Monday, November 15, 2021

Abe Greenwald: "Review of 'Woke Racism' by John McWhorter"

At Commentary, "Among the Elect":

If the United States manages to put down the woke revolution, it will be because a critical mass of liberals chooses to reject it. Conservatives, opposed to wokeness from the start, can make arguments and stand up for their principles individually. But they can’t stop the liberal-to-woke conversion process that turns mildly left-of-center Americans into cosplay Black Panthers overnight. The liberals themselves are the gatekeepers of their own movement and its institutions. Given that these institutions—news media, social media, entertainment, academia, and the current majority party in Washington—shape so many aspects of American life, it’s mostly up to liberals to halt and reverse the transformation of the country.

Among the dozen or so prominent liberals who have answered this call, John McWhorter has taken on an invaluable role. McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia University, is less consumed with particular woke-inspired outrages than with getting at the substance of wokeness itself and the threat it poses to his fellow black Americans. On those matters, his new book, Woke Racism, makes several major contributions.

First, it’s not pitched at the woke. McWhorter is done with them. “Our current conversations waste massive amounts of energy by missing the futility of ‘dialogue’ with them,” he writes. No one can be argued out of wokeness and, just as crucially, McWhorter wants to get to liberals—black and white—before they’re irretrievably lost to the impenetrable mob: “I want to reach those on the fence, guilted into attention by these ideologues’ passion and rhetoric but unable to disregard their true inner compass.”

McWhorter also argues that wokeness is insulting to and catastrophic for black Americans. By the lights of the woke, he says, “white people calling themselves our saviors make black people look like the dumbest, weakest, most self-indulgent human beings in the history of our species, and teach black people to revel in that status and cherish it as making us special.”

Despite the book’s title, McWhorter dispenses with the term woke altogether. Borrowing, with acknowledgment, from the conservative writer Joseph Bottum, he deems the woke “the Elect.” The term evokes the social-justice warrior’s smugness in his sense of having come to higher moral knowledge. The Elect also has a helpfully medieval resonance to it: “This is apt, in that the view they think of as, indeed, sacrosanct is directly equivalent to views people centuries before us were as fervently devoted to as today’s Elect are.” The Elect are, to some degree, inquisitors.

From there, McWhorter makes his most convincing argument—that Electism is not a political persuasion at all but a religion. “I do not mean that these people’s ideology is ‘like’ a religion,” he writes. “I seek no rhetorical snap in the comparison. I mean that it actually is a religion. An anthropologist would see no difference in type between Pentecostalism and this new form of antiracism.”

Understanding Electism as a real, not metaphorical, religion, requires some explication. McWhorter details the new faith’s tenets and motivations at length. Like any religion, Electism involves “certain suspensions of disbelief.” This means, for example, one is not to question the Elect’s boundless outrage over the police killing of George Floyd compared with its more muted response to thousands of black-on-black murders committed the same year. “Does that mean ‘It’s not as bad if we do it to ourselves?’” McWhorter asks. Moreover, “to suspend disbelief,” he writes, “is a kind of submission.” And the Elect evince this submission when they refuse to question a host of policies—from an extreme version of affirmative action to defunding police—that show no benefit for the black Americans the Elect want to help.

The Elect also have a very influential clergy. Figures such as Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, and Ta-Nehisi Coates make up a priestly class, and their writings are scripture...

Continue reading.

And buy the book, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America.