I’ve never paid much attention to McWhorter, and only gave him a bit of side-eye when I noticed that he’s one of the people who signed on to that University of Austin nonsense. But he’s a black professor at Columbia University! No way he could fall for that right-wing BS, right?
Wrong. He’s got a book out, titled Woke Racism, and it’s apparently as bad as it sounds. He’s a card-carrying member of the anti-woke brigade, and he’s written a whole book about his resentment that some people are actually conscious of the systemic racism in our country. Elie Mystal reviews it.
McWhorter’s central thesis is that being woke — by which he seems to mean acknowledging the ongoing fact of bigotry, systemic racism and the resulting forms of oppression — is a religion. Not “like” a religion — McWhorter refuses to hedge this contention with simile. No, McWhorter argues that people who advocate for anti-racism policies, racial sensitivity training and (of course) “critical race theory” are all part of a religious movement with its own clergy. (Ibram X. Kendi, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates have all been ordained, apparently.) He argues that this religion’s “Elect” has taken over the country and “rule[s] by inflicting terror” on those who dare to speak against it. Along the way, he warns that it is “coming after your kids” with a breathlessness that makes him sound less like a thoughtful academic and more like a conspiracy theorist looking for hidden critical race messages in the menus at Chuck E. Cheese.
McWhorter never engages with any of the actual cultish movements that are threatening American democracy. He likewise never engages with actual religions, the ones who get tax breaks and Supreme Court justices, who hold the power to take away human rights from pregnant people and civil rights from the LGBTQ community. McWhorter managed in the course of about 200 pages to claim that the woke are perpetrating a “reign of terror” — a phrase he uses twice — but devoted only three paragraphs (I counted) to the actual insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol and tried to overthrow the government.
When he finally gets to those attacks, McWhorter brushes them away, writing, “As scary as those protesters were, which institutions are they taking over with their views?” He quickly answers his own question with “none.” It’s easy to respond with a list of institutions that have either been fully taken over by anti-Democratic Trumpist ideology, from local school boards to the electoral machinery of Wisconsin to the Republican Party itself, or institutions that are so riddled with white supremacists that they can no longer be trusted (like various local police departments). But note the word choice from the linguistics professor. The people who attacked the Capitol were “protesters” with “views.”
McWhorter downplays White domestic terror threats in favor of regular criticism of Coates (the imagined Salieri to his Mozart, it sometimes seems) and other anti-racist thinkers, but he believes that speaking against this so-called clergy will earn people like him the ad hominem label of “race traitor” by critics. He warns readers that some will say he’s “not black enough” to write his book.
It is peculiar that someone would be concerned about radicals taking over institutions to start a reign of terror, but neglects an actual recent instance of just that happening…except to make excuses for them.
I don’t think he’s a race traitor, and would never use that term. I just think he’s a dumbass.