John McWhorter on Neo-Racism


John McWhorter, a Black professor of linguistics at Columbia University, has been very critical of what has been termed the anti-racist movement. McWhorter see this 'anti-racism' as 'neo-racism.' His new essay, which you can read here, is a fascinating piece.

McWhorter first attempts to characterize the tenets of what he calls Third Wave Anti-Racism. (First Wave would be the abolitionists, and Second Wave would be the movement associated most popularly with Martin Luther King, Jr.) Here is his list:

1) When black people say you have insulted them, apologize with profound sincerity and guilt. But don’t put black people in a position where you expect them to forgive you. They have dealt with too much to be expected to.

2) Black people are a conglomeration of disparate individuals. “Black culture” is code for “pathological, primitive ghetto people.” But don’t expect black people to assimilate to “white” social norms because black people have a culture of their own.

3) Silence about racism is violence. But elevate the voices of the oppressed over your own.

4) You must strive eternally to understand the experiences of black people. But you can never understand what it is to be black, and if you think you do you’re a racist.

5) Show interest in multiculturalism. But do not culturally appropriate. What is not your culture is not for you, and you may not try it or do it. But—if you aren’t nevertheless interested in it, you are a racist.

6) Support black people in creating their own spaces and stay out of them. But seek to have black friends. If you don’t have any, you’re a racist. And if you claim any, they’d better be good friends—in their private spaces, you aren’t allowed in.

7) When whites move away from black neighborhoods, it’s white flight. But when whites move into black neighborhoods, it’s gentrification, even when they pay black residents generously for their houses.

8) If you’re white and only date white people, you’re a racist. But if you’re white and date a black person you are, if only deep down, exotifying an “other.”

9) Black people cannot be held accountable for everything every black person does. But all whites must acknowledge their personal complicity in the perfidy throughout history of “whiteness.”

10) Black students must be admitted to schools via adjusted grade and test score standards to ensure a representative number of them and foster a diversity of views in classrooms. But it is racist to assume a black student was admitted to a school via racial preferences, and racist to expect them to represent the “diverse” view in classroom discussions.

When McWhorter lays it out so clearly as he does here, the contradictions and illogic manifest plainly. McWhorter quips, "This and so much else is a sign that Third Wave Antiracism forces us to pretend that performance art is politics. It forces us to spend endless amounts of time listening to nonsense presented as wisdom, and pretend to like it. I write this viscerally driven by the fact that all of this supposed wisdom is founded in an ideology under which white people calling themselves our saviors 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."

McWhorter suggests that the current incarnation of anti-racism is a religion, and that as such there must be maintained a separation of church and state. Unfortunately, he suggests, the opposite is occurring--"America’s sense of what it is to be intellectual, moral, or artistic; what it is to educate a child; what it is to foster justice; what is to express oneself properly; what it is to be a nation—all is being refounded upon a religion . . . It’s time it became ordinary to call it for what it is and stop cowering before it, letting it make people so much less than they—black and everything else—could be."

What is perhaps most interesting about McWhorter's essay is his aim--if one accepts his premise that this is a new religion, the question becomes not, "how do I dissuade them from their religious beliefs?" He views any such endeavor as hopeless. Instead, he offers this wise counsel:

"Our concern must be how to continue with genuine progress in spite of this ideology. How do we work around it? How do we insulate people with good ideas from the influence of the Third Wave Antiracists’ liturgical concerns? How do we hold them off from influencing the education of our young people any more than they already have? My interest is not “How do we get through to these people?” We cannot, at least not enough of them to matter. The question is “How can we can live graciously among them?” We seek change in the world, but for the duration will have to do so while encountering bearers of a gospel, itching to smoke out heretics, and ready on a moment’s notice to tar us as moral perverts."

"How can we live graciously among them?" What a wise and generous question.