Woke racism How a new religion has betrayed Black America

John H. McWhorter

Book - 2021

"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 pernic...ious 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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[New York] : Portfolio/Penguin [2021]
Main Author
John H. McWhorter (author)
Physical Description
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • What kind of people?
  • The new religion
  • What attracts people to this religion?
  • What's wrong with it being a religion? It hurts Black people
  • Beyond "dismantling structures" : saving Black America for real
  • How do we work around them?
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Contemporary anti-racism is a "religion in all but name" that indoctrinates Black people into believing they are "eternally victimized," according to this blunt and provocative takedown. Columbia University linguistics professor McWhorter (Nine Nasty Words), who is Black, contends that the anti-racism of the civil rights era and the 1970s and '80s has evolved into a militant "Third Wave" that condemns white people whether they're leaving Black neighborhoods ("white flight") or moving into them ("gentrification"), among other contradictions, and demands the "suspension of standards of achievement and conduct" for Blacks. Drawing an extended analogy to fundamentalist religion, McWhorter alleges that anti-racist advocates ("the Elect") believe in the "original sin" of white privilege, cherish "sermons" by Ta-Nehisi Coates and other members of the "clergy," and ban "heretics" for being insufficiently anti-racist. He traces the roots of this thinking to critical race theory and contends that it ignores the considerable progress America has made against racism, prioritizes "performance art" over actual change, and "forbids us non-whites from being individual selves." McWhorter scores many rhetorical points, but he exaggerates the political and cultural power of anti-racism and misrepresents counterarguments, alleging, for instance, that anti-racists insist "bigotry is the only possible reason" Black boys are disproportionately suspended and expelled from public schools. Still, this polished diatribe is sure to spark discussion. (Oct.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A far-reaching, full-throated polemic against "Third Wave Antiracism." McWhorter, a professor of linguistics, American studies, and music history at Columbia, has been a prominent figure in the public discourse around race since he published Losing the Race in 2000. But nothing he has said or written previously has been as controversial as the thesis he advances in his latest book. Flying in the face of mainstream liberal orthodoxy, McWhorter writes in unapologetic opposition to the brand of anti-racism that authors like Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo have made so popular in recent years. At the core of McWhorter's critique is his claim that wokism (or "Electism," as he wants us to call it) has literally become a religion. It demands adherence to positions that one must accept on faith or else be treated as heretical (i.e., "problematic"). McWhorter is well aware that his arguments may be dismissed out of hand, but he is cogent and forthright in his discussions. "You see Third Wave antiracism telling you that you are morally bound to conceive of ordinary statements that once were thought of as progressive, like 'I don't see color,' as racist," he writes. "That if you are white you are to despise yourself as tainted permanently by 'white privilege' in everything you do." The author attempts to turn from the vogue anti-racism of our era to earlier forms of anti-racism that don't "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." This is a passionate, often fiery book, but it is also seriously considered and scrupulously reasoned. Whether or not readers are persuaded by McWhorter's analysis, they must, in the name of intellectual honesty, consider the book mandatory reading. McWhorter's cri de coeur is a vital statement in America's ongoing conversations about race. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.