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John McWhorter’s Woke Racism: An argument about how to secure privilege

John McWhorter’s Woke Racism: An argument about how to secure privilege
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In 2021, Penguin Random House published John McWhorter’s Woke Racism: How a New Religion Betrayed Black America. The book, whose author is a well-known professor of linguistics at Columbia University and columnist with the New York Times, became a bestseller and received significant media attention when it was released.

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Woke Racism takes aim at contemporary identity politics, including ideology like Critical Race Theory (CRT). He exposes the racialists for the inanities and nastiness of their ideology, as well as for the mob-like atmosphere they whip up. McWhorter is observant. His commentary is often perceptive, at times amusing and frequently scathing. He sticks his neck out and takes positions that are generally unpopular within his own social milieu—academia and the op-ed pages of America’s leading liberal newspaper.

Woke Racism, John McWhorter

However, McWhorter’s overriding objection is not that racialism is deeply anti-egalitarian and aimed at dividing the working class, but that it hinders, as opposed to advances, the meritocratic aspirations of minorities trying to climb to the top rungs of American capitalism.

The author touches on the privileged status of the race-obsessed, but he analyzes neither the historical origins of racial ideology nor the class interests it serves. Therefore, when it comes to proposing ways to combat racialism, he finds himself at a dead end. McWhorter concludes his book with a number of “pragmatic” proposals whose content, whatever his intentions, are of a right-wing character, careening in the direction of libertarianism.

Woke Racism argues that “Third Wave Antiracism” and its attendant Critical Race Theory are neither anti-racist, scholarly nor a theory, but rather a puritanical religion that is propagated by an “Elect” and that shares all the worst features of zealotry. This ideology, McWhorter writes, “teaches that because racism is baked into the structure of society, whites’ ‘complicity’ in living within it constitutes racism itself.” He writes,

Under this paradigm, all deemed insufficiently aware of this sense of existing while white as eternal culpability require bitter condemnation and ostracization, to an obsessive, abstract degree that … leaves millions of innocent people scared to pieces of winding up in the sights of a zealous brand of inquisition that seems to hover over almost any statement, ambition, or achievement in modern society.

McWhorter issues a number of indictments against this new religion: “It is losing innocent people their jobs. It is coloring academic inquiry, detouring it, and sometimes strangling it like kudzu” (p. 5); “It is an obsessive, self-involved, totalitarian, and an utterly unnecessary kind of cultural reprogramming” (p. 15); “It is gruesomely close to Hitler’s racial notions in their conception of an alien, blood-deep malevolent ‘whiteness’” (p. 15).

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John McWhorter

McWhorter rejects the label “white supremacism” as a description of modern-day reality, pointing out that it both minimizes the brutality of race relations in the past and ignores decades of social change. He argues that rather than America being in constant denial about race and racism, the country suffers from an obsession with it. Millions of dollars, for example, have poured into the Black Lives Matter industry.



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