What if racial politics in America today has become, not just like a religion, but an actual religion itself?
That is precisely the case Columbia University linguist John McWhorter persuasively makes in his new bestseller, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. Interestingly, as a classically atheistic liberal, McWhorter takes a decidedly dim view of religion. But as a black intellectual, he also takes an extremely critical view of how racial politics has evolved in America in the past few years and he lays out his reasons in this important book.
McWhorter recently explained to Reason magazine, “I wrote Woke Racism, not as some boring statement from the right wing about family values and people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.” He added, “There are black people who need help and the people who are calling themselves ‘black people’s savior’s’ now don’t understand this, but they’re actually hurting black people.” McWhorter’s criticism is these “saviors” are “caught up more in virtue signaling to one another to assuage their own guilt, than actually helping people who need help.”
But McWhorter also has a distinct message for parents about this new secular religion, entreating them, “Do not heed those who say that this religion is important. Make no mistake: These people are coming after your kids.”
McWhorter calls the leaders of this new racial religion “The Elect” because they are absolutely certain about what is right, true and good, and we are not allowed to question their perspective and authority in anyway. He notes that even while they claim our nation “must have a conversation on race in America” the Elect “are unable to specify a single thing they might learn in said conversation.” That “conversation” only goes one way. In fact, to question them in the slightest will get you denounced a racist, literally.
McWhorter also says this new religion has its own pharisees in the public square “who do things solely in order to be seen doing them. That’s what virtue signaling is.” He not that you “see these people gesturing, and gesticulating” just as if they are participating in the most solemn of secular religious service.
McWhorter adds, “Framing it as a religion gets across that idea better than just calling it an ideology. There’s something different about this here.” Woke racists also have their own street evangelists and fiery prophets going from town to town demanding unbelievers confess the new orthodoxy by flashing the proper religious gestures.
Of course, this secular religion has its own Original Sin of “white privilege” that must constantly be called out and confessed, “with an awareness that they can never be absolved of it” McWhorter explains. “The Elect seek to inculcate white kids with their responsibility to acknowledge their privilege from as early an age as possible.” He warns, “the Elect are founding the equivalent of Sunday school – except that, because they have penetrated actual schools, they get to preach at our children five days a week.”
This religion even has its own high clergy and unquestioned sacred texts that the faithful must read, pass around, defend, and get others to express unquestioned allegiance to. McWhorter names them: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X, Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, and Nikole Hannah-Jones. And the religion’s sacred texts are each authors’ writings, led by the historically challenged 1619 Project and DiAngelo’s White Fragility, which McWhorter describes as the religion’s fundamental “primer on original sin.” The religion also has a creed that everyone must assent to and no one can question: America is a systemically racist country.
This religion is also apocalyptic, with its own highly dramatic “day of reckoning” coming just around the corner … but never quite arriving. McWhorter explains that “catastrophizing the current moment is a hallmark” of this religion and “they teach us that any sense we have that progress is happening is just another form or racism and ‘fragility.’”
But McWhorter counters that the “general idea that America is in some kind of denial about race – or racism, which is what these people really mean when they say this – is perfectly absurd.” To the contrary, McWhorter holds that currently, “America is nothing less than obsessed with discussing and acknowledging racism, and those who insist year after year that America want to hear nothing of it are in pure fantasy.” This atheist professor explains this new racial religion is “a willful commitment to believing something demonstrably untrue.”
And that is precisely why McWhorter claims it is so harmful to all of us as a whole, but especially to blacks. He says this new religion condemns all whites as eternally unredeemable sinners and offers no actual answers for how blacks can attain true freedom and salvation. McWhorter holds that “the Elect take on race is founded on a religious requirement to decry racism rather than on seeking and measuring the results of efforts to make black people’s lives better.”
McWhorter is denouncing woke racism is an inherently damning religion that keeps everyone captive and sets no one free. He laments that everything we know to be right and true is being upended,
“America’s sense of what it is to be intellectual, moral, … to educate a child, what it is to foster justice, what it is to express oneself properly, and what is to be a nation, is being re-founded on a religion.”
And he believes this new religion is deeply cancerous on many levels. The most powerful conclusion of McWhorter’s book is the one he begins with, the volume’s opening dedication, written to you, the reader. It is a call to courage.
“This book is dedicated to each who find it within themselves to take a stand against this detour in humanity’s intellectual, cultural, and moral development.”
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