Woke Racism by John McWhorter (Review by Ritu B. ’24)

Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black AmericaWoke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America by John McWhorter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You’ve probably heard of anti-racism, and you probably strongly support it. Why wouldn’t you? Everyone knows that being an anti-anti-racist just makes you a racist. And according to John McWhorter, “racist” is just about the worst thing you can be called in this day and age.

In “Woke Racism,” McWhorter distinguishes between three waves of anti-racism. The first wave was about getting rid of segregation and giving Black people the right to vote. The second wave, in the 70’s and 80’s, was about how it’s bad to be a racist person. A Black man himself, McWhorter argues that the well-intentioned third wave of anti-racism which emerged in the last few years has taken a step backwards in helping society reach racial equity.

McWhorter claims that this third wave focuses too much on what people say and how they internalize their role as either racist cogs in a racist machine or eternal victims of oppression. What’s missing is how these psychological exercises actually lead to changing structures to improve Black lives, and McWhorter provides a few suggestions to remedy this. For example, he asks why institutions should default to lowering test scores to increase diversity, when they could instead funnel more money and resources into helping Black people get better preparation so that they can achieve these high scores in the first place.

Even though the first half of the book feels repetitive, I think that McWhorter makes compelling points about the contradictions that exist within this anti-racist ideology and about how third-wave anti-racism has turned into a “religion”: the “original sin” of white privilege forces adherents to repent for a lifetime, and cancel culture bans “heretics” from society. Some of his acute observations caused me to burst out laughing. Others just made me wince in disappointment at what we’ve become.

This was a fascinating read, and I encourage readers to consider McWhorter’s arguments, as well as take the time to explore and think deeply about other points of view. Ultimately, addressing structural racism is a complex and multifaceted topic, and it is important to remember that no one book can hold all the answers. -Review by Ritu B. ’24

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