Black academic who has thrown grenade into wokeness cultJanuary 31, 2022
The black academic who has thrown an intellectual grenade into the cult of wokeness: Blistering new book fires a broadside against the excesses of the ‘anti-racism’ drive sweeping through universities, writes TOM LEONARD
As he delivered an otherwise unremarkable lecture on business communication, Professor Greg Patton tried to give his many Chinese students a helpful tip.
To illustrate a point about padding out conversation with words such as ‘um’ or ‘you know’, Patton gave a common Mandarin example, roughly pronounced ‘nay-guh’.
The next thing he knew, he had been suspended from his job at the University of Southern California. Some black students in his class had formally complained that he had been racist.
They had been made to feel ‘less than’ by a teacher who had deprived them of their ‘peace and mental wellbeing’, they claimed, demanding he be sacked.
As you may guess from the title, Woke Racism — How A New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, author John McWhorter doesn’t pull his punches
Patton — who’d been giving the same lecture for years without complaint — was eventually reinstated, but only after an international outcry in which black American expats in China said they had never suffered despite frequently hearing the term — which sounds a little like the N-word — while Mandarin speakers complained that by censoring their language, they were the real victims of discrimination.
This ludicrous episode is just one example cited in a blistering new book by a U.S. academic, who has fired a broadside against the excesses of the ‘anti-racism’ drive sweeping through universities, institutions and companies across the Western world.
As you may guess from the title, Woke Racism — How A New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, author John McWhorter doesn’t pull his punches. He likens the new, ‘woke’ anti-racist movement to a self-flagellating religious cult — one that not only stifles debate but actually hurts black people.
Race riots: Minneapolis in flames after the death of George Floyd in May 2020
The new religion is a ‘catalogue of contradictions’ which holds that being born white is the ‘original sin’. It has imposed an ‘ideological reign of terror’ in which white people are made to feel permanently guilty and black people that their lives are defined by oppression.
But McWhorter is having none of it. Any black student who feels a Mandarin word that ‘sounds kind of like the N-word deprives him of his ‘peace and mental wellbeing’ urgently needs psychiatric counselling’, he writes.
It’s dynamite stuff, but what’s particularly interesting about McWhorter is that he is no diehard white conservative, but an African-American professor of linguistics at New York’s Columbia University. He’s also a columnist in the usually achingly politically correct New York Times.
As he rightly notes: ‘A version of this book by a white writer would be blithely dismissed as racist.’
His courageously outspoken tome has become a bestseller, encouraging those who feel suffocated by political correctness and infuriating many on the Left who have denounced him as a ‘traitor’ and ‘heretic’. In the past week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to rule on whether a policy at the universities of Harvard and North Carolina giving preference to black applicants is lawful, following claims that it discriminates against Asian-Americans.
Given its current heavy conservative bias, the court may well rule with the complainants, overturning ‘affirmative action’ designed to get black students into elite universities across the U.S.
Having long argued that so-called ‘positive discrimination’ should more fairly be based on whether students come from rich or poor backgrounds, rather than on their race, McWhorter will be delighted.
Left-wing academics are a particular bugbear for him. In Losing The Race, a book he published more than 20 years ago, he accused them of encouraging black people to think of themselves as perpetual victims — an ideology that came to be known as ‘critical race theory’ — rather than seeing racial prejudice as a problem that can be overcome.
Pictured: Protesters in New York on August 28 2020 holding Defund NYPD signs
In his new book, he says this kind of thinking has been elevated into a religion with deluded academics its priesthood. He describes the smug, fanatical and mainly white disciples of this new anti-racism as ‘The Elect’, and says they see themselves as ‘bearers of a Good News that, if all people would simply open up and see it, would create a perfect world’.
And what is this Good News? That racism is baked into the structure of society; that white people who claim they’re not racist are proving they are; and that black people are so subsumed in coping with this prejudice that special allowances must be made for them in terms of their standards of behaviour and achievement.
Being black is essentially a ‘tragedy’ that won’t end until there’s a ‘massive socio-psychological revolution among whites’.
And resistance has crumbled: millions of us, including giant corporations and historic institutions, live in terror of ‘winding up in the sights of a zealous brand of inquisition’ that will happily label people racist while knowing that it’s one of the most devastating accusations you can level at a person.
A woman holds a sign saying ‘Defund the Police’ at a protest on January 15 in Cardiff (pictured)
Given the people espousing this sanctimonious claptrap and perverted logic are more interested in looking virtuous than actually doing good, McWhorter argues that it’s hardly surprising black people are not benefiting.
When the anti-racism movement is not directly damaging — such as the Defund The Police campaign, which has spread to the UK and usually weakens policing in high-crime neighbourhoods — it is encouraging black people to think of themselves only as pathetic victims, he says.
‘The ideology in question is one under which white people calling themselves our saviours make black people look like the dumbest, weakest, most self-indulgent beings in the history of our species, and teach black people to revel in that status,’ he writes.
Pictured: An officer responds to a structure fire in Oregon protests on April 17 2021
In a country in which school officials are being told that virtues such as literacy and punctuality are ‘white things’, what hope is there for black children, he asks?
McWhorter does not deny racial prejudice exists. But he believes it’s being grossly exaggerated.
Now aged 56, he says he knows the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s won important victories for black Americans ‘lucky enough’ to have grown up in subsequent decades.
For him, a turning point in his views came in 1992, when three of the four police officers filmed beating African-American Rodney King in Los Angeles were acquitted, prompting a week of ferocious rioting in which 63 people died.
On day two of the Black Lives Matter Protest/Justice for George Floyd, the family of Belly Mujtinga and the actor of Star Ward John Boyega (pictured) came to make a speech during the Black Live Matter Protest/Justice for George Floyd in London’s Hyde Park on June 3rd, 2020
Why, he asked himself, did people take the King verdict as proof that all black Americans had no hope of racial justice? The same thoughts went through his mind in May 2020 after the ‘revolting’ death of another black man, George Floyd, as he was being arrested by white police officers in Minneapolis. The incident prompted worldwide protests and riots.
McWhorter writes mainly about the U.S., but many of his points are readily applicable to the UK, where only three months ago the Department for Education had to warn schools not to teach the concept of ‘white privilege’ as fact.
Myriad examples of innocent victims of anti-racism’s vicious ‘cancel culture’ are cited in his book. They include David Shor, a Left-wing analyst sacked by his consulting firm for tweeting a study, around the time of the Black Lives Matter protests, showing how violent protests can backfire. And there’s New York Times food writer Alison Roman, ousted after mildly criticising two celebrity chefs who happened not to be white.
Amid such madness, it may be tempting to give up resisting — but McWhorter insists all is not lost. He looks to Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote of the everyday courage needed to resist Soviet oppression.
‘You can make a shark approaching you go away by bopping it on the nose,’ writes McWhorter. ‘The Elect are like sharks. They need to be bopped on the nose.’
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