissenters is baked in to the Elect’s thesis so why bother trying? It does sound a bit defeatist, I’ll admit. In almost all engagement venues, there are people on the fence that may be convinced by dissenting arguments even if their intended recipient isn’t listening.
This book is a debate. I wouldn’t debate creationists in person, but do through my writings (cf. Why Evolution is True). I don’t think I said McWhorter advised people to engage the Woke in debate; he just says tell them you disagree and walk away.
How is a derisive group label against the “Woke” or “Wokeism” any more productive than someone calling you an “Islamophobe” to stop discussion of abuses in Islam?
It’s an easily abused group labeling indictment, that does not advance a consistent thesis, or make sound arguments on specific issues, becoming a self-justifying rhetorical cudgel.
I think you’ve lost the plot here, Jerry.
When you have no response to the argument, you go after the tone or the names. Is “Elect” better than woke?
I said that McWhorter addressed the book to the average person, not to scholars.
Sadly, there are people like you who reject the whole argument because he uses the term “the Woke”? You’re just looking for an excuse to diss the book on any basis. What would you have it called. And it’s not “abused”; it’s used accurately. The name doesn’t address the thesis, McWhorter’s argument (which you clearly haven’t read) advanes the argument.
As for your last sentence, that violates the Roolz. You haven’t read the book, so you’re over here criticizing about the only thing you can: the use of the term “Woke.” Sorry, but it is somewhat pejorative, and it’s meant to be. So is “the Elect”. Do you think if we called them “the extreme antiracists” their minds would be changed? DOn’t make me laugh.
The differences are a) that “woke” is what they (at leased used to) call themselves and b) “-phobe” implies “fear” and that is unfairly used to brand people who disagree with something. Just because I disagree with something doesn’t mean that I fear it. And even if I fear it, that doesn’t mean that I am necessarily wrong in doing so. Especially with “transphobic” it is not just the wrong allegation but, like back during the red scare, allegations are believed without any evidence and the people are cancelled.
If you’ve read this website at all, you would realize it overflows with the advancement of consistent theses. My guess is that you want to avoid the “Woke” label the usual reason: you want to disarm your opposition by muddying an effective label. That’s yet another reason I prefer “Woke” over McWhorter’s “Elect”.
Group labels are often abused because they tend to lump together people with diverse but overlapping theses. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to be a problem with the Woke. They do seem to all be reading from the same book(s). Their refusal to discuss their ideas in public also helps to make lumping them under a single label seem fair.
The Woke have created that name themselves — and told the rest of us me must also become Woke (“born again”, anyone?).
You can call it a fine own-goal; but don’t blame the critics of the Woke for the name or for using it for their own arguments (as a convenience).
Rebuffing someone is not really engaging them.
When you engage in a discussion or polite debate with a person who is on the other side of an issue, but who is a normal person, There is a very good chance that both of you will come to understand the reasoning behind the views held by the other. You might come to a compromise, or one of you might learn new facts or find a perspective that makes more sense, and change their views.
My experiences discussing issues with the woke have been very frustrating. The last really memorable time was about unaccompanied kids at the border. I am not pro-internment, but do think it is a complicated issue. Custody needs to be established, at a minimum. You can’t just hand the kid over to the first person who claims to be their uncle, nor can you hand a 10 year old $20 and a bus ticket to Boise.
But back to the point. The person I was discussing this with had the view that any detaining of kids was just like a concentration camp. Kids should never be detained, for any time period, under any conditions.
I asked about custody issues, or steps to prevent child sex trafficking, The time it takes to find and notify relatives.
The answer she gave me was “Just never detain kids”, or some version of that, over and over. And this was an apparently educated person.
A reasonable person might say about an issue “this sometimes needs to be done because…”, but the woke person’s logic does not include the word “because”, or anything after it. So engaging with them about the because parts is useless. They reject objective truth, so something being true is irrelevant.
Old time Marxist/Leninists at least had the dialectic to fall back on. They would sit around and debate issues like a bunch of Rabbis.
See? That’s why I’m pro-internment (or would be if I was American). Detain unaccompanied kids for their own protection while you detain the adults for your protection. You’re not singling out kids for the kinder koncentration kamps or babies in cages. No need to listen to the ones who won’t listen back when you’re trying to be reasonable.
2 quick points before I read the article properly though I’ve heard McW. on many podcasts and read his column.
1. The concept of “cultural appropriation” is, bluntly, the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard and I’ve studied *religion/s* quite a bit. I thought the god squad got the stupidest award until I learned about cultural appropriation. Man.
2. Ending the war on drugs. America’s worst mistake in a century, would be good for everyone, particularly the poor whatever their color. Too often wealth/inequality is the real problem, not race IMHO.
From studying and writing about psychedelics and other illegal drugs for 30 years or so, together with my practice as a criminal defense atty (in NYC drug court often) I’ll take on any drug warrior in debate any day. To a person I’ve found “drug warriors” know almost nothing about illegal and legal drugs.
John McWhorter’s major point is that wokery accomplishes little for the minority populations it claims to uphold. On the other hand, it accomplishes plenty for a sub-population of consultants, diversicrats, and careerists, many of them as snow-white as Robin DiAngelo or Meredith Raimondo of Oberlin. This should be transparently obvious in the case of the ritual of the “Diversity Statement”. This catechism, being slipped into more and more academic employment, promotion, and grant support procedures, does not in fact select for members of minority groups. Instead, it selects for applicants, of any ethnicity, who are fluent in the language and formulae of wokespeak. Every now and then, someone reveals this openly, as a speaker did last year at a meeting about D, E, and I in computer science. The speaker gave the game away, in a plea for more activists who did not belong to minority groups, but rather acted as their allies or “champions”.
An objective observer might conclude that woke organizations like BLM serve only as agitators, in an attempt to provoke action that is destructive to the persons and communities they allege to serve. I have yet to hear any reasonable predictions for how they will help Black communities or individuals in the long term. Really, teaching some kid to be permanently aggrieved and to see oppression everywhere will sabotage his future.
Likewise, teaching the Asian and White kids that they are permanently wicked, and to always show penitence, is likely to backfire spectacularly.
McWhorter is the best out there on race problems in America how the woke are exacerbating rather than fixing the problems, but I feel more strongly than you (Jerry) do about the trope (framing as religion) being unnecessary. I think his insistence on the “religion” frame becomes a distraction from his core points about social and political conditions, and unnecessarily limits his audience reach. I wish he’d saved the trope for a separate essay. (He’s probably thought this through better than I have, but that’s my gut feeling.)
That’s what I’ve been saying too. I think McWhorter is right in describing Wokeness as a religion but it’s merely descriptive. It doesn’t help us fight it. In fact, it might even make it worse since most people are at least tolerant of religion and the US Constitution puts that tolerance into law, more or less. What strategies for fighting it are derived from viewing it as a religion?
With you. I agree it’s much like a religion, but don’t see any practical gains in grounding your whole argument to that frame (although, like you, I suspect there are some practical losses).
Agreed. This may have been mentioned already, but the audiobook is delightful. Highly recommended.
I just got a copy (apparently, not every library in my local library network felt this title met the objectives for their collections).
I can hear McWhorter’s vocal sound as I read the text. The expression is so elegant – very precise, and only enough words to make a clear point.
And the clear points are stunning, I am up to the superstition part now.
Taking a knee
“Holding their hand up, palm out, like a Pentecostal”
… I could go on. An important story, examining the mess of Electism / New Puritans, and as such, one asks “really? Isn’t this a bit too far?”
Well, when there’s a huge mess, this is precisely the way to solve it – examine far and wide, the minutiae and the big things.
Last comment : I think McWhorter in writing is very much like McWhorter speaking live. I always wondered if he embraces the idea of the performer on an instrument, live, on the stand – of speaking as writing out loud… of _composing_ in the moment…