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

Be Awake to the Woke

Written by: on December 8, 2022

Well known linguist, podcaster, and Columbia University professor John McWhorter authored Woke Racism in 2021. His audience is for both black and white Americans who have become confused about the “woke” movement in America. The movement has grown and taken on multiple facets and McWhorter tries to dispel the false impressions and at the same time explain the heart of the ideology. In the preface of the book he states, “This book is a call for the rest of us to understand that people of a certain ideology are attempting to transform this country on the basis of racism” (ix). This ideology in fact, is a religion, a point he makes strenuously in the first four chapters of the book. He’s not wrong.

He has a brief explanation that the type of antiracism that we are dealing today is not like the other varieties that have existed historically in America. He calls today’s variety “Third Wave Antiracism” and explains that they are like “social justice warriors,” or better still, “the Woke Mob” (p.4). The first wave was the battle against slavery and legalized segregation. The second wave was the result of the civil rights movements when racists attitudes were fought against in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Today the battle is against every institution, work place, and individual that unknowingly is complicit in keeping the black individuals down in American Society. The zeal and fundamentalist-like attitude the Woke Mob possesses scares people into capitulating to them out of fear that they might be called a racist if they are not against racism in the same way and same degree that the Woke Mob is. Hence his point that this third wave is more like a religion and its adherents are like fundamentalists—not open minded and very sure of their righteous opinions. He says, “We will term these people the Elect” (p. 19).

He spends the next one hundred twenty pages describing the mindset, the values, the approach, and the desired outcomes of the Elect. I am thankful for his lengthy explanation on the people that are “woke” because it is helpful to understand their motives and mindset. There is an atmosphere of cynicism throughout this book but it is warranted because the Elect have in fact gone too far. What they are doing is hurting more than helping. They are treating black Americans as perennial victims, unable to live a life of freedom in the pursuit of the American dream. He says, “The Elect’s harm to black people is so multifarious and rampant that anyone committed to this religion and calling it antiracist walks in a certain shame” (p. 137).

McWhorter agrees there is a race problem still lingering in America. He also agrees that we cannot ignore it; rather, a dialogue is needed. In the last two chapters he offers solutions that can help: “You may justifiably want to know what I would prefer as an alternative” (p. 139). Chapter five is surprisingly thin and his solutions are few—only three. The first solution is to end the war on drugs. His thinking? “If there were no such black market for hard drugs, the same men would get legal jobs” (p. 140). Secondly, we need to teach reading properly. He states, “antiracism should be centered in part on making school boards across America embrace phonics” (p. 143). The third solution is to stop thinking everyone must go to college and emphasize more the vocational track. All three solutions are wise and the fact that there are only three demonstrates the power of these approaches. They are a stark contrast to the solutions that the Elect are putting forth, such as monetary reparations for the sin of slavery. These three proposed solutions underscore that the antiracism preached by the Elect is not the correct path to a more equal and just society.

The last chapter is the most conciliatory in the book. It is a peace offering and states that we are stuck with them and they are stuck with the us. We have to work together if we are going to improve race relations within this country. But he is adamant about his approach: for example, he says, “The issue is how to constructively manage an ideological reign of terror” (p. 151). His solution is to “stop treating them as normal” (p. 152). Part of his approach in dealing with the Elect is to tell his followers what not to do. This includes not entering into a discussion with them, because they are not interested in listening. Secondly, we must be sensible about race—and that it is not about ‘blaming the victim” (p. 160). In short, “blaming the victim must no longer be taken as a mic-drop no one can follow” (p. 167). Lastly, “Logic, not ‘authenticity’” (p. 167) means he wants to bring reason, logic, and common sense to the race discussion and not victimhood, pretending, or acting. He wants to treat everybody like an adult and he wants everyone to act like and adult.

There are, of course, many books we have read as a cohort the past two years that intersect with Woke Racism. Trueman’s, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self explains how we have arrived at this point in history where the individual is the epicenter of society, and indeed the universe, and anything that threatens the individual, like racism, needs to be destroyed. The Elect would do well to read Kathryn Schulz’s, Being Wrong so the more radical components of the woke mob can become more self-aware and bring pause to their arrogance. Tempered Resilience by Bolsinger teaches its readers to persevere in the face of adversity without condescending to them. Even Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness seems applicable, as many proponents in this antiracism campaign are looking backwards more than they are looking ahead to a better future.

About the Author


Troy Rappold

B.A. Communication - University of Colorado M.Div. Theology - Cincinnati Christian University Currently enrolled in D. Min. program at George Fox University

7 responses to “Be Awake to the Woke”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Troy, fantastic summary of the book. I appreciate your focus on the positive and helpful elements McWhorter shares toward the end of the book. You mention several connections with other books from this semester. One of those you mention is Tutu’s “No Future Without Forgiveness.” What one idea from Tutu do you believe helps the ongoing issues of racism in America?

  2. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Troy. Thanks again for another well written summary of the assigned reading. I am curious as to how this information is useful for you in your context. Particularly, that you live in one of the hotbeds of liberal thought and activism in the USA today.

    • Kayli Hillebrand says:

      To piggy-back off of Denise’s question, considering the context you live in, do you feel that you engage or surrounded by the woke or would you consider them to be more geographically located elsewhere?

  3. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Troy, excellent summary of the book. It gave me more insight than I gathered from my reading. I also appreciate your connecting McWhorter with Trueman, Schultz, Bolsinger and Tutu. What do you see as the single most significant solution to racism?

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    I agree with Roy, you do a great job of highlighting the positive aspects of the book. I would agree, he certainly sheds light on some real concerns and has an interesting perspective. I shared my blog and the White Fragility article I cited with some friends who are not white. I am looking forward to hear their take on Woke Racism.

    Is there any place where you think McWhorter was too polarizing?

  5. Elmarie Parker says:

    Troy, thank you so very much for your engagement with McWhorter’s book and for the way in which you summarized his argument. I found very helpful his perspective that persuasion via conversation is more effective than the fear/shame approach taken by what he calls the woke mob. I’d be interested to hear more from you on your understanding of reparations and why they may not actually be helpful in addressing some of the economic harms and injustices perpetuated against parts of the black and also indigenous American communities.

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Troy thank you for a great summary.

    How might you categorize this book in relation to your leadership identity?

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