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Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America

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Acclaimed linguist and award-winning writer John McWhorter argues that an illiberal neoracism, disguised as antiracism, is hurting Black communities and weakening the American social fabric. Americans of good will on both the left and the right are secretly asking themselves the same question: how has the conversation on race in America gone so crazy? We're told read books Acclaimed linguist and award-winning writer John McWhorter argues that an illiberal neoracism, disguised as antiracism, is hurting Black communities and weakening the American social fabric. Americans of good will on both the left and the right are secretly asking themselves the same question: how has the conversation on race in America gone so crazy? We're told read books and listen to music by people of color but that wearing certain clothes is "appropriation." We hear that being white automatically gives you privilege and that being Black makes you a victim. We want to speak up but fear we'll be seen as unwoke, or worse, labeled a racist. According to John McWhorter, the problem is that a well-meaning but pernicious form of antiracism has become, not a progressive ideology, but a religion--and one that's illogical, unreachable, and unintentionally neoracist. In Woke Racism, McWhorter reveals the workings of this new religion, from the original sin of "white privilege" and the weaponization of cancel culture to ban heretics, to the evangelical fervor of the "woke mob." He shows how this religion that claims to "dismantle racist structures" is actually harming his fellow Black Americans by infantilizing Black people, setting Black students up for failure, and passing policies that disproportionately damage Black communities. The new religion might be called "antiracism," but it features a racial essentialism that's barely distinguishable from racist arguments of the past. Fortunately for Black America, and for all of us, it's not too late to push back against woke racism. McWhorter shares scripts and encouragement with those trying to deprogram friends and family. And most importantly, he offers a roadmap to justice that actually will help, not hurt, Black America.


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Acclaimed linguist and award-winning writer John McWhorter argues that an illiberal neoracism, disguised as antiracism, is hurting Black communities and weakening the American social fabric. Americans of good will on both the left and the right are secretly asking themselves the same question: how has the conversation on race in America gone so crazy? We're told read books Acclaimed linguist and award-winning writer John McWhorter argues that an illiberal neoracism, disguised as antiracism, is hurting Black communities and weakening the American social fabric. Americans of good will on both the left and the right are secretly asking themselves the same question: how has the conversation on race in America gone so crazy? We're told read books and listen to music by people of color but that wearing certain clothes is "appropriation." We hear that being white automatically gives you privilege and that being Black makes you a victim. We want to speak up but fear we'll be seen as unwoke, or worse, labeled a racist. According to John McWhorter, the problem is that a well-meaning but pernicious form of antiracism has become, not a progressive ideology, but a religion--and one that's illogical, unreachable, and unintentionally neoracist. In Woke Racism, McWhorter reveals the workings of this new religion, from the original sin of "white privilege" and the weaponization of cancel culture to ban heretics, to the evangelical fervor of the "woke mob." He shows how this religion that claims to "dismantle racist structures" is actually harming his fellow Black Americans by infantilizing Black people, setting Black students up for failure, and passing policies that disproportionately damage Black communities. The new religion might be called "antiracism," but it features a racial essentialism that's barely distinguishable from racist arguments of the past. Fortunately for Black America, and for all of us, it's not too late to push back against woke racism. McWhorter shares scripts and encouragement with those trying to deprogram friends and family. And most importantly, he offers a roadmap to justice that actually will help, not hurt, Black America.

30 review for Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra X is very happy & even more confused

    "This book is dedicated to each who find it within themselves to take a stand against this detour in humanity's intellectual, cultural and moral development." That dedication alone would have sold me on this book even if it hadn't been written by one of my favourite authors, a professor of linguistics. "This book is dedicated to each who find it within themselves to take a stand against this detour in humanity's intellectual, cultural and moral development." That dedication alone would have sold me on this book even if it hadn't been written by one of my favourite authors, a professor of linguistics.

  2. 5 out of 5

    mark monday

    McWhorter is that guy who goes on & on about something that is of interest to you but maybe not to the same very heated, over the top degree. He's an excitable fellow and while I love that about him, it's also at the heart of my big challenge with this book. Namely, he's guilty of engaging in the same thing that those infernal Woke do: binary thinking! These True Believers are often obnoxious and many of their ideas are deeply offensive, but there are a lot of good points in there too (says the McWhorter is that guy who goes on & on about something that is of interest to you but maybe not to the same very heated, over the top degree. He's an excitable fellow and while I love that about him, it's also at the heart of my big challenge with this book. Namely, he's guilty of engaging in the same thing that those infernal Woke do: binary thinking! These True Believers are often obnoxious and many of their ideas are deeply offensive, but there are a lot of good points in there too (says the old progressive, generously). McWhorter is basically saying that woke viewpoints denote Lost, Sick Person. There is apparently nothing positive whatsoever about woke ideology to him and that's just too black & white for me. This is often a polemic, which is fun, but I wanted more fairness e.g. the BLM protests definitely spawned condemnable destruction, but that doesn't invalidate the actual peaceful protests that occurred. Don't throw that woke baby out with the bathwater, buddy. It's still a little human being, it just needs to grow. Okay all that said, this is still very enjoyable, super readable, and it makes a host of valid points. I won't go on & on about it because my progress notes already go on & on. The best section is Chapter 4, which is incisive, insightful, complex. A lot of that is due to how he dampens his own emotionalism - something he often rightfully accuses the woke of indulging in - and that makes this section all the more impactful. It made points that I strongly agreed with, points that troubled me, and it systematically takes down key parts of the woke platform. I go over that section in msg 30 below. Despite his attempt to sideline the usual critique of He's So Bougie, that highly intelligent yet vaguely entitled middle-class perspective does inform the entire book. But to me, that's fine. I'm not against that perspective, it's a valid, real one. I can say the same about certain woke perspectives too. LOL look at me, what a fucking centrist. ♜♞♝♚♛♝♞♜ RAMBLING READING RATIONALE (view spoiler)[ Just got this in the mail today from my boss (and friend, and a fellow POC). He's pretty concerned about the wave of wokeism that has inundated our social services agency; I'm... less concerned? I certainly don't consider myself woke, or any other faddish label, but my politics are often more old school progressive than his rather neo-liberal perspective. As a huge Obama fan, he was up in arms about the "existential threat" (another faddish term) that Trump posed during his presidency, while I saw 45 as the exemplar of a vaguely apolitical yet still identity-obsessed populism that is not particularly threatening to me and more inspiring of eyerolling disdain. Disdain in general is my usual reaction to most politicians, and certainly most popular political-social movements. Especially ones that are fueled by social media, news media, politicians, and populist reality tv stars who somehow became president. Woke kids and other faddists, please stay off my Gen X lawn, those anti-pc signs that I put up back in the 90s are for you too. Anyway, good job boss in slowly removing the MSNBC teat from mouth! Personally, I wouldn't have started with McWhorter if I were him, there's a Chua book I'd like to introduce him to. I guess we'll see if we have any commonalities when it comes to this book... (hide spoiler)] ♟♟♟♟♟♟♟♟ PROGRESS NOTES (view spoiler)[Prologue & Chapter 1: What Kind of People? McWhorter makes clear that he has written this book for two sometimes overlapping audiences: (1) bougie liberal people like himself and (2) black people. He is equally clear that he is not writing this for anyone who thinks of themselves as woke - to him, these folks are too far gone, a lost cause. Audience #1 was interesting/amusing to me, because this is the charlatan Robin DiAngelo's target audience as well. Anyway, after the prologue, the first chapter gives a few well-known and embarrassing examples of faux racial justice overreach, then dives in. First, to show the essentially Kafkatrap nature of woke discourse; namely, that anything anyone white does will always be considered racist. Second, to make clear that wokesters are everywhere, just everywhere, waiting to pounce. He provides a few examples of what he considers to be pernicious wokeism, including DEI trainings. And third, he introduces his term "The Elect" to describe those who espouse woke ideology. The chapter had its strengths and weaknesses. His first goal is nothing new to me, he's preaching to my choir. He terms this new initiative "Third Wave Antiracism" and I want nothing to do with any kind of ism that posits that all people of one race/color/culture are all doing the same bad thing, because *cough* that's racism. I'm also on board with his disdain of the overuse not to mention basic misuse of the phrase "white supremacist" - my God, the number of times I've heard that at work - to describe things that exist regardless of race/color/culture. I'm on board because, to use one small example, if someone is saying my need to create a outcomes-based timeline is a symptom of white supremacist culture, then they are (1) diminishing actual white supremacy, (2) ignoring how similar activities exist in both all-white and non-white cultures, and (3) exhibiting their own sort of racism by saying that POC are incapable of working with things like outcomes-based timelines. There are the weaknesses as well. Unlike McWhorter and many of his contrarian kin, I'm not opposed at all to DEI training at places of work or education. As long as they are delivered with both empathy and realism. I'm a big fan of Dr. Melanie Tervalon's concept of "Cultural Humility" and that appears to be at the (uncredited) heart of much of DEI. It rankles me to see trainings of this sort simply dismissed. My agency just received one, and the lessons learned were nearly all basic ones about respecting diversity and difference, engaging with rather than ignoring power dynamics, and overviews of things like redlining. (That said, I did have to ignore one lesson on that phrase "white supremacist work culture" that trotted out the ignorance of another charlatan, Tema Okun. But that was like 20 minutes out of 8 hours.) I also thought the author going on and on excitedly about his new moniker "The Elect" was a bit... embarrassing? My guy, that's not going to catch on. Chapter 2: The New Religion McWhorter goes in detail about why he thinks woke ideology is a religious movement. This was a frustrating chapter that often made my eyes roll. He must have written it in a white heat (because it often comes across as a poorly thought-out FB or NextDoor rant that is intent on scaring the bejesus out of its readers regarding some dire threat that is about to kill us all. Anyone who knows anything in depth about the author knows he is a committed atheist. And that certainly comes across here! Although the parallel to a cultish new religion is effective in that I literally did get the creeps when reading some of his examples; he succeeded in creating a kind of horror movie feel to wokeism. He also succeeded (without actually trying - he doesn't mention the following), in underlining that the fervent zeal that many of the woke have is akin to the similarly tunnel-visioned hysteria that many Trumpists & Qanon devotees exult in. I have to agree that there is a religious fervor in both sorts of extremism. I just wish McWhorter had expressed himself less emotionally, particularly since over the top displays of emotion disguised as logic is exactly what he's railing against. Because what he is railing against is actually toxic group-think. Equating it to a religion is ignoring all of the virtues of religion (connection to community, connection to something larger than oneself, altruism, etc.) while retaining only the many potential negatives. Yet I do see where he's coming from and maybe it's just the God-lover in me that is resentful of the parallel. I'm familiar with the idea of wokeism being a new religion, due to Katie Herzog & Jesse Singal's podcast. To an extent, I do see it when it comes to the hysterical fervor and especially in the idea of an Original White Sin of privilege for which white people must perpetually atone. And confess. And self-flagellate. A couple good quotes stuck with me:"Catastrophizing the current moment is a hallmark of ideology... the present, if the religion is to make any kind of sense, must always be a cesspool." "To these people, actual progress on race is not something to celebrate but to talk around. This is because, with progress, the Elect lose their sense of purpose."And those interesting quotes aside, I did not care for how he characterized Black Lives Matters protests. His focus on group-think and some of the more cringey moments (e.g. white people washing black feet) while ignoring how vital and powerful many of these protests were for so many people felt like a regurgitation of certain Fox News talking points. And, you know, sometimes taking a knee is not only about submission... SWOOSH. Chapter 3: What Attracts People to This Religion? This chapter is all over the map at first, starting with a denunciation of Critical Race Theory, moving on to examples of unjust canceling, and then achieving more clarity in his rationales for why white & black people love Wokeness. His rationale for white people is familiar: McWhorter basically posits that it gives them a connection to something "higher" (similar to religious faith) without having to do anything tangible about either racism or inequity. I've seen this rationale many times from heterodox thinkers and although I think it lacks complexity, I also see the truth in it. It is certainly easier to change your avatar to a black square than it is to truly commit and enact tangible results. Because one would have to actually think about something tangible to enact! Much easier to signal virtue and to join a mob in getting someone fired, and then convince yourself that you are one of the righteous. Still, all that said, I think the rationale for why white people are so attracted to the woke cause is complicated, and can certainly come from a place of integrity and a desire to do justice and right wrongs. I've seen that positive energy and activist spirit up close, in colleagues and in friends. And I've also seen the virtue signaling *gag*. McWhorter's attack on Critical Race Theory is also rather black & white. (LOL) It should surprise no one that he is firmly against it. But he betrays a rather binary perspective in his utter rejection of all CRT tenets. To me, CRT is a theory like any other. Often eye-opening when using it as a tool to examine inequality and inequity; often obnoxious when it is the only tool being used. Its presentation of Racism as the sole reason for structural inequities is as binary as McWhorter's complete disavowal of its usefulness. My own take: it is only useful when used alongside any number of other theories. Life's issues are too complicated to be boiled down to race and race only; any structure worth building or fixing will always require more than one tool. The author's explanation of why black people are attracted to the woke cause is interesting: he thinks it is mainly due to black insecurity, the need to belong, and the need to embrace victimhood as a core component of identity. To McWhorter, it is a substitute for pride. This part gave me a lot of food for thought, but I'm actually not going to opinionate on this particular topic. The old school progressive in me is saying You're not black, Mark, so please don't try to theorize about how black people feel about their identity. My old school progressive side has rarely led me astray, so I'll just leave it at that. Chapter 4: What's Wrong with It Being a Religion? It Hurts Black People. This is the centerpiece of the book... Continued in Msg 30 below Chapter 5: Beyond "Dismantling Structures": Saving Black America for Real LOL at the shortest chapter being the only chapter that actually provides solutions. But hey at least that's better than White Fragility, which offered no solutions whatsoever, unless one considers the search for lint in one's belly button to be a solution. Hilarity aside, McWhorter addresses the brevity of this chapter, um, succinctly. The chapter is short because his solutions are real and basic. Stop the war on drugs. Teach reading to children via phonics. Get past the idea that everyone must go to college and instead realize that vocational schooling and a career in the trades is just as valid (and often just as lucrative as jobs requiring a degree). I have no reaction to these ideas because they all made sound sense to me. And done. The rest of the chapter includes a brief bit on why police reform is not one of the planks in his platform because, when addressing cops killing people, "The sad underground truth is that they do it to all kinds of people all the time... The key is that changing the cops will take eons; changing black lives should take less time than that." Not sure how to react to that, but I do agree that murder by police officer is certainly not relegated only to black communities. Chapter 6: How Do We Work Around them I really wish McWhorter had rethought this entire chapter as it is the weakest in the book. The man literally offers up the same chart he included in the first chapter for the reader to reflect upon after reading his various lessons - which is super condescending. He also gets James Lindsay-level ridiculous in offering up aspirational ways to talk back to creepy wokesters who are accusing you of this or that. How he posits working around the woke: (1) Don't bother with discussion when it comes to the Woke, they're too far gone, (2) Don't buy into this "impact matters more than intent" trend in woke discourse because it's specious (and I 100% agree), and (3) Value logic over so-called "authenticity", which is a hilarious yet very honest section because McWhorter talks about how his identity as a super bougie fellow who did not suffer from growing up in poverty should not disqualify him from talking about race. There's one big thing that this chapter did for me and it was to make me see the light on how woke folk can often come across as religious maniacs when they are really getting in their groove. It made me reflect upon certain things I've seen in the past year or so: one colleague forcing his teammates of white women to read aloud the chapter on "white women's tears" in White Fragility, and then bragging about it on FB... another gent reacting to things like a meeting of the agency's POC Equity Group (that I convened) occurring while he was on vacation, and later, the need to prioritize a separate meeting by scheduling it sooner rather than later as, wait for it, "white supremacist culture"... another co-worker who, when dismayed at the idea of creating a support group serving a highly suicidal population that may have been multiracial but was not specifically black or brown, composed an angry poem on the spot and forced everyone to listen to her read it, in-between her sobs... a white co-worker trying to force another colleague to take his unused BLM signs and when she refused, questioning her commitment to "the cause" (the colleague who disdained those signs is black)... another co-worker angrily scorning the idea of empathetic active listening (which is literally the reason our agency was founded) when it comes to hearing opinions that he rejects, totally unable to have a conversation on race-based topics without ranting... an apparently well-intentioned sort who insisted that she didn't mind that a black client stole a pile of government checks that were made out to other black clients - to pay for their rent for chrissakes - because apparently that's what a hard life forces a black person to do, and we shouldn't judge... an office manager who, upon learning about the high rates of black male incarceration during a small group breakout session, decides to apologize directly to the sole black co-worker in the group... a recently hired woman who attempted to convince me that I needed to have a scale of value when it comes to how well I treat and how much I listen to colleagues and clients, with that scale being black > indigenous > hispanic > middle eastern > asian > mixed-race > > > > white... I mean, I could go on and on. What possessed these people, both white and of color, to act in such a ludicrous fashion? Perhaps wokeness is indeed akin to religious fervor, despite my knee-jerk reaction against that parallel. All I know in my experience with such individuals is that many are incapable of having a reasonable discussion. Of having any kind of actual exchange of ideas, let alone respect for different perspectives. I guess the lesson here for me is that if a person demonstrates this mentality, I'm just going to have to treat them as if they were a deeply religious person whose tenets I will try to respect even if I don't understand, but whose tenets will certainly not be informing decision-making at my agency. (hide spoiler)] ♙♙♙♙♙♙♙♙ TRIFE (view spoiler)[There's a super toxic review of this book where the reviewer, in both the review and its comment thread, heaps pity on McWhorter's biracial kids while pointing out that they are probably "light skin children" - um, that's a gross attitude to have. Also mentioned in that review is that the author "states its his 'duty' to be used as a weapon by white supremacists" and how Woke Racism is "written by the authors own admission for white supremacists to wield as a weapon against Black & other POC fighting racism"... both comments are straight-up lies. Just had to say it. (hide spoiler)] ♖♘♗♔♕♗♘♖ IDENTITY POLITICS RANKING, SO FAR 1. Political Tribes by Amy Chua - 5 stars. Precisely written with a powerfully resonant message 2. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson - 4 stars. Beautiful prose, some amazing stories of courage and of horror brought to light, and relatably petty at times 3. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi - 4 stars. Fascinating personal journey, written before Kendi became an embarrassing parody of himself 4. Woke Racism by John McWhorter - 3 stars. Many excellent points and also many cringe moments due to overexcited, broad-stroke shoutiness 5. Taboo by Wilfred Reilly - 3 stars. Quite cheeky, impressive data, frustratingly tunnel-visioned 6. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo - 1 star. White sludge

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chris Boutté

    I could honestly write an entire blog post about this book (and maybe I will), but this book completely changed my opinion of John McWhorter. I got into John’s books on linguistics, and then I found out he’s a very vocal person when it comes to issues with wokeness. I’ve listened to many of his podcasts and conversations with people, and while he has no problem admitting racism exists, it was hard to get a read on him. I couldn’t quite tell if he was just against the woke stuff as a way to pande I could honestly write an entire blog post about this book (and maybe I will), but this book completely changed my opinion of John McWhorter. I got into John’s books on linguistics, and then I found out he’s a very vocal person when it comes to issues with wokeness. I’ve listened to many of his podcasts and conversations with people, and while he has no problem admitting racism exists, it was hard to get a read on him. I couldn’t quite tell if he was just against the woke stuff as a way to pander as some people do, or what his nuanced opinions were on this topic. Once I read this book, I had a far better understanding of what John believes, and I’m glad to say he proved my skepticism wrong. I was fortunate enough to get a review copy of this book from his publisher, and I binged the book within about a day. John brings up great arguments about woke ideology and how it’s basically a religion. I’ve heard him make this analogy before, but it makes much more sense once I read the book. While I may not agree with all of John’s opinions, I agreed with most of them. I think the biggest misconception I had, and one that many others have, is that he doesn’t think racism is a problem. Once you get towards the last third of the book, McWhorter dives into a ton of solutions while recognizing some of the issues we face. His arguments are sound, and basically, he just doesn’t think that some of the anti-racist ideology that’s spreading will help solve these issues. Check out my interview with John McWhorter about the book here I’m sure this book will get a ton of sales, but I hope it reaches more people like me who were skeptical of John. It bums me out that a lot of people will probably not even read this book and be outraged about it. So, if you’re reading this review and aren’t a fan of John, give the book a chance. It might surprise you.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lois

    Meh, there's not really much here. Its mostly an angry rant at so-called 'woke' Black folks though he writes this book to 'save' white people and because he's aware that racist white folks will wield this as a weapon. He states its his 'duty' to be used as a weapon by white supremacists🤣😭 This man is a whole ass-clown. The author is deeply antiblack which is sad for him and his kids. I guess. I mean I don't really care. Black folks aren't a monolith and so self-hating Black folks exist. They always h Meh, there's not really much here. Its mostly an angry rant at so-called 'woke' Black folks though he writes this book to 'save' white people and because he's aware that racist white folks will wield this as a weapon. He states its his 'duty' to be used as a weapon by white supremacists🤣😭 This man is a whole ass-clown. The author is deeply antiblack which is sad for him and his kids. I guess. I mean I don't really care. Black folks aren't a monolith and so self-hating Black folks exist. They always have. This author is one of those folks and fully aware of it. In the beginning, he says this book is for 2 groups of people: people who listen to NPR & read the NY Times; he referred to this group as white but not exclusively white and placed himself in this group. He then addresses Black folks in a separate group and relates to Black 'victim mentality' behaviors. Clearly for this author Black folks are largely a monolith & less than, as a group, the white people whom he thinks, apparently, all listen to NPR & read the NY Times.😬 Fucking yikes dude. This man is ivy league educated but that does not come across this silly rant mostly in support of white supremacy🤷🏾‍♀️ He tries to give credence to his made up arguments by giving them weird titles like, 'Third Wave Antiracist', 'The Elect' etc. Mostly he doesn't like white people being publicly called out on social media and shamed for saying biased and oppressive things. He also has negative critiques of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter largely around building 'victim mentality' and being undignified. It's a revamp of respectability politics circa Booker T. Washington, complete with the 'I love my people, this to help them' rhetoric, dated and of no help to anyone other than white supremacists. The author is an atheist and one of those arrogant ones who can't just chose to believe as he chooses but feels the need to belittle others beliefs to boot. Everything he doesn't like he sees as religion-like.🙄 It's boring and tired and an EPIC reach. Unfortunately for the author he's unable to make the reach work. I think the real issue is the author doesn't understand the modern antiracist movement and is embarrassed by Black folks protesting. Many Black folks feel embarrassed by other Black folks as this monolith mentality is heavily pushed by white supremacist rhetoric. I think the author has a white or NBPOC spouse and light skin children. He speaks about protecting them as well. Again this mentality is common amongst men who invest in white supremacy, even unconsciously. The author engages lightly with the modern civil rights movement using the conservative 'woke' rhetoric. He thinks holding white people accountable for their actions and educating them is somehow hateful. Actually when you take the time and make the effort to correct folks when they are wrong, this is an act of love not hate. Anyone who parents will tell you its much easier to ignore wrong behavior than it is to take the time and effort to correct said bad behaviors. This is nonsense written by the authors own admission for white supremacists to wield as a weapon against Black & other POC fighting racism. Not a worthy read at all. Mostly whining, name calling and ass kissing white supremacy🤣 The audiobook I listened to was read by the author who has a very nice voice and does good job narrating this.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    I've read a decent number of books on the debates about critical race theory, race in the modern US, etc, and this is one of the stronger offerings. I was familiar with a lot of McWhorter's thinking from watching Bill Maher and reading the NYT, but he presents a strong case against what he calls "woke racism," exemplified in the work of Kendi, DiAngelo, and Coates. This is a good argument although not a perfect one. JM's most interesting argument is that the modern racial ideology of the Left (or I've read a decent number of books on the debates about critical race theory, race in the modern US, etc, and this is one of the stronger offerings. I was familiar with a lot of McWhorter's thinking from watching Bill Maher and reading the NYT, but he presents a strong case against what he calls "woke racism," exemplified in the work of Kendi, DiAngelo, and Coates. This is a good argument although not a perfect one. JM's most interesting argument is that the modern racial ideology of the Left (or the "hard Left" given that McWhorter seems to identify as left of center, as do I) has become a form of religion in that it is unquestionable, emotionally loaded, intolerant of criticism, and has its own creation myth and other forms of religion. This may be kind of hard on religion, as I've found dozens of very devout people far more willing to reason and genuinely debate with me on sticky issues like race than in the "woke mob," or whatever. While McWhorter's tarring of WR as a religion might unnecessarily alienate potential allies of faith, he has a point. This material is rarely taught with openness and critical thinking and is more often issued from on high as dogma, and the cudgel of accusations of racism is then used to silence or destroy heretics. It has its martyrs, ceremonies (like white people ceremoniously confessing their privilege or begging forgiveness from minority groups), holy texts (Btw the World and Me, How to Be Antiracist, White Fragility), original sin concept (whiteness) and creation myths (the 1619 project). JM insightfully notes that the deep commitment of many people, especially white people, to this ideology is not about money or even power but meaning; as with other religions and even secular ideologies, it is about taking part in the good side of an epic, Manichean battle with evil, which obviously grants purpose to one's life. JM argues that this ideology hurts black people in several ways, and I think this is the territory where he is most persuasive. First, he says that this is a largely performative ideology that is mainly about white people seeking relief and absolution from guilt and to avoid being accused of racism, which is rightfully one of the worst things a person can be accused of today and an accusation that SJWs or whatever you want to call them throw around with abandon (I've been called one for such mild arguments as saying most statues of the founding fathers should remain up even as we take down Confederate ones, which I strongly support). If you read DiAngelo or Kendi, there's very little in there about how to actually help the poor and marginalized; the focus is on ritualistic and ongoing (really, never-ending) cleansing of racist thoughts. JM notes that this is popular because it is easy; it doesn't require critical thinking, it gives one cover from accusations while also giving one meaning, and it doesn't require that you do much of anything besides agree with everything that DiAngelo, Kendi, and other priests of this faith demand. White people interrogating their own biases and privilege is a generally good thing, as JM would admit, but it's a long path from that to closing the wealth, education, and opportunity gaps that remain between whites and African-Americans. Second, JM argues that the simplistic doctrines of WR condescend to African Americans and hurt them in concrete ways. I think he's on to something here. DiAngelo, Kendi, Oluo, and others seem to present AA's as an extremely sensitive group prone to anger and trauma at the slightest microaggression or pushback. Remember that DiAngelo makes any retort against an accusation of racism into evidence of racism; this means that white people basically have to accept any claim an AA person makes about race/racism. JM rightfully notes that this is condescending; it treats black people as intellectual and emotional children who cannot handle being challenged, however respectfully. Of course, there's a difference between challenging someone's diagnosis of history or racism in the present or how to address it and challenging their personal experiences of racism; the latter is far more damaging and should be avoided. But JM believes that black people are stronger and smarter than this and cannot stand the ritualistic coddling these thinkers want for them. Just consider how little pushback Coates got for claiming he felt nothing for the cops and firefighters rushing into the WTC to save innocent people (regardless of color). This was a monstrous statement in an otherwise overrated book, and he was barely taken to task for it. That is condescending and coddling. Other critical race theorists say that black people should be exempt from civility, objectivity, individual responsibility, and other norms. That is condescending and coddling, almost a form of racism in itself. You could say the same thing of the shoddy ideas in Kendi, DiAngelo, and elsewhere. Last positive note: JM has a brilliant argument against Kendi's simplistic formula for racial justice. Kendi argues that the only non-racist explanation for any gap btw white and black people has to be systemic racist oppression and the denial of opportunity. To say that black people at all contribute to any sliver of this gap is to say there is something wrong with them and is therefore to participate in racism in either a cultural or biological form. This simplistic formula wouldn't earn a B- grade in an undergraduate social science course, and JM shows how absurd it is. He argues that a racist history can create cultural forms and adaptations that endure past the existence of blatantly racist systems and ideologies and come to harm a group, such as the idea that school is a "white thing" or a confrontational attitude toward authority. JM presents reams of data showing that, in fact, AA students do get into fights more across the board, which suggests that the punishment gap btw white, black, and other groups of students may not be a product of racism (the only possible solution in a Kendi-an framework) and rather something stemming from those students themselves (stress from difficult home situations, single-parent situations, or poverty that black kids are more likely to live in, certain conceptions of masculinity). The Kendi-an way of thinking leads to an absurd lowering of standards and of the general safety of schools, which usually leads to the harming of (you guessed it) other black kids, either through violence or the disruption of their classes. JM is basically calling on us to see the complex ways that culture, racism (both past and present), policy, and other forces work together and to get other the simple ideological formulas that offer one explanation for all social phenomena related to race. Ok, now some flaws. McWhorter is kind of out for rhetorical blood in this book, and I think that unfortunately his style, while often cutting and funny, is too informed by Twitter takedowns and his own anger at his intellectual opponents. He uses biological metaphors that over-dramatize the WR ideology as a kind of virus or infection; arguing this way is never a good idea because it is dehumanizing and it mirrors the nastiness of one's opponents. At times he is too sarcastic and dismissive; I would have preferred the more detached tone of Jonathan Rauch's work in Kindly Inquisitors. At times, this language gives the book more a polemical feel, which is not a great thing, even though the genre is kind of polemical anyway. A larger problem: at times, McWhorter exaggerates the power and menace of WR ideology. Toward the end he claims that WR folks are more dangerous than the people who stormed the Capitol on 1/6 because they are slowly taking over institutions like education, media, etc. This is an untenable claim. Kendi, Diangelo, and their ilk are still quite far from real political power: vague versions of their ideas might seep into the fringes of the Democratic Party, but the Democratic Party remains a broad and fairly moderate tent. The majority of African-Americans and other minorities, as shown by polls and simple voting behavior (like black enthusiasm for the supposedly racist Joe Biden), reject most WR ideas, or just don't know about them. The 1/6 protestors, however, are the vanguard of Trumpism, which has completely swallowed one of the two major parties and turned it into a borderline white nationalist, anti-democracy, full on conspiracy party. This is THE greatest threat to democracy in modern U.S. history, and it is still ongoing. Woke mobs on Twitter and in universities are a problem for education and, in a vaguer sense, for liberal democracy, and they certainly feed the Trumpian reaction, but they are miles from the power that the MAGA faction now exerts in our politics. JM was dead wrong in this area. He should avoid the "James Lindsey trap" in which never-ending feuding with hard leftists on Twitter leads one to think they are the true enemy of freedom and democracy, leading one (or, James Lindsey, at least) from sanity into full on illiberal, trolling, Maga-ism. I don't think JM will take that road, but his book might push some in that direction. Finally, this book could have done a better job spelling out a liberal anti-racism, something I have been thinking about a lot. MLK had a liberal anti-racism, as, I think, does Obama; they focus on persuasion, modeling, assertions of dignity, and they avoid demonization in most cases. MLK, of course, varied in this approach and was far from a moderate, as his key texts show. However, he never said that civility, objectivity, and Christian forgiveness must be abandoned to achieve racial progress; those were the cornerstones of his quest for progress. It was "civil" disobedience, after all. JM offers some tactical ways to deal with WR harassment and gives a few issues (like ending the Drug War, which I agree with) that are practical ways to actually help black people. Still, there's no larger vision here of how to achieve a society where people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin (ditto for their opportunities, health, etc). I still think that public figures like JM should do more to spell out what a liberal anti-racism looks like, how it can be integrated into education, etc. It isn't enough to tear down WR; in fact, that isn't too hard given these ideas lack of quality. You have to counter it with a positive vision. I'm sure JM can do this, but it isn't in this book in any systematic form. Overall, a strong, vividly written, and biting book with some flaws. Worth reading for getting a counterpoint to Kendi, DiAngelo, etc, but not as powerful as more narrative accounts like Thomas Chatterton Williams' memoir.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    I rarely buy books on their release date, but as a liberal who despises CRT/wokeness this book was a big deal. And it did not disappoint! The woke mob has been beyond criticism for far too long. They lash out at anyone who engages with them. They are infantilizing Black people and demonizing White people, and they are getting away with it because they immediately brand critics as racists unfit for polite society. Americans, left and right, need to recognize the very real threat posed by woke neo I rarely buy books on their release date, but as a liberal who despises CRT/wokeness this book was a big deal. And it did not disappoint! The woke mob has been beyond criticism for far too long. They lash out at anyone who engages with them. They are infantilizing Black people and demonizing White people, and they are getting away with it because they immediately brand critics as racists unfit for polite society. Americans, left and right, need to recognize the very real threat posed by woke neoracists and this book can be an important tool for doing so.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ash

    McWhorter's book is committed to the concept of racial justice while persuasively arguing that the current quasi-religion of Third Wave Antiracism (a la Coates, DiAngelo, and Kendi) is not only counterproductive to that project, but harmful to black Americans. It is a book written by a liberal for liberals, to help them parse the tenets of this religious ideology and to offer alternative solutions based on reason and fact. I found this book to be wonderfully refreshing and a vital alternative to McWhorter's book is committed to the concept of racial justice while persuasively arguing that the current quasi-religion of Third Wave Antiracism (a la Coates, DiAngelo, and Kendi) is not only counterproductive to that project, but harmful to black Americans. It is a book written by a liberal for liberals, to help them parse the tenets of this religious ideology and to offer alternative solutions based on reason and fact. I found this book to be wonderfully refreshing and a vital alternative to the toxic perspective that is taking root in many of our academic, governmental, and professional institutions. McWhorter certainly doesn't claim that racism or racial inequities don't exist, but he powerfully rebuts the notion of "systemic racism" and the damaging insistence that all Black people are victims of an all-pervasive oppression. As good a job as he does eviscerating Third Wave Antiracism for its flaws, he doesn't do much to suggest what should take its place. He gives some good policy suggestions but not a rational foundation for how to think or talk about race and social justice. Perhaps that's for other thinkers to tackle; McWhorter certainly makes the case for its necessity. This book is for anyone who cares about social justice but intuits that modern responses are counterproductive, harmful to the people they claim to advocate for, and even responsible for the rise of a conservative backlash that has sent more than a few genuinely racist "culture war" Republicans to Congress. This book certainly isn't the end of the conversation we need to have, but it's a fantastic beginning.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Angie Boyter

    A different roadmap to justice In Woke Racism, black Columbia University professor John McWhorter describes the current-day social-justice antiracist movement, which he calls Third Wave Antiracism, as one that actually “harms black people in the name of its guiding impulses.”He says its followers see themselves as “chosen” “bearers of wisdom” and calls them the Elect , and he considers their beliefs equivalent to a religion. An interesting premise. I have enjoyed several of McWhorter’s books on l A different roadmap to justice In Woke Racism, black Columbia University professor John McWhorter describes the current-day social-justice antiracist movement, which he calls Third Wave Antiracism, as one that actually “harms black people in the name of its guiding impulses.”He says its followers see themselves as “chosen” “bearers of wisdom” and calls them the Elect , and he considers their beliefs equivalent to a religion. An interesting premise. I have enjoyed several of McWhorter’s books on language, so I expected Woke Racism to be highly articulate and well written. My expectations were fulfilled, resulting in a LOT of highlighted passages in my kindle version. It was also impassioned, at times almost sounding like a sermon itself, which is perhaps appropriate for a book about a religion. He supports his contentions with a number of examples, some of them rather shocking, and says the Elect’s “prosecution of sinners contrasts with Jesus’s embrace of them”. McWhorter lucidly explains what he feels is wrong with Electism, but he himself admits that he is unlikely to win any converts, because religious conversion is not something that normally succeeds through rational argument but through faith. Ultimately he does not offer a solution that can dismantle racist structures but instead suggests three practical specific planks to save black Americans “for real” by improving their everyday lives. He advocates ending the war of drugs, teaching reading more effectively through phonics, and getting past the idea that everyone must go to college by providing good vocational training. They could be a good start, even if it does not cure the racism that the Elect believe is in the hearts of all white Americans.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Max Driffill

    There will be a certain mind that will dismiss this book as a right wing cash grab. That would be unfair, wrong, and deeply counterproductive. McWhorter is probably as liberal a person as you are likely to find among our public intellectuals. He is not a performative contrarian. He is making serious arguments against the case (coming largely from the far , hard left) make about race and disparities in US life early decades of the 21st century. His case is reasonable and well made. It’s worth exa There will be a certain mind that will dismiss this book as a right wing cash grab. That would be unfair, wrong, and deeply counterproductive. McWhorter is probably as liberal a person as you are likely to find among our public intellectuals. He is not a performative contrarian. He is making serious arguments against the case (coming largely from the far , hard left) make about race and disparities in US life early decades of the 21st century. His case is reasonable and well made. It’s worth examining. You may not agree with all or any of it. That is okay too.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    As the title suggests this is a polemic against what might be called Third Wave Antiracism, coming from a conservative African-American writer. McWhorter makes the case that this new movement that has crystallized over the past decade is a religion. As someone averse to religion he means this as a term of derision, but I'd argue that it is just descriptive. The religion in question in fact is not a mystery, but is identifiably a secularized form of Protestant Christianity that is unique to the U As the title suggests this is a polemic against what might be called Third Wave Antiracism, coming from a conservative African-American writer. McWhorter makes the case that this new movement that has crystallized over the past decade is a religion. As someone averse to religion he means this as a term of derision, but I'd argue that it is just descriptive. The religion in question in fact is not a mystery, but is identifiably a secularized form of Protestant Christianity that is unique to the United States. The details of how this progressive religious movement emerged over a century were explained masterfully in Joseph Bottum's book, An Anxious Age, to which McWhorter makes brief reference. For his own part, McWhorter argues that Third Wave Antiracism is condescending to African-Americans and harmful to them in practice. In place of what he views as self-flagellating progressive rituals and word games, he calls for three practical policy changes that would help African-Americans: ending the drug war, changing the manner in which reading is taught to emphasize phonetics, and funding more high-quality vocational schooling for working-class people trying to make a living. These simple and practical recommendations seem to be intended as a retort to the vaguely apocalyptic tenor of some progressive activism, a characteristic that also has its roots in Christianity. A linguist by profession, McWhorter is a gifted writer. He is also clearly a genius and his sense of outrage of having his entire race, in his view, insulted and condescended towards is palpable. That said I don't think there is much new that I learnt from this book. As a polemic it is well and good, but there is little beyond that. The lack of novelty is ameliorated by McWhorter's very funny (“I make no apologies for not being a character from The Wire”) and eloquent writing style. Regarding his underlying political point, I would like to read some rebuttals that engage with his position.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sam Helms

    Con: In one or two places, McWhorter strawmans the tenets of antiracism. (He presents slightly less sturdy versions of its ideas, or exaggerates them a bit so that they seem more irrational, easier to take down.) *edit: this is because he is not really trying to rebut them, but to prove that they fit into the mold of a religion.* Pros: This book is short, simple, clear, well-argued and well written. It’s clear that McWhorter is committed to racial justice, but believes that the current vogue of an Con: In one or two places, McWhorter strawmans the tenets of antiracism. (He presents slightly less sturdy versions of its ideas, or exaggerates them a bit so that they seem more irrational, easier to take down.) *edit: this is because he is not really trying to rebut them, but to prove that they fit into the mold of a religion.* Pros: This book is short, simple, clear, well-argued and well written. It’s clear that McWhorter is committed to racial justice, but believes that the current vogue of antiracism is regressive and anti-intellectual. He lays out the case that it is a religion and why that’s a bad thing. Spoiler: it’s like Christianity without the forgiveness part. It’s funny, sobering, and inspiring, and thought-provoking.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sharad Pandian

    The terrible rating is not because I think he's completely wrong - to be fair to him, he has two chapters in the middle on policy that are somewhat interesting, even if deeply unambitious and not novel (he thinks the left should support a platform consisting of only ending the war on drugs by legalizing all drugs, promote reading through phonics, and provide vocational training). The real problem with centrist types like McWhorter is their stunning inability to reflect honestly about themselves. The terrible rating is not because I think he's completely wrong - to be fair to him, he has two chapters in the middle on policy that are somewhat interesting, even if deeply unambitious and not novel (he thinks the left should support a platform consisting of only ending the war on drugs by legalizing all drugs, promote reading through phonics, and provide vocational training). The real problem with centrist types like McWhorter is their stunning inability to reflect honestly about themselves. He has the audacity to claim that woke culture "discourages genuine curiosity," while writing a book where he assumes that religion is just dumb superstition and that all his enemies are literal inquisitors. While he claims that he does think racist paterns endure in society, by not charitably reading any of his opponents as engaged in serious thinking about how to solve those problems, he doesn't do justice how hard the problems are. Note that his own favoured policy of leglizing all drugs (even with some regulation) is just as infeasible as reparations, while promoting reading and vocational training will hardly alter the racial wealth gap. One question then arises: Given how poorly his own proposal fares, why does he so confidently believe himself to be reasonable and right? Here is one answer. He writes: in 1951, eric hoffer’s the true believer noted that movements such as fascism, communism, and nineteenth-century segregationists have attracted and retained their followers by appealing to an idealized past, a fantastical future, and an indelibly polluted present. Under the elect, black people’s noble past is africa; the glorious future is about those terms that we will come to; while the present, if the religion is to make any kind of sense, must always be a cesspool. While this is meant to be criticism of his opponents, what is striking is that it also seems to be an apt description of McWhorter's worldview. He seems to think that activists in earlier decades were pretty good in bringing about racial progress, that the current millieu is overrun by woke torquemadas, but that a better future is possible if we follow his directions. He clearly believes himself enlightened enough to dispense advice, even write books. He shows no interest in engaging with opponents intellectually, choosing instead to dismiss them in hyperbolic terms. In brief, he fits his own description of a religious fanatic, and his screed against the "Elect" is best seen as projection.

  13. 5 out of 5

    João

    I’m conflicted about this book. While I don’t agree with everything he wrote, I think the author has some ideas that are worthy of a hearing. On the other hand, this book is not a good vehicle for those ideas. It reads like a social media feud that grew up to be a book. The author says in the acknowledgments that the book “leap out of” him, and it does read like it was written with the sort of feverish anger one associates with internet trolls. I also got the feeling that he wrote this with much I’m conflicted about this book. While I don’t agree with everything he wrote, I think the author has some ideas that are worthy of a hearing. On the other hand, this book is not a good vehicle for those ideas. It reads like a social media feud that grew up to be a book. The author says in the acknowledgments that the book “leap out of” him, and it does read like it was written with the sort of feverish anger one associates with internet trolls. I also got the feeling that he wrote this with much anticipatory glee at the hatred he imagines the people he criticizes will hurl back at him. Every ideology, including woke ideology, can lead to excesses, and I usually applaud the bravery of anyone willing to push back against perceived excesses, since scrutiny is how we keep people honest. Maybe this type of pushback is the best we can hope for in this day and age, but I wish we could get better.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Charly

    As someone who grew up Mormon — an evangelizing religion McWhorter points to by way of analogy — I would point out that Mormons can, in fact, be reasoned out of their views. He is quick to assume that religion forms a sort of philosophical miasma one can never quite be free of. I disagree. Rebecca Solnit spoke in a Harper's (Harper's, a publication so urbane and left leaning I doubt I could have tried grokking it til age 30, now "tainted" in the circles he targets because of the Letter™️) column As someone who grew up Mormon — an evangelizing religion McWhorter points to by way of analogy — I would point out that Mormons can, in fact, be reasoned out of their views. He is quick to assume that religion forms a sort of philosophical miasma one can never quite be free of. I disagree. Rebecca Solnit spoke in a Harper's (Harper's, a publication so urbane and left leaning I doubt I could have tried grokking it til age 30, now "tainted" in the circles he targets because of the Letter™️) column about the pleasures of speaking to the choir. McWhorter is likely to count me squarely among his parishioners, despite being from a set and setting that is about 25 years behind the times. I do wonder what he'd make of a pre-publication review to "go suck a dick." The frisson of nasty words, to steal a phrase, hits different when you think such contact to actually be taboo — as an ex-Mo like me probably does on a deeper level than one not so taught at a tender age. It's a slim tome and there's little of surprise here but still an enjoyable time, and funnier than I had hoped for. If you're not already a fan it might seem like inside baseball.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    You're either going to like this book, or hate it. If you hate it, you probably have a very strong (religious) belief system, according to McWhorter. I'd like to think that people who disagree with him, or think he's gone too far, would at least give the book 2-3 stars for being funny. You're either going to like this book, or hate it. If you hate it, you probably have a very strong (religious) belief system, according to McWhorter. I'd like to think that people who disagree with him, or think he's gone too far, would at least give the book 2-3 stars for being funny.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Courageous, smart, witty, and necessary. And I can bet on how this will be received.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Harry Johnston

    The most coherent, most sorely-needed opposition to the religious race-essentialism gripping the Western -- not just American -- political left. I tried to be generous whilst reading White Fragility and How to be an Antiracist, but my heart was not really in it. It felt like grasping at every brief display of reason in order to excuse the dogmatism, doublethink, and neo-racist generalisation. It felt like a relentless, paternalistic shaming, with the goal to repudiate what we learned as children The most coherent, most sorely-needed opposition to the religious race-essentialism gripping the Western -- not just American -- political left. I tried to be generous whilst reading White Fragility and How to be an Antiracist, but my heart was not really in it. It felt like grasping at every brief display of reason in order to excuse the dogmatism, doublethink, and neo-racist generalisation. It felt like a relentless, paternalistic shaming, with the goal to repudiate what we learned as children: that we should strive for race not to matter. Woke Racism is just the opposite. If you must read Kendi or DiAngelo, or the like, then just read this as well -- it can't hurt, and it will probably satisfy the itch for sense-making that wokeness cannot scratch. As McWhorter describes, though, those who feel no such itch are beyond reaching: A person fully committed to Elect ideology is not amenable to constructive discussion. They will deny the charge, but what they mean by "discussion" is that we will learn their wisdom...they seek not conversation but conversion... Attempts to break bread with them seem to do little but elicit their disgust with you. Sound familiar? "Elect" refers to the tendency of the ultra-woke to act as if they have been chosen to spread a higher truth. McWhorter outlines all of the bizarre contradictions and failures of rationality in the Elect mindset, and says what a cowed majority quietly agrees with: You are in Russia under Stalin. You no more question the KenDiAngelonian gospel than you question Romans or Corinthians. The Elect are not about diverseness of thought. Eliminating it, on race issues, is their reason for being. His answer is simple, and heartening, if difficult to pursue. Ignore the posturing, ignore the shaming, say no to the mob, and advocate for meaningful change that will actually help people of colour who are suffering; not help privileged white people feel good about 'doing the work' to recognise their 'complicity' in the 'systems'. This means talking about drugs and education, and it means politely telling the Elect to sit down and wait for their turn when they accuse you of 'blaming the victim', and try to tar you as a moral pervert. The bravery and strength of mind required to take this stand is exemplified by John McWhorter himself (emphasis in original): I know quite well that white readers will be more likely to hear out views like this when they are written by a black person, and I consider it nothing less than my duty as a black person to write this book. A version of this book written by a white writer would be blithely dismissed as racist. I will be dismissed instead as self-hating by a certain crowd. But frankly, they won't really mean it, and anyone who gets through the book will see that whatever traits I harbor, hating myself or being ashamed of being black is not one of them. And we shall move on. Yes, let's.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    We must become more comfortable keeping our own counsel, and letting our own rationality decide whether we are racist, rather than entertaining the eccentric and self-serving renovated definitions of racism forced upon us by religionists. -p173 I find John McWhorter’s hot takes on “woke racism” to be provocative and convincing. In a calm and articulate fashion, he explains why this recent phenomenon is well meaning but, in his view, destructive, and must be resisted. He defines “woke racism” to be We must become more comfortable keeping our own counsel, and letting our own rationality decide whether we are racist, rather than entertaining the eccentric and self-serving renovated definitions of racism forced upon us by religionists. -p173 I find John McWhorter’s hot takes on “woke racism” to be provocative and convincing. In a calm and articulate fashion, he explains why this recent phenomenon is well meaning but, in his view, destructive, and must be resisted. He defines “woke racism” to be anything that puts battling power differentials as the central focus of human endeavor. Those who do this are “the Elect.” He argues that reactionary “woke” shaming does not just affect celebrities or wealthy eggheads along the Acela corridor. Real people’s lives have been destroyed by a childish, simplistic racialized worldview, like a catechism, creeping openly into many of our personal and professional lives. JM argues that this phenomenon is a religion, and he makes many convincing claims. There is original sin, repetitive empty phrases, superstitions, apocalyptic ideas, banishment of heretics, and a clergy with a liturgy. The most prominent print texts on this anti-racism movement (Coates, DiAngelo, Kendi) are harshly criticized: Within this system, if whites venture any statement on the topic other than that they harbor white privilege, it only proves that they are racists, too “fragile” to admit it. The circularity here – “You’re a racist, and if you say you aren’t, it just proves that you are” – is the logic of the sandbox. -p33 Redefining words (Merriam Webster did this with “racism” last summer) should be troubling: Ask whether microaggressions merit the same response as physical assault and the Elect do not receive this as a challenging query. To them, it is splitting hairs to taxonomize assault in this way. -p159 Because we are online constantly, woke behavior is obviously performative: … her tweet was a form of testifying as a member of the Elect. -p49 [A white appearing, half-Asian student claiming racism because people “expected her to be smart because of her Asian-ness”] was adopting a sense of existential grievance that her daily experiences did not justify. Being assumed to be smart can be something of a nuisance, I’m sure, but it is not exactly what most would consider suffering from the depredations of the Man. -p119 JM wonders if well meaning, empathetic people are not assuming victimhood or self-loathing for understandable psychological reasons mixed up with one’s social circle’s expectations, media diet, and the progressive culture at large: As often as not today, what the person “feels” is based on what they have been taught to “feel” by a paradigm that teaches them to exaggerate or even fabricate the “feeling.” In other words, much too often, the person who tells you to accept and go from how they “feel” has been, as it were, coached. -p164 It seems that ideology can supplant real scholarship and expertise. If this happens, it is anti-intellectualism from the left. The well-meaning 1619 Project at the New York Times, criticized for historical inaccuracies in its portrayal of the American Revolution as being fueled by slavery, nevertheless goes on to win highest honors: Someone has received a Pulitzer Prize for a mistaken interpretation of historical documents about which legions of actual scholars are expert. -p108 Good people are being swept up into a simplistic, racialized worldview, exploding onto the scene in just the last few years. Its strategy is to “think hard” about “privilege” and deliberately conflates the obvious consequences of slavery and past racism for racism in the present. Or re-defines the term to include anything. Most of this is online Twitter mobbing, but that now translates into real-world harm of good, tolerant, ethical people. There is so much injustice to fight, and this "woke racism" phenomenon is distracting from the real progress that could be made in specific areas (Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is an example of a specific issue, that if solved, would improve human well-being immediately). John McWhorter thinks that the Elect cannot be reasoned with, and that they are just one voice at the table. Those opposed to the Elect should not be scared of being called "racist". He lists examples of those who stood their ground to unfair and venomous attacks: lay folks, Unitarian reverends, Universities, computer science professors, corporations, others: The Elect will be ever 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. Stand up. -p187

  19. 4 out of 5

    Erika Hardison

    If Jason Whitlock wrote a book, this would be it 🤮

  20. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    Well-renowned linguist and professor at Columbia, now New York Times columnist and frequent guest on the Glenn Loury Show, Conversations with Coleman and other heterodox outlets, John McWhorter has of late become one of the few liberal intellectual voices actively critiquing what he terms in this book "Third Wave Anti-racism," or "Woke Racism," or, when applied to people espousing this ideology, "The Elect." This is his first book-length foray into the topic, although he has a substack where he Well-renowned linguist and professor at Columbia, now New York Times columnist and frequent guest on the Glenn Loury Show, Conversations with Coleman and other heterodox outlets, John McWhorter has of late become one of the few liberal intellectual voices actively critiquing what he terms in this book "Third Wave Anti-racism," or "Woke Racism," or, when applied to people espousing this ideology, "The Elect." This is his first book-length foray into the topic, although he has a substack where he has disseminated it in pieces. This is a breezily written book infused with a lot of humor (and swipes at Ibrahim Kendi and Robin DiAngelo) it's not an academic treatise. It's meant for people who are questioning the orthodoxy at the moment to understand how "Third wave anti-racism" came about, his take on why it is a religious, not a rational movement, why it is ultimately anti-humanist and patronizingly racist, its dangers, and why one should not be cowed into accepting its dogma. Although I would have preferred a bit more organization to the book, some of the main ideas: 1. Third wave anti-racism, which stands in stark contrast to first wave anti-racism and second wave anti-racism which toppled slavery and Jim Crow, is operating in its religiosity as a kind of Inquisition. You are to believe certain tenets about race, and if you do not, you are a witch to be publicly tried in order to make the group feel good, but not necessarily to fix any kind of injustice. It is not a progressive ideology, in spite of what its adherents believe. These tenets are highly essentialist and regressive, hearkening back to "race science" and other racist ways of thinking. There are priests in this religion, as well as the "Elect," whose mission is to proselytize and discover heretics. 2. "The elect" are performative: This is more about showing to the world that one is anti-racist and shaming others based on perceived racism (smoking it out) than it is about solving real problems for real people. They are unforgivingly punitive, the opposite of other religions' emphasis on forgiveness. 3. Third wave anti-racism reduces everyone down to a racial category, denying the richness of the human experience. Black people are only expected to, for example, write about racist or experiences of racism. 4. This religion is racist in its expectation of lowered standards for black people and hurts everyone, especially black people. 5. Making everyone feel guilty as a column in the pillar of the religion of the elect is not necessary to reduce inequality. Making actual change (He lists three suggestions for huge projects that can make progress) is what matters. I'm sure I've missed a few points but these are the ones that came to mind. At the end, what I thought was really weakly done was suggesting how to fix inequality, where he just lists in a few pages "End the War on Drugs," "Teach people to read phonetically," and "Bring back vocational education." Why these three versus other three? He doesn't really justify it, or even give a nod to especially in the case of "end the war on drugs" WHY this hasnt' happened yet, and how that is rooted in the kind of idea of racism I think he'd acknowledge is not just in the heads of the Elect. In the conclusion, his call to not backing down in front of the Elect was very spirited, basically saying the "woke" mob rants on twitter but you'll survive, when he spent the first chapter giving examples of how the mob wins. Overall highly recommended.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    Great read with delicious, McWhorter-esque prose that inspires confidence to recapture logic and reason as legitimate tools to evaluate anti-racism’s agenda and methods. He shines a bright light on the elephant in the room to ask (and answer) the uncomfortable questions that arise when “Elect” ideology is professed in the name of social progress. (“Elect” is his word for the class of people who subscribe to critical social justice scholarship and activism, aka “the woke mob,” but whom he sees as Great read with delicious, McWhorter-esque prose that inspires confidence to recapture logic and reason as legitimate tools to evaluate anti-racism’s agenda and methods. He shines a bright light on the elephant in the room to ask (and answer) the uncomfortable questions that arise when “Elect” ideology is professed in the name of social progress. (“Elect” is his word for the class of people who subscribe to critical social justice scholarship and activism, aka “the woke mob,” but whom he sees as just normal people trying to do good in the world.) I wish John had spoken to: standpoint epistemology and specifically the sociological perspective versus the anthropological perspective; “demanding accountability” as the reductionist response to pointing out the harm of cancel culture; the meaning-making crisis and how our postmodern thirst for meaning tilled the fields in which the seeds of anti-racism’s religiosity could sprout. John does not claim that racism isn’t real and doesn’t exist. Rather, he believes the anti-racist agenda obfuscates the true barriers to achievement for low-income people of color. In particular, John calls for three keystone strategies to help reduce disparities in racial outcomes: 1) End the war on drugs. 2) Pursue phonics-based curriculum to teach reading, particularly to lower-income students (of color). 3) Make vocational training as accessible as possible while eroding the perception of the necessity of a four-year degree. Writing this small but positive review and making it a public comment with my name attached is nerve-racking for me. But bravery despite the potential to be cancelled is what John hopes of his readers.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Penny Adrian

    Turning Black people into objects of pity is NOT anti-racist. More Black people are thriving in today's America than at any point in US history. And rather than being a despised minority, Black people are probably the most admired, respected, and emulated minority in our country. Yes, Black people are disproportionately poor, largely due to historic racism. But poor whites suffer from the same social problems that are typically associated with Blackness and blamed on racism (addiction, high incarcer Turning Black people into objects of pity is NOT anti-racist. More Black people are thriving in today's America than at any point in US history. And rather than being a despised minority, Black people are probably the most admired, respected, and emulated minority in our country. Yes, Black people are disproportionately poor, largely due to historic racism. But poor whites suffer from the same social problems that are typically associated with Blackness and blamed on racism (addiction, high incarceration rates, unstable families, abuse, housing insecurity, poor academic performance, teen pregnancy, etc.) Middle and upper middle class Black people do NOT suffer from these issues, but poor whites absolutely do. It's the poverty, stupid. To claim that all Black people experience the same level of oppression is absurd, and extremely self-serving for economically privileged Black people. "Woke Racism" exposes the fact that endless navel gazing and self-flagellation by whites does nothing to help Black people. Economic justice will disproportionately help Black people, because Black people are disproportionately poor. But the antiracist cult will make sure that poor whites and poor Blacks remain divided from each other, and will never join together to demand living wages, affordable housing, universal healthcare, paid family leave, universal pre-k, or anything else that would disproportionately lift up the Black community. Instead, identity politics will continue to divide the poor, and woke allies will remain consumed with moral purity at the expense of genuine change.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    "I am arguing against a particular strain of the left that has come to exert a grievous amount of influence over American institutions, to the point that we are beginning to accept as normal the kinds of language, policies, and actions that Orwell wrote of as fiction." John McWhorter is a professor of linguistics, American studies and music history at Columbia University. This is a serious subject and he is passionate about it. His ideas are worth consideration whether you agree with him or not. "I am arguing against a particular strain of the left that has come to exert a grievous amount of influence over American institutions, to the point that we are beginning to accept as normal the kinds of language, policies, and actions that Orwell wrote of as fiction." John McWhorter is a professor of linguistics, American studies and music history at Columbia University. This is a serious subject and he is passionate about it. His ideas are worth consideration whether you agree with him or not.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Eric Morse

    John McWhorter should not be controversial. Any open-eyed observer will see the kind of rhetoric and initiatives put forth by the woke left these days and come to the same conclusions that McWhorter reaches in this book. Wokeism is a religion, and its central dogmas are based on racism. The fact that you can’t say this without being shunned, shouted down, and increasingly these days, fired from your job, is a rotten state of affairs which cannot end well. McWhorter sees all of this and dedicates John McWhorter should not be controversial. Any open-eyed observer will see the kind of rhetoric and initiatives put forth by the woke left these days and come to the same conclusions that McWhorter reaches in this book. Wokeism is a religion, and its central dogmas are based on racism. The fact that you can’t say this without being shunned, shouted down, and increasingly these days, fired from your job, is a rotten state of affairs which cannot end well. McWhorter sees all of this and dedicates his ample intelligence and linguistic prowess to a frank and honest discussion on the matter. Much of what McWhorter posits here is not new. This book comes rather late to this party, considering wokeism has been dominating social discourse for about five years. For instance, many pundits thinkers have regarded Wokeism as a religion, notably Gad Saad and Vivek Ramaswamy. But McWhorter has been in the fray for decades and was one of the leading voices in opposition to the political correctness craze in the ’90s and more recently the rise of wokeism with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram X. Kendi (a podcast discussion between McWhorter and Coates delves into their differences). What’s more is that McWhorter does a good job of encapsulating the concept of the phenomenon, especially with his recounting of the several contradictory tenets of what he calls “third-wave anti-racism”. The first tenet is as follows: “1. When black people say you have insulted them, apologize with profound sincerity and guilt. BUT … Don’t put black people in a position where you expect them to forgive you. They have dealt with too much to be expected to.” Another: “5. Show interest in multiculturalism. BUT … Do not culturally appropriate. What is not your culture is not for you, and you may not try it or do it. Yet – if you aren’t nevertheless interested in it, you are a racist.” In documenting ten such tenets, McWhorter exposes this new anti-racism movement as a fraud. Basically, it is impossible to meet the demands of anti-racism, so it is unlikely that anyone involved in the effort is genuinely seeking an end to racism and is only using racism as a pretext to push illiberal and ultimately self-defeating policy measures. As Barzun wrote in his 1968 edition of Race, “To change the supremacy of one ‘race’ for that of another leaves social justice as much violated as before.” McWhorter does miss an opportunity to reveal the fallacy at the core of anti-racism, a kind of motte-and-bailey that redefines the term ‘racist’ to include just about everyone and then uses the old concept of the word to scold and belittle people who now fall into the category. I might even argue that McWhorter, critical as he is of the Coates-Kendi contingent, gives them too much benefit of the doubt. McWhorter claims that anti-racism is racism, but he also assumes that anti-racists are well intentioned. These days, I don’t know if that assumption can be so easily made.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dallin

    A bold polemic against Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, and others. Overall I agree, but it could’ve used more nuance. The religion metaphor only goes so far.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Shoop

    A much needed check-and-balance to the current climate of hyper-wokism; specifically, in this case, on issues of race. Not meant as red meat for the Fox News crowd, but thoughtful and uncompromising pushback against what McWhorter calls "Third Wave Antiracism." A much needed check-and-balance to the current climate of hyper-wokism; specifically, in this case, on issues of race. Not meant as red meat for the Fox News crowd, but thoughtful and uncompromising pushback against what McWhorter calls "Third Wave Antiracism."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jon Cheek

    McWhorter very capably criticizes the excesses of key elements of the Left in their efforts to make anti-racism a religion today. An African-American, Leftist intellectual in a prestigious university, McWhorter's perspective is important. The style is engaging, logical, and witty. McWhorter is openly critical of the unceasing attempts to label just about everything as "Racism" and he points out the fallacies in such a practice. While not excusing the fact that the founding fathers owned slaves, McWhorter very capably criticizes the excesses of key elements of the Left in their efforts to make anti-racism a religion today. An African-American, Leftist intellectual in a prestigious university, McWhorter's perspective is important. The style is engaging, logical, and witty. McWhorter is openly critical of the unceasing attempts to label just about everything as "Racism" and he points out the fallacies in such a practice. While not excusing the fact that the founding fathers owned slaves, McWhorter argues that they should be honored for the whole scope of benefits they brought to society and America, though he applauds the efforts to remove monuments to those whose fame is entirely due to their efforts to uphold slavery (e.g., confederate generals). McWhorter concludes with three main directives the country should work to implement to begin to solve some of today's problems.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jackson Emanuel

    This book reads more like a political pamphlet than an academic text, but it's a message that many left-of-center Americans should hear as part of a healthy intellectual diet. The central claim of this work is that a paricular strain of antiracist activism in the US has become so detached from reality that it deserves to be considered a religion, replete with saints (George Floyd, Eric Garner), apostles (Robin DiAngelo, Ibram Kendi), orginal sin (white privilege), divinity schools (university ca This book reads more like a political pamphlet than an academic text, but it's a message that many left-of-center Americans should hear as part of a healthy intellectual diet. The central claim of this work is that a paricular strain of antiracist activism in the US has become so detached from reality that it deserves to be considered a religion, replete with saints (George Floyd, Eric Garner), apostles (Robin DiAngelo, Ibram Kendi), orginal sin (white privilege), divinity schools (university campuses), blasphemy, self-flagellation, etc. Like other religions, it is founded upon a set of mutually contradictory "truths, which functions as a litany of unavoidable sins. It's a fascinating idea that on its surface seems to be true. McWhorter proposes that we treat its parishoners in the same way we might treat any religious group (with civility, but a principled refusal to accept its dogmatism). One gets the impression that this book started as a transcription of a long speech McWhorter once gave to some of his friends at a bar in Queens: it's highly readable, procative, and full of compassion for the human experience. McWhorter's commitments to good faith argumentation, progressive social ideals, democratic pluralism, and secular humanism are never in doubt. In some ways, I wish McWhorter had delved more deeply into his role as an amateur anthropologist and offered some more quantitative descriptions. McWhorter uses many anecdotal examples in support of his arguments, but in the age of Twitter, it's difficult to assess to what extent the loudest voices on social media reflect what is occurring in real life. And although surely it's difficult to assess the reach of a religion when its adherents would not self-identify as such, I would be curious to know how pervasive "Electism" actually is. Writing in 2021, I am disinclined to view the Elect as a bigger threat to American civil society than right-wing extremism. That doesn't mean there isn't always a legitimate threat posed by bad ideas that find uncritical acceptance for fear of speaking out.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Natalie Park

    Although, at the end of the book, there were a few things I could agree with, most of the book was simplistic and lacked nuance. Many of the topics are complicated and he boiled it down to one or two points which favored his side of the argument. At times, he seems to be professing his version of “religion” and blindly painting a wide stroke against all wokeness.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    There’s a lot in this argument to keep a middle-class, middle-age, cis hetero, overeducated, kombucha-drinking, Birkenstock-wearing, “social justice” (a term Dr. McWhorter appears to link indelibly to derangement & destruction), white, female educator like myself up at night. And that is a win. I agree enthusiastically with his three-pronged approach. I‘ve also heard teenagers and adults stumble through primary texts with labored starts-and-stops and heartbreaking self-reproach. But I’ve also re There’s a lot in this argument to keep a middle-class, middle-age, cis hetero, overeducated, kombucha-drinking, Birkenstock-wearing, “social justice” (a term Dr. McWhorter appears to link indelibly to derangement & destruction), white, female educator like myself up at night. And that is a win. I agree enthusiastically with his three-pronged approach. I‘ve also heard teenagers and adults stumble through primary texts with labored starts-and-stops and heartbreaking self-reproach. But I’ve also reveled in self-righteous indignation when my white colleagues said something I perceived as racially insensitive, even stupid. And I recall shutting down a potentially productive conversation when a white student misused the word “inequitable” when arguing schools ought to individualize resources to more efficiently meet actual student needs. Rather “Elect” of me. But I’ve also taught an undergraduate preservice teacher whose favorite school memory was when her 5th grade teacher set up a school-wide maze activity to teach the Underground Railroad. They had to sneak from one point to another and make it to the exit without being caught (resulting in a timeout, before being rereleased into the “maze”). “It was so fun!” This is the result of ignoring issues of social positioning (e.g., race) in K-12 schools, and its effect on curriculum. So, yeah. My response to this book is complicated. I read Woke Racism because I knew it would make me uncomfortable. And it did. And it does. There are a lot of ideas to engage with. And I have. And I will. Despite being a card-carrying practitioner and student of CRT. My main issue with this book stems from Dr. McWhorter’s positioning of CRT as the hallmark of “Elects.” I can appreciate how CRT’s political, boogeyman status might draw readership. But many assumptions follow such a premise that are problematic, and no, I don’t mean they are witches, just ideas that deserve to be problematized (I.e., questioned, clarified, evaluated). The flippant tone perfectly suits Dr. McWhorter’s disgust for the “Elect,” but it also disguises multiple non sequiturs. “Elects” use CRT = Everyone who uses CRT is an “Elect” “Elects” are raving, fanatical, mean-spirited, religious lunatics = CRT, by extension, is also crazy, irrational, fanatical, etc. Teachers are discussing race (and other categories of social positioning) in classrooms = They are coming for your children! = Liberal influence on public K-12 curriculum is a horrifying, immediate, novel emergency! = Schools used to be neutral spaces. Folks who use a CRT framework believe race is the ONLY obstacle to equality—they will not acknowledge additional, or even completely different, obstacles originating in social, historical, economic, and/or cultural beliefs, values, or norms. CRT is the rallying cry of unthinking sheep a.k.a. the “Elect,” not a tool for asking better questions in specific contexts. People who value CRT are not open-minded or willing to critically evaluate their own assumptions. Nor are they willing to engage in complexities or field difficult questions. They never change their mind. CRT proponents have zero interest in concrete change or in prioritizing action over navel-gazing. If you are white and criticize race relations in America, you must hate yourself, demonstrate your self-flagellation on social media, and talk endlessly about privilege. The “Elect” utilize ad hominem attacks = The “Elect” are witch hunters, inquisitors, morally corrupt bullies. That last is of note, because Dr. McWhorter also extensively uses ad hominem. It’s very characteristic of our time for an author to rail against a monolithic perspective, then proceed to generalize, caricature, and minimize others to base, stereotypical characteristics. If Dr. McWhorter were indisputably correct in his argument, I’d be incapable of writing this response, paralyzed as I would be by 1) my knee-jerk rejection of a different point-of-view, and 2) my irrational, urgent acceptance of anything he says because he is a black man. I felt defensive in many places, but I only wholeheartedly disagreed with his assertion that we ought to give up entirely on dialogue. There’s much to recommend leaning into this discomfort and problematizing my own understandings about justice and meaningful action. That’s what I’ve always taught in my social justice classroom, because the one truth I rabidly defend is that there is always more to learn. And the most immediate danger to learning is unshakable knowing.

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