🎧 | John McWhorter and Yascha Mounk discuss whether "wokeness" is a religion and how it affects black Americans.
It is a pure pleasure listening to John McWhorter (and yes, I'm aware that I can be accused of racism for saying that, something at which I can only laugh).
The conversation was also more banter-y than usual. I remember my email to Mr. Mounk when I signed up for a Persuasion subscription; I suggested that the staff try smiling in their head-shots, rather than looking like fashion-magazine models. McWhorter's chuckles bespoke a good attitude toward the exchange of ideas, which some thinkers have claimed reaches its highest form in play.
I have a couple of questions that perhaps Mr. McWhorter can relate to, should he view these comments, or really anybody here would be welcome:
1. I have the sense that some progressives found themselves in a situation some years ago where they categorically denied that America had become less racist but couldn't find enough racist behavior on a national scale to justify that belief. They first attempted to align their belief with their observations by claiming that people actually 𝘢𝘳𝘦 racist but simply don't realize it, thus the Implicit Bias Test. Unfortunately for them, the IBT wasn't up to the task (inconsistent results, lack of proof that what was detected was actually racism...), so the next step was Institutional Racism -- ie., Racism w/o Racists. I'm curious whether that's a plausible reading of events
2. I've been asking in a number of forums, having failed to achieve enlightenment from Google and Wikipedia, for examples of Institutional (or Structural, and if they're not actually the same thing I'm curious to know about that too) Racism. And I mean as something other than the lingering effects of past racism or something that can be attributed to intentional racism (so no, redlining doesn't qualify, ticketing for "driving while black" doesn't count and the problems of poor people of all races don't count. And because this is the the Internet I will clarify that this is an earnest question -- possibly naive, but not sarcastic.
Perhaps "system of belief" rather than religion, with at play a human tendency to believe uncritically once convinced (or converted) and to castigate those who do not share one's beliefs? Marxism has been situated within the Millenarian tradition; the withering away of the state and arrival of the dictatorship of the proletariat thus function as the End Time after a thousand years (more or less) of class struggle. A secular vale of sin and tears leading to a secular Second Coming. Since Marxism has had enormous power on the minds and lives of people in the Latin countries and in Asia--Cultural Revolution anyone?--tying wokery to Protestantism alone has its limits. That said, the label "Great Awokening" is a brilliant take on the tendency's American roots. The woke also remind me, however, of Freudians. Years ago I had a discussion with a Freudian who believed that women's carrying pocketbooks represented an unconscious desire to exhibit an otherwise invisible womb. I remarked that women's clothing--this was back in the day--rarely had pockets. And that men in the Middle Ages carried purses, their clothes also lacking pockets. And that medieval women often wore a ring of large keys on their belts (what would Uncle Sig make of that?) To no avail. So the woke find racists in anyone who challenges their analysis.
I agree with McWhorter's recommendations, but would nuance them. First to include all poor people in any initiative to improve schools, reduce the impact of drugs on communities, and create solid, decently paying working class jobs. This is only fair. It would also challenge the perception that Democrats, the elite, call them what you will, care only about black people or people of color, and so would reduce resentment and receptivity toward populist manipulations. Second, to acknowledge the necessity of policing and, instead of demonizing police, find ways to reform poor practice where it exists. Third, to look hard at the implications for the cohesion of this country, and the west more generally, of history practiced as indictment, prosecution and conviction, and at the cultural cost of limiting perception of art, literature and music to (an often ungenerous) take on the race or gender of the artist, writer or musician. Since the woke claim that they act out of an overriding concern for black people, challenging them on the implications of their words and actions for ordinary black people is of the first importance. But they have a lot to answer for to the entire society as well.
Love John McWhorter's intelligence, wit and humor. Really liked this conversation where you both dug deeply into the issues.
As a long-term social activist (read: old), I am very solution-oriented and I think this is where McWhorter stumbles a bit. First of all, as an early childhood educator (retired), I think just adding phonics, even well-taught, to the educational curriculum is too glib a solution. Disadvantaged children often start school with lower vocabulary, not nearly as much experience with books and reading as many middle class kids, and less knowledge of phonemic awareness (which needs to precede phonics.) So let's get some nuance into the reading discussion -- no, we don't need to relitigate the "reading wars".
We do need to understand child development. Also, what does it mean to eliminate the War on Drugs? In West Coast cities, there is little prosecution and therefore few arrests for low level drug possession. We have needles in our parks, drug addicts shooting up in our public areas, and many drug addicts living homeless and in poverty. Again, let's look at some nuance to dealing with the issues of drug addiction in society.