18 February 2022

The CapX Podcast: John McWhorter on ‘Woke Racism’

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Our guest this week, John McWhorter, is a man of many talents: a Columbia University professor, prolific author, music historian, New York Times columnist and one of America’s leading authorities on linguistics.

Beyond his academic career, McWhorter has also found a following as a prominent critic of the language-policing, statue-toppling, academic-cancelling brand of anti-racism that has taken hold in the United States and beyond. 

In his new book Woke Racism, McWhorter argues that this is not just a noxious ideology, but a religion, complete with the original sin of ‘white privilege’, a completely illogical catechism and a set of priests to spread the Bad News – that all of the obstacles facing black Americans are due to structural or systemic racism. This creed, he argues, is not just wrong but actively harmful to the very people it purports to help. It has more to do with self-congratulation among the faithful, whom McWhorter labels ‘The Elect’, than any real attempt at social justice.

As well as skewering the sloppy thinking and bullying behaviour of The Elect, McWhorter also offers a road map for how to deal with their style of thinking, and some concrete suggestions for how to improve the lot of Black Americans.

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John McWhorter on…

Trying to argue with The Elect

Anyone who thinks that what we need to try to do is have a conversation with that kind of person, unfortunately – and I really mean, unfortunately, I don’t say this just to be abusive or rhetorical – unfortunately, on this subject, that kind of person can’t be reached…We have to understand that that kind of person either has to be told ‘No’, or worked around. If we don’t understand that we’re going to let that kind of ideology take over things that we all hold dear.

They are ensconced in a certain vision of battling power differentials as the central focus of humanity and if you aren’t committed to that, to the extent that they are, they think of you as a terrible person, and you can’t change it.

Fear of speaking out

What scares me to pieces is that in so many institutions, most people do not believe in what the Elect are preaching, but they go along with it because they don’t want to lose their job

We get messages from people every day saying, ‘I’m really afraid of these sorts of things that are happening in my department, at my company, in my community in my religion, but I’m afraid to say anything because I’ve watched the heads roll when people bothered to speak up’.

The spread of ‘Elect’ ideology beyond America

I shouldn’t be surprised because it feels good to be an elect. Anybody, whatever country they’re in, feels good – especially if you’re an educated person – to know that you’re ahead of the curve, that even if you’re educated and affluent, that you have a moral commitment that shows that you’re still a good person, that sense of atonement. And honestly, I think it’s human in all of us

Calls to ‘defund the police’

This sort of thing is alarming because where the police have been defunded, where the police have been pulled back on since 2020, Crime has gone up more black people have been killed. And yet the elect continue in their idea that police need to be replaced by social workers, the police need to be pulled back. This is a religion.

Claims that standardised tests are ‘racist’

If your idea is that it’s racist to submit a black person to a test of abstract cognitive skill, you’re coming very close to saying that black people aren’t very bright. And you know, the people who do this don’t care. Because what they’ve done is they’ve showed that they know racism exists. That’s really pernicious.

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John Ashmore is Editor of CapX.