Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A New Kind of Racism

Written by: on December 7, 2022

John McWhorter has a PhD in Linguistics from Stanford and teaches at Columbia University. Interestingly, he has a focus on creole languages and Black English. Black English “is the set of English sociolects spoken by most black people in the United States and many in Canada” and is “a dialect continuum ranging from African-American Vernacular English to a more standard American English.”[1] Given the book’s topic, it is worth noting that John McWhorter is an African American as Woke Racism is a sociological book to challenge our understanding of racism, especially since the death of George Floyd in March of 2020.

Before we jump into Woke Racism, it is helpful to understand McWhorter’s opposition to Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. A term coined by DeAngelo, “White fragility refers to feelings of discomfort a white person experiences when they witness discussions around racial inequality and injustice.”[2] Though he believes the author was motivated by good intentions, he states that despite “the sincere intentions of its author, the book diminishes Black people in the name of dignifying us.”[3] He further states, “She operates from the now-familiar concern with white privilege, aware of the unintentional racism ever lurking inside of her that was inculcated from birth by the white supremacy on which America was founded.” Taking DiAngelo’s white fragility a step further, McWhorter comments, “Refer to a ‘bad neighborhood,’ and you’re using code for Black; call it a ‘Black neighborhood,’ and you’re a racist; by DiAngelo’s logic, you are not to describe such neighborhoods at all, even in your own head.” McWhorter encapsulates his critique as such,

White Fragility is, in the end, a book about how to make certain educated white readers feel better about themselves. DiAngelo’s outlook rests upon a depiction of Black people as endlessly delicate poster children within this self-gratifying fantasy about how white America needs to think – or, better, stop thinking. Her answer to white fragility, in other words, entails an elaborate and pitilessly dehumanizing condescension toward Black people. The sad truth is that anyone falling under the sway of this blinkered, self-satisfied, punitive stunt of a primer has been taught, by a well-intentioned but tragically misguided pastor, how to be racist a whole new way (bold print mine).[4]

Now, Woke Racism. The book aimed to:

  1. To explain why so many black people are attracted to a religion that treats us as simpletons.
  2. To show that this racism is actively harmful to black people despite being intended as unprecedentedly ‘anti-racist.’
  3. To show that a pragmatic, effective, liberal, and even Democratic-friendly agenda for rescuing black American need not be founded on the tenets of this new religion.
  4. To suggest ways to lessen the grip of this new religion on our public culture.[5]

McWhorter claims that we are experiencing what he calls the third wave of anti-racism, which came into being around 2010. This anti-racism

teaches that because racism is baked into the structure of society, whites ‘complicity’ in living within it constitutes racism itself, while for black people, grappling with the racism surrounding them is the totality of experience and must condition exquisite sensitivity toward them, including a suspension of standards of achievement and conduct.[6]

McWhorter firmly believes that this new wave of anti-racism is incredibly damaging, most notably for black people for whom it was intended to defend. In this new way of thinking, espoused by a group of people he calls “the elect,” he states,

To apologize shows your racism; to be refused the apology, too, shows your racism. To not be interested in black culture shows your racism; to get into black culture and decide that you, too, want to rap or wear dreadlocks also shows your racism.[7]

Simply put, the polarity created by this way of thinking is a lose-lose situation for everyone – whites, blacks, all people.

McWhorter confronts the teaching of the elect, which

teaches black people that cries of weakness are a form of strength. It teaches us that in the richness of this thing called life, the most interesting thing about you is that the ruling class doesn’t like you enough. It teaches us that to insist that black people can achieve under less than perfect conditions is ignorant slander. It teaches us that we are the first people in the history of the species for whom it is a form of heroism to embrace the slogan “Yes, we can’t!” Elect philosophy is, in all innocence, a form of racism in itself. Black America has met nothing so disempowering – including the cops – since Jim Crow.[8]

If not the way of the elect, then what shall we do instead? McWhorter provides three simple solutions: end the war on drugs, teach reading properly, and get past the idea that everybody must go to college.[9] Chapters 5-6 further explore these topics.

Upon reflection on this book, I certainly have experienced “white fragility” – discomfort in reading and considering matters of race. As a middle-aged white guy, I am certainly mindful of white privilege. However, I also feel that my perception of race has been further fashioned by living and working in low-income, diverse neighborhoods for more than two decades. Additionally, as a multi-ethnic family, my understanding has been further broadened by watching my adopted children engage in our current very-white state of Montana as two “brown” children. I look forward to further exploring items discussed in this book with trusted brothers and sisters who are people of color and have been invaluable to me in my journey to understanding matters of race.

[1] “African-American English,” Wikipedia, December 2, 2022, accessed December 4, 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=African-American_English&oldid=1125093421.

[2] “What Is White Fragility, and Why Is It a Problem?,” last modified June 12, 2020, accessed December 4, 2022, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/white-fragility-definition.

[3] John McWhorter, “The Dehumanizing Condescension of ‘White Fragility,’” The Atlantic, last modified July 15, 2020, accessed December 4, 2022, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/07/dehumanizing-condescension-white-fragility/614146/.

[4] Ibid.

[5] John H. McWhorter, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2021), ix–x.

[6] Ibid., 5.

[7] Ibid., 10.

[8] Ibid., 148.

[9] Ibid., 140–143.

About the Author


Eric Basye

Disciple, husband, and father, committed to seeking shalom.

8 responses to “A New Kind of Racism”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    EB: This book goes a long way in help explaining what the “woke” movement is all about. I read the whole thing not just book reviews because I didn’t know much about this movement. “The Elect” certainly take this too far and I agree with McWhorter’s assessment. His three solutions at the end were surprising but they make sense.

    • mm Eric Basye says:

      I thought they were surprising too. Simple. I think he might be on to something. Did you read Henri’s blog? That was an interesting tie to education. That makes me further believe that education + opportunities are a big deal. Thus, as the Church, how do we provide more opportunities for folks that otherwise may not have them, whether it be because of the color of their skin, education level, socioeconomic level, or otherwise?

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Eric, great summary and commentary. I appreciate the strong connection you saw between this book and “White Fragility.” I believe that helps explain McWhorter’s polemic style of writing. What do you make of his strong language, even name-calling, of adherents of Third Wave Antiracism? Good, bad, non-issue?

    • mm Eric Basye says:

      I agree with what you observed in your blog post. It seems strong to the point of detriment. Thinking of O’Toole, is he speaking truth in power in a way that is beneficial?

      While it was a helpful read and insight for me, it did seem very polarizing and potentially offensive (such as for my friends of color).

  3. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Eric, thank you for a great overview of the book. I am curious how might “white fragility” be viewed in light of Friedman, Taleb, or Bolsinger?

    • mm Eric Basye says:

      Oh boy, that is a loaded question:) Let me turn the tables and ask you that same question. What say ye?

      Those three authors would each have a different response, I believe. That is a good question to which I do not have a ready response.

  4. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Eric: Given the context of work you’ve been involved in recently in Billings, would you find any three of his solutions to be realistic and actually make a difference if implemented? Can they even be realistically implemented?

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