McWhorter: The default should be to extend grace to those who’ve breached woke etiquette


Paul Laurence Dunbar was perhaps the pre-eminent Black poet of the era after Reconstruction. In a new biography, the Princeton University English professor Gene Andrew Jarrett takes Dunbar’s rather glum, shortish life and pulls off a book that pulls you along like an open bag of potato chips; for the first 100 or so pages, I could barely put it down. But there’s one thing that jars like a wrong note every time it comes up: Dunbar regularly and casually referred to Black people of a lower social class than his with the N-word. An example: “I dressed at the hall dressing room in all clean linen, but had to send a [N-word] out for a standing collar because mine were all lay-downs.”

Sadly, this wasn’t atypical for more fortunate Black people of the era. Dunbar’s erudite and accomplished wife, Alice Dunbar Nelson, also used the word freely in their letters. The mother of the late-19th- and early-20th-century Black composer and conductor Will Marion Cook used the word in dismay at her classically trained son’s pursuing popular music with sometimes salty lyrics.

That kind of open classism — particularly when directed by middle- and upper-class Black people of the Victorian era toward working-class Black people — can be startling for contemporary readers. Today, for a well-heeled Black person to denigrate a less well-off Black person in this way would be deemed malicious at worst or elitist respectability politics at best.

Knowing this about Dunbar might sour someone’s opinion of him as an individual, but his use of the N-word and the sentiment behind it are unlikely to reduce his stature as a literary figure. And almost no one would consider this as grounds for a retroactive reckoning, reconsideration or, yes, cancellation of the kind to which the legacies of various historical figures are now subject. If for no other reason, then probably because his is a case of intra-Black offense being given.

One can quibble about what being canceled really means; the answer probably lies somewhere between Woodrow Wilson’s name being removed from Princeton’s public policy school and Gina Carano being dropped from the cast of “The Mandalorian.” But with Dunbar, it’s hard to imagine anyone kicking up much dust or writing, let’s say, a think-piece asking us to affix his condescension toward fellow Black people to him like a Homeric epithet, nullifying or adulterating his intellectual contributions.

That’s a good thing. We should be able to evaluate various figures, past and present, by noting their indecorous or hateful views and continuing to appreciate, even celebrate, their achievements without making them candidates for cancellation. And Dunbar’s case gets me thinking about people with less immediately dismissible stains on their records for whom the almost recreational hostility of cancel culture has held off.

Being Black and a woman seems to discourage the mob, for example. And my point, to be very clear, isn’t that Black women wrongly benefit from some kind of special pleading. It’s that, on the contrary, the forbearance that’s been extended to a number of prominent Black women in recent times should be the norm.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker has produced writing and made statements that are readily interpreted as antisemitic, and while there have been a few protests and disinvitations and criticism aplenty, no real movement has arisen to demand that her artistic achievements be viewed through this prism. As The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan argued, Walker has been treated rather “gently” about this issue, specifically in a New Yorker article written this past spring, whereas few could imagine similarly gentle treatment of J.K. Rowling for views many interpret as transphobic. Flanagan notes that in contrast, in 2020 The New Yorker asked, about another literary figure, “How Racist Was Flannery O’Connor?”

A few weeks after apologizing for her anti-Israel “Benjamins” tweet in 2019, Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota got the chance, in the pages of The Washington Post, to clarify her stance on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and remains a hero to many on the political left; this week, she won her Democratic primary.

In 2015 the actress Phylicia Rashad said of her former co-star Bill Cosby’s accusers, “Forget these women.” Last year, when Cosby’s sexual assault conviction was overturned, she tweeted, “FINALLY!!!!” before deleting it, tweeting a walk-back and apologizing to the Howard University community. She remains the dean of Howard’s college of fine arts.

The MSNBC host Joy Reid was revealed to have written homophobic blog posts in the aughts, and her later attempts to explain them away weren’t terribly convincing. This blotted her record, but after a brief outcry, her career as a progressive oracle on prime-time TV remains intact.

Contrast Reid’s situation to the Emmy-winning actress Roseanne Barr being fired from the sitcom she starred in because of a racially demeaning tweet about the former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett. Try to imagine a white male university official getting so smooth a ride as Rashad after caping for Cosby. Ponder the stock response of Democratic voters to a white male member of Congress accused of antisemitism.

Is there a sense on the left — where it seems the canceling impulse is strongest — that Black women should get more of a pass on transgressions of social justice etiquette because of the double burden of being female and Black? I’m not sure.

But whatever our verdict on that, I am sure that this measure of forbearance should be the default for public or historical figures. Of course, it’s fair, maybe necessary in some instances, to chastise these figures. Of course, sometimes there will be transgressions so widely condemned that the transgressors are irredeemable. But most of the time, emphasizing people’s contributions despite their flaws — seeing them in totality and not boiling down their lives to their specific missteps — is just civilized rationality. The idea that an isolated breach of social justice etiquette should derail a career is calisthenic. So when we see that happening, we should hesitate and, in most cases, root for outcomes where people get criticized, perhaps, for their wrongthink but not shoved out of the public square.

I recommend Walker’s “The Temple of My Familiar,” a book that left me ashamed of being a man and yet wanting to read it again. Reid’s career as a broadcaster outweighs any parochial views about gay people she now disavows. I’d happily see Rashad in acting roles forever, despite my disappointment in her take on Cosby. I, frankly, wouldn’t vote for Omar but accept that voters in her district see things differently.

We know, certainly, there are situations where people other than Black women have avoided cancellation. Dave Chappelle comes to mind. My point, again, is that some degree of grace is called for in most cases — for the college professor who says something impolitic in class and the historical figure whose words are appalling now but were consistent with his times.

We need to rethink the entire practice of treating unpretty sentiments as if they summed up anyone’s life or work, whether you’re talking about a political titan or a contemporary celebrity. That Thomas Jefferson was an enslaver and thought of Black people as inferior is a sad aspect of his totality, and his hypocrisy on race should be noted. But it doesn’t negate all else he accomplished, including drafting the Declaration of Independence, a document that guides and governs our very way of life.

Back to O’Connor and the racism that has caused some to reconsider her work. Yes, she used the N-word freely in letters and wrote, “About the Negroes, the kind I don’t like is the philosophizing prophesying pontificating kind, the James Baldwin kind. Very ignorant but never silent.” It reflects a bigotry and a parochialism not unlike Dunbar’s. (And she’s just wrong about Baldwin.) But that doesn’t dilute the brilliance or literary value of a story such as her “Parker’s Back.” And it won’t work to claim that the difference between O’Connor and Dunbar is that his objectionable remarks were intra-Black. By today’s woke standards, wouldn’t classism tinged with racism be an intersectional double whammy? If there’s room to look beyond his flaws, O’Connor should get the same treatment.

One more: The biologist E.O. Wilson, who died last year, faced accusations of racism, a charge that continues to be explored. One article describes an epistolary cordiality with the Canadian psychologist J. Philippe Rushton, who had openly racist views about Black people. In one such letter, Wilson reportedly praised Rushton’s paper arguing that “Black and non-Black people pursue different reproductive strategies.” That’s far from ideal, but even less ideal is any sense that this aspect of Wilson must be ongoingly considered amid our assessment of his pioneering genius. I was knocked out by his book “Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge,” about the progress of our understanding of the world, and considering how he may have felt about Black people would have been quite irrelevant to the experience.

Whether we’re talking about the past or the present, the idea that being insufficiently progressive or sensitive can wind up being the measure of a person’s worth is a call to disavow intelligent assessment in favor of gut-level impulses. It’s an all-or-nothing kind of thinking that, in the guise of insight, teaches a form of dimness. We seem to spontaneously understand this in some instances. We need to extend that basic common sense, that basic ability to make distinctions and see the whole picture, when evaluating trespasses by people of all walks of life and across time.

Source: The default should be to extend grace to those who’ve breached woke etiquette

McWhorter: Stay Woke. The Right Can Be Illiberal, Too.


The characterization of the problem on the left strikes me as somewhere between uninformed and willfully blind. Yes, left-leaning students might demonstrate their free-speech intolerance within the cozy confines of their campuses, but one day they graduate into the real world and take that rehearsed intolerance with them. Superprogressive views may predominate in certain settings, but the presumption, held by too many, that their woke outlook doesn’t even warrant intellectual challenge in the public square is an extension of the broader “dis-enlightenment” I described back in October.

That said, I’m genuinely open to the idea that censorship from the right is more of a problem than I have acknowledged. The truth may be, as it so often is, in the middle, and two legal cases from the past week have made me think about it.

Making sense of things requires synthesis, identifying what explains a lot rather than perceiving a buzzing chaos of people suddenly crazed, which is an implausible and even effort-light approach to things. In that vein, our problem today is illiberalism on both sides.

We will salute, then, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker, who last week ruled, in a 74-page opinion, in favor of six professors at the University of Florida who were barred by school officials from acting as expert witnesses in cases challenging state policy on issues ranging from restrictive voting laws to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s attempt to withhold funds from schools with mask mandates. (There are also recent reports that U.F. faculty members have been cautioned against using the words “critical” and “race” in the same sentence to describe the curriculums they teach, apparently to head off discussion of critical race theory and its effects on education in a way that might draw a backlash from state legislators or others in the Florida government.)

Judge Walker analogized the actions of University of Florida officials to the removal in December of a statue commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre from the campus of the University of Hong Kong. He echoed the plaintiffs’ argument that “in an apparent act of vorauseilender Gehorsam,” or anticipatory obedience, “U.F. has bowed to perceived pressure from Florida’s political leaders and has sanctioned the unconstitutional suppression of ideas out of favor with Florida’s ruling party” — admonishing the defendants in a footnote that “if those in U.F.’s administration find this comparison upsetting, the solution is simple. Stop acting like your contemporaries in Hong Kong.”

The judge summed up by noting that “the Supreme Court of the United States has long regarded teachers, from the primary grades to the university level, as critical to a healthy democracy.” He added, “Plaintiffs’ academic inquiry ‘is necessary to informed political debate’ and ‘is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned,’” emphasizing that “when such critical inquiry is stifled, democracy suffers.”

Let’s not forget, either, what happened to the schoolteacher Matthew Hawn last summer: He was fired by school administrators in Tennessee for leading classroom discussions with high school juniors and seniors (in a course called Contemporary Studies; it’s not as if this had been a chemistry lab) on concepts such as white privilege and implicit bias, not long after passage in the state of a ban on teaching critical race theory. As I’ve argued, ideas rooted in that theory do, in refracted form, make their way into how some schoolteachers teach, and it’s legitimate to question the extent of this. But that hardly justifies Hawn’s getting canned for things such as assigning a widely read article by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Hawn is pursuing an appeal of his dismissal, and if justice is on his side, he should win it.

I’m not doing a 180 here or letting those I term the Elect off the hook. The illiberal tendency on the left is just as oppressive and requires equal pushback: The University of North Texas music professor Timothy Jackson, a founder of his school’s Center for Schenkerian Studies, studies the work of the German Jewish music theorist Heinrich Schenker, whose early-20th-century work figures prominently in music theory. In a 2019 speech to the Society for Music Theory, Philip Ewell, a Black music professor at Hunter College characterized Schenker as a racist and wrote in a 2020 article for Music Theory Online (a publication of the Society for Music Theory) that “Schenker’s racist views infected his music theoretical arguments,” that “there exists a ‘white racial frame’ in music theory that is structural and institutionalized” and that by extension, music theory and even the academic field of musicology are racialized, if not racist.

In 2020, Jackson led the publication of an issue of The Journal of Schenkerian Studies dedicated to addressing Ewell’s case, publishing five articles defending Ewell’s case and 10 critiquing it. As The Times reported last year, Jackson was hardly gentle in his pushback, arguing that Ewell’s “denunciation of Schenker and Schenkerians may be seen as part and parcel of the much broader current of Black antisemitism” and partly attributing the dearth of Black classical musicians to fewer Black people who “grow up in homes where classical music is profoundly valued” and that fostering music education in public schools is the proper remedy.

The result was, by today’s standards, predictable: Hundreds of students and scholars signed a letter condemning the issue. After an investigation, the university relieved Jackson of his supervision of the journal and, according to Times reporting, didn’t rule out further disciplinary action.

The point here is less whether Jackson’s argument and the issue it appeared in were the quintessence of tact on race issues than whether he deserves to lose his career status and reputation because of them. Nor is the point whether Ewell’s argument was enlightened; one is (or should be) free to subscribe to it. Or not. My view is that while the field of musicology is correct, generally, in examining itself for remnants of racist bias, Ewell’s specific take is flawed.

No, the point is that the through line between Jackson’s treatment at North Texas and the treatment of the Florida law professors is that instead of their views being addressed as one side of heated, complex debates, their views were squelched as unutterable heresies.

Jackson has sued, and if justice is on his side, he should win. I could cite a great many cases similar to his.

To many, I suspect, what happened to the University of Florida professors and to Hawn is more frightful than what happened to Jackson. However, that sentiment is a matter of one’s priorities, not a neutral conception of what justice consists of. Too many of us suppose that people should not be allowed to express opinions they deem unpleasant or dangerous and are given to demonizing those who have such opinions as threats to our moral order.

On the right, even if you’re wary of critical race theory’s effect on the way many kids are taught, it is both backward and unnecessary to institutionalize the sense that discussing race at all is merely unwelcome pot stirring (and if that’s not what you mean, then you need to make it clear). On the left, illiberalism does not become insight just because some think they are speaking truth to power. Resistance to this kind of perspective is vital, no matter where it comes from on the political spectrum.

Source: INSERT

Nicolas: Les réacs attaquent

Of note:

Croyant que les «woke» posent une menace de censure, les républicains censurent.

Enfant, il m’arrivait d’être frustrée que mes séries américaines préférées soient télédiffusées avec deux, trois, voire quatre saisons de retard, dans leur version doublée, par rapport à leur version originale. Ça me donnait l’impression de vivre en décalage, et me donnait hâte de comprendre assez l’anglais pour « aller dans le futur ». Bien sûr, le « retard » n’existerait pas si on ne consommait que des créations locales. Ce sentiment qu’on absorbe des éléments de la culture américaine, comme francophones, avec quelques saisons de retard persiste encore souvent chez moi — et je ne parle pas ici seulement de télévision.

Du moins, c’est ainsi que je m’explique la mode des mots « woke » et « wokisme » au Québec depuis à peu près un an. Fox News et le Parti républicain ont mis en avant ce dispositif rhétorique il y a quelques années pour contrer la sympathie grandissante du public américain pour les revendications du mouvement Black Lives Matter. On s’en est aussi servi pour décrédibiliser toute mesure visant à rectifier l’exclusion historique des femmes et des minorités de la vie universitaire américaine. Du moins, c’est un synopsis qu’on pourrait offrir pour présenter une première saison de « Les wokes attaquent ». Une production de Rupert Murdoch, bien sûr.

Alors qu’on savoure ici les premiers moments de ce grand spectacle télévisuel, vous me permettrez de vous divulgâcher platement la suite. Quelques saisons plus tard, la série introduit un nouveau mot-clé : la critical race theory, ou théorie critique de la race (TCR). En juin et juillet 2021 seulement, Fox News a mentionné l’expression 1914 fois en ondes, selon le Washington Post. Un total de 1914 fois en deux mois. Qu’est-ce que la théorie critique de la race, au juste ? Au sens propre, il s’agit d’un champ de recherche des sciences sociales qui étudie l’histoire du racisme et ses effets contemporains. Au sens de Fox News, il s’agit, comme pour le mot « woke », d’une expression fourre-tout indéfinissable. On ne sait plus trop exactement ce que ça veut dire, mais on sait que c’est haïssable.

De manière générale, on comprend que la TCR, c’est l’opposé du patriotisme, voire une arme de culpabilisation et de dévalorisation massive de la fierté américaine (conservatrice). Le Projet 1619 du New York Times Magazine, qui raconte les origines de l’esclavage sur le territoire ? C’est de la TCR. Les activités de formation continue sur l’équité et l’inclusion dans les entreprises ? Encore de la TCR. Un enseignant qui parle en classe des privilèges sociaux ? Toujours de la TCR. De ses milliers de mentions en ondes découle une mobilisation de parents à travers le pays, qui implorent les conseils scolaires de bannir la TCR de l’enseignement primaire et secondaire (même si la définition pré-Fox News du terme se réfère à une branche de recherche en sciences sociales qui n’a jamais touché les enfants). Tout enseignant qui mentionne en classe un aspect de l’histoire qui ne glorifie pas l’Amérique blanche conservatrice risque de se faire accuser d’avoir « commis » de la TCR. Les enseignants qui ne sont eux-mêmes pas des blancs conservateurs sont particulièrement à risque, bien entendu.

Dans les derniers épisodes de « Les wokesattaquent », on s’est toutefois lassé de la rhétorique, et on est passé à l’action. Alors que Fox News a progressivement diminué l’emploi de l’expression critical race theory vers la fin de l’été, neuf États américains avaient adopté des lois « anti-TCR » à la fin de 2021 : l’Idaho, l’Oklahoma, le Tennessee, le Texas, l’Iowa, le New Hampshire, la Caroline du Sud, l’Arizona et le Dakota du Nord. En étudiant le recensement que l’Institut Brookings a fait de ses différentes pièces législatives, on voit qu’on a aussi profité du mouvement anti-TCR pour compliquer l’enseignement de notions liées au sexe et au genre. Certaines de ces lois posent des limites à ce qui peut être enseigné au primaire, au secondaire, et dans les universités de l’État. D’autres interdisent les formations en équité, diversité et inclusion pour les employés des services publics.

Leur vocabulaire a été choisi avec soin. Au Texas, par exemple, un enseignant causant de « l’inconfort, de la culpabilité, de l’angoisse ou toute autre forme de détresse psychologique » à des étudiants en lien avec leurs identités raciales ou sexuelles en abordant des sujets délicats contrevient à la loi. On interdit aussi de remettre en question l’idée de la méritocratie, d’avancer que l’esclavage est central à la fondation des États-Unis ou d’enseigner que le racisme est « autre chose qu’une déviation, une trahison ou un échec à faire vivre les authentiques principes fondateurs des États-Unis, qui incluent la liberté et l’égalité ». On prohibe aussi carrément le recours en classe du fameux Projet 1619 du New York Times Magazine. On ne manque pas de précision.

Des élus de l’Alabama, de l’Alaska, de l’Arkansas, de la Floride, du Kentucky, de la Louisiane, du Maine, du Michigan, du Mississippi, du Missouri, du New Jersey, de New York, de la Caroline du Nord, de l’Ohio, de la Pennsylvanie, du Rhode Island, de la Virginie-Occidentale, du Wisconsin et du Wyoming ont déposé des projets de loi qui vont dans le même sens. Six initiatives législatives similaires ont aussi été proposées au Congrès américain. On parle ici d’interdire l’enseignement de concepts « divisifs » liés à la race et au genre, là de renvoyer des enseignants ou de réduire les fonds publics aux « promoteurs » de la TCR. Décidément, la saison 2022 de « Les wokes attaquent » s’annonce pleine d’action. Ne devrait-on pas renommer la série « Les réacs attaquent », d’ailleurs ?

Nombreux sont les fans de l’émission qui ont accroché à la saison 1 à cause de la force du thème de la liberté d’expression dans la trame narrative. Comme on vient de le voir, le récit évolue plutôt vers une campagne de censure étatique en bonne et due forme visant les milieux d’enseignement. Si ce que j’ai divulgâché nous intéresse moins, il est encore temps de changer de poste

Source: Les réacs attaquent

Antonius: Réflexion critique sur l’usage du terme «woke»

Balanced perspective:

Le terme « woke » est utilisé de façon tellement polémique par divers acteurs politiques qu’il a perdu sa valeur analytique. Il est trop chargé de jugements (généralement négatifs) et son sens est imprécis. Je préfère l’éviter.

Dans les luttes contemporaines pour la justice sociale aux États-Unis, être woke (« éveillé » en slang américain), c’est :

a) être conscient des injustices sociales, surtout quand elles sont masquées par le discours dominant et encore plus quand on les subit soi-même, et

b) en fonction de cette prise de conscience, prendre position contre une hégémonie culturelle des dominants dont le discours tend à nous rendre aveugles aux injustices sociales. C’est dans ce sens, par exemple, que la « critical race theory » vise à rendre visibles les logiques raciales qui ne disent pas leur nom et qui se déguisent en postures universalistes. J’estime que ces logiques raciales sont beaucoup plus marquées aux États-Unis qu’au Canada ou au Québec.

En somme, le terme a désigné une posture de prise de conscience des injustices, et de la nécessité de mener des luttes pour dénoncer leurs manifestations dans le langage et la culture. C’est là que la posture woke s’exprime, et elle tire son sens positif (aux yeux des militants pour la justice sociale) de la contestation des rapports de pouvoir qui s’expriment dans le discours.

Mais comment a-t-il fini par prendre des connotations négatives ? Et négatives pour qui ?

Pour diverses raisons, les postures woke ont fini par donner lieu à des dérapages, c’est-à-dire des actions injustifiables, qui les ont discréditées et qui sont responsables de l’usage péjoratif du terme « woke ». Mais qu’est-ce qui constitue un dérapage ou une action injustifiable ?

Deux perspectives

La première perspective (qui est la mienne) se situe en appui aux luttes pour la justice sociale, et elle est globalement de gauche, mais elle est critique de l’usage inadéquat de certaines accusations de « racisme » ou de « transphobie », surtout lorsqu’elles sont accompagnées d’actions pour « faire taire ».

La deuxième perspective est celle des groupes hégémoniques, qui voient d’un mauvais œil la contestation de l’ordre établi. Ils vont alors se saisir de chaque dérapage pour accentuer son danger. Et leur critique portera d’autant plus que les dérapages se multiplient.

Quand une militante contre le racisme, qui encourage ses étudiants et étudiantes à participer aux manifestations de Black Lives Matter, se fait traiter de raciste par certains de ses étudiants et étudiantes parce qu’elle a utilisé le fameux mot en n pour analyser les stratégies de retournement du stigmate, il y a là un dérapage qui ne sert pas la cause des luttes pour la justice sociale. Mais jusque-là, il n’y a encore rien à signaler. Il y a une longue tradition de radicalisation des luttes pour la justice sociale, et particulièrement des luttes étudiantes. On ne peut pas reprocher à des jeunes de 19 ans de faire ce que les jeunes de 19 ans font souvent : contester. Le problème survient quand l’université, sous couvert d’appui aux luttes pour la justice sociale, appuie des actions de censure, et valide, à tort, les accusations de racisme contre l’enseignante avant d’avoir examiné adéquatement si ces accusations tiennent la route.

Dans cette logique, il est arrivé que plusieurs établissements d’enseignement, ou encore de grandes institutions médiatiques regardent d’un œil favorable ces excès, pour diverses raisons qui méritent une analyse séparée. J’ai examiné dans une publication récente* deux aspects de ces dérapages, dans lesquels : a) la posture morale remplace souvent la posture analytique, et b) les concepts (racisme, « phobies » diverses) sont étirés bien au-delà de leurs limites de validité. Et cela a pour conséquence que les « détenteurs et détentrices de la vertu inclusive et de la vérité absolue » se sentent le droit de faire taire les discours qu’ils n’aiment pas, y compris au sein de l’université. C’est cela qui permet de considérer que la posture woke, au départ libératrice, est devenue contre-productive dans les luttes pour la justice sociale.

Dans ce contexte, les groupes hégémoniques (porteurs d’une perspective de droite) ont beau jeu de délégitimer ces formes de critiques de l’ordre social dominant, à cause de ces dérapages. Cette situation permet alors un discours démagogique qui associe à une posture de droite et à une « panique morale » toute critique des dérapages associés à la posture woke.

Voilà pourquoi il est urgent que les forces contestataires de l’ordre dominant restent critiques et vigilantes face aux dérapages qui discréditent leurs luttes.


McWhorter: Abandoning complexity, abstraction and forgiveness is unenlightened

Another good nuanced discussion:

The University of Chicago’s Dorian Abbot is a climate scientist with some vital observations about the sustainability of life on other planets. He planned to share them at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in its esteemed annual Carlson Lecture. But Abbot has also advocated race-neutral university admissions policies, including co-writing an essay in Newsweek arguing that race-conscious admissions criteria (as well as admission preferences for children of alumni and for athletes) should end.

Abbot’s invitation drew opposition from some students and faculty, and this year’s Carlson Lecture was subsequently canceled. In response, Prof. Robert George, who leads Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, invited Abbot to speak at Princeton. But M.I.T.’s message had already been sent and seems hard to misinterpret: Abbot was not suitable for general consumption.

I’m less concerned with the particulars of Abbot’s case here than how it demonstrates our broader context these days. I refer to a new version of enlightenment; one that rejects basic tenets of the Enlightenment, as exemplified by Prof. Phoebe Cohen, chair of geosciences at Williams College, who downplayed Abbot’s apparent disinvitation with the observation, as reported by The New York Times, that “this idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism” — the idea, presumably, that the widest possible range of perspectives should be heard and scrutinized — “comes from a world in which white men dominated.”

A major problem with this new mood, this dis-enlightenment, in which Abbot is denied a prominent forum seemingly because his views on racial preferences don’t suit a certain orthodoxy, is that it demands that we settle for the elementary in favor of the enlightened. Among the ultra-woke there seems to be a contingent that considers its unquestioning ostracizations as the actualization of higher wisdom, even though its ideology, generally, is strikingly simplistic. This contingent indeed encourages us to think — about thinking less.

For example, affirmative action and its justifications are a complex subject that has challenged generations of thinkers. A Gallup survey conducted in late 2018 found that 61 percent of Americans generally favored race-based affirmative action. But in a survey taken a few weeks later, Pew Research found that 73 percent opposed using race as a factor in university admissions. In a Supreme Court decision in 2003 allowing a race-conscious admissions program, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor surmised that 25 years hence, racial preferences in admissions would no longer be necessary — which would mean we have only seven years to go.

Clearly some cogitation is in order. Yet it appears that Abbot was barred from a more august podium out of an assumption that his views on racial preferences are beyond debate. Even though he was to speak on an unrelated topic. This “deplatforming” — if we must — was, in a word, simplistic.

Simplistic, too: Cohen points to a time when white men, exclusively, were in charge. Yes, but the obvious response is: “Does that automatically mean that their take on intellectual debate and rigor was wrong?” The implication that the questions Abbot raised are morally out of bounds forbids basic curiosity and rational calculation and stands athwart the very purpose of the small-L liberal education that universities are supposed to provide.

Another sign of this dis-enlightenment: the modern fashion that treats stereotyping as sophisticated analysis. We’re told much about a vague monolith of white people ever ready to circle the wagons and defend white interests. Robin DiAngelo’s best-selling “White Fragility” is Exhibit A of this trope, and her latest book, “Nice Racism,” includes a chapter titled “Why It’s OK to Generalize About White People.” But the existence of racism does not, as DiAngelo suggests, make it valid to propose that there is a kind of undifferentiated body of white people with indistinguishable interests.

White America consists of myriad groups and individuals, whose actions and non-actions, intentional and not, have a vast range of effects whose totality challenges all thinking observers. Writers like DiAngelo, who wield enormous influence in our current discourse, encourage the assumption that white people act as a self-preservationist amalgam. This notion of a pale-faced single organism stomping around the world is a cartoon, yet smart people hold this cartoon up as an enlightened way of thinking, and it has caught on.

I also suspect I am hardly alone, when hearing the term “systemic racism,” in quietly wondering how useful it is to use the same word, racism, for both explicit bigotry and inequality, even if the latter is according to race. In his similarly best-selling “How to Be an Antiracist,” the Boston University professor Ibram Kendi begins by defining a “racist” as “one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.” He then defines an “antiracist” as “one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.”

His simplistic definitions declare a dichotomy between racism and antiracism with naught in between — quite a blunt instrument to apply to something as complex as the sociology and history of race in our nation. The looming implication that a system, a society, can be racist is not accidental: It tempts, in anthropomorphizing the complexities of race-based inequalities, how they emerge, and what to do about them.

A symptom of these less-reflective, too-reflexive approaches is the zeal for banishing apostates so common today, when it is accepted as appropriate and cutting-edge to tell those who dissent from the woke take on race to hit the road. Abbot was but one example, prevented from speaking to a broad audience at a university on a topic that has nothing to do with racial preferences, as if his opinions about racial preferences irrevocably taint his climate science work. As if his views on racial preferences themselves are unworthy of reasoned discussion.

Consider, also, cases in which some obviously non-malicious breach of woke liturgy results in some degree of shunning: The week before last, you’ll recall, I wrote about the University of Michigan professor Bright Sheng. We are back to the age of Galileo’s inquisitors.

This treatment of different opinions and approaches as heresies is one of many signs that a new religion is afoot. (And hoping you, dear reader, don’t mind a shameless plug, I’ll add that this also happens to be the main theme of my new book, “Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America.”)

I’m not kidding about religion. The Emory University philosophy professor Robert McCauley, for example, teaches that religion tends to anthropomorphize. He sees a major difference between religious belief and science as the tendency for the former to attribute agency and intentionality to things we may not be able to explain. I’m thinking of how one might say that a guardian angel facilitated good fortune, or even how a natural disaster may be seen as an “act of God.” In the new woke religion, society is described as “racist,” a term originally applied to people.

Note also the eerie parallel between the conceptions of original sin and white privilege as unremovable stains about which one is to maintain a lifelong concern and guilt. Religions don’t always have gods, but they usually need sins, which in the new religion is the whiteness that supposedly bestrides everything in our lives.

There is a pitchfork aspect to how this way of thinking is penetrating our institutions of enlightenment. With an unreachable pitilessness, a catechism couched in an elaborate jargon is being imposed almost as if sacred: privilege, decentering, hegemony, antiracism. Nonbelievers, sometimes even agnostics, are cast out, leaving a cowed polity pretending to agree. This is a regrettable kind of religion, aiming to run the state. That’s not how this American experiment was supposed to go.

The only thing that will turn back this tide is a critical mass willing to insist on complexity, abstraction and forgiveness. As a Black man, I am especially appalled by the implication that to insist on these three things in thinking about race issues is somehow anti-Black.


Mallick: Ban ‘Lord of the Flies’? In the age of Donald Trump, it’s required reading

Legitimate critique of excessive wokism, woke bullying and craven public administration. :

“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”

It’s a shame that many Ottawa high school students will no longer be able to read murderous quotes like that from the very instructive “Lord of the Flies” in class.

The trouble began when an Ottawa student wrote in her school paper that William Golding’s 1954 novel about white boys stranded on an island turning savage and killing their own, did not reflect what she as “a Black, Jewish, feminist and social justice activist” wished to read.

“I do not need to learn about … how these boys cannot act in a civilized manner to protect one another without desiring power, hierarchy and having a thirst for blood.” And the Ottawa-Carleton school board listened, as have others, banning Golding’s novel and other novels too. 

Breathes there a high school student that doesn’t feel that the world should reflect her personally? It’s part of the maddening sweetness of the teenagers we all were once.

The student didn’t like memorizing Orwell either. But memorization is a gift. As climate change advances, it will give people something to do as they wait in cooling centres or sinkholes or planes stuck in melted tarmac.

I recite F. Scott Fitzgerald (“I left my capacity for hoping on the little roads that led to Zelda’s sanitarium”). She of course may only have “Do it to Julia! Not me!” or a description of George Orwell eating boiled cod with turnips and enjoying it out of socialist idealism.

I fear for students like her. The novel is at base about bullying. A plane full of children crashes on a tropical island. Their means of survival is a plot that will be re-enacted in every workplace, social justice enclave, airplane flight and Green party meeting she will ever encounter. 

What she seeks, she wrote, is “to learn about why it is important to protect one another and to be allies to those who are less privileged.” But this was precisely what “Lord of the Flies” revealed.

If she wants to read about groups cohering peacefully, in other words novels without plots, the Peppa Pig stories are a go-to. Or those terrific Sally Rooneys about smart women dating inert men. Or Nigel Slater’s “Real Fast Puddings.” Then there’s Margaret Atwood’s “Cat’s Eye” about girl-on-girl terror.

So it’s back to Peppa, really.

I can’t see how she missed the novel’s slide into group madness led by frat-boy Jack and the killing of Simon and his fat, asthmatic, bullied friend Piggy. But then I frequently finish murder mysteries and have no idea who the killer was.

As she wrote, Golding’s boys were all white so perhaps they seemed much of a muchness, fair enough, but blood is blood and by the end Simon and Piggy were simply covered in it, so there’s a plot flag right there.

Every class has such students; what troubles me are the adults who don’t worry about them. Rather they cater to them, a mistake because we’re all living a Lord of the Flies moment.

The Trump years ended with the portly post-president gleefully presiding over the Capitol assault on Jan. 6, a truly rancid Lord of the Flies gang crawling and battering their way into the building.

Think back to Sep. 11, 2001 and the 40 passengers and crew of Fight 93 who realized their hijacked plane was likely aimed at Washington’s Capitol. A random group of people — various Todds, Jeremys, Sandras and Marks — decided to protect the Capitol, seat of the very chambers that 20 years later, a different kind of American would casually invade, hijack and terrorize.

On Flight 93, passengers teamed up and attacked the cockpit, knowing they would all die in minutes. The terrorists, unable to shake them off, flew the plane into the ground, vaporizing everyone.

In today’s Lord of the Flies, which gang would make the better novel, the Saudi terrorists, the American terrorists, or the American passengers? Does modernity make any difference?

We are at this impasse now too. Think of the loud, violent gangs at Trudeau rallies this fall, the shaggy marches of the unmasked and unvaccinated in Toronto, and the hollowing of the Toronto transit system left unsupervised and a magnet for angry unmasked people.

Look at Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, bullied by his doctrinaire MPs and afraid to tell them to get vaccinated. O’Toole resembles Piggy. I wonder if he knows this.

The Ottawa student wants to study different tales in school, chosen not for their brilliance but for their newness and the diversity of their characters but it puzzles me that she hasn’t suggested anything. 

It has been said that there are only seven basic plots: Overcoming the Monster; Rags to Riches; The Quest; Voyage and Return; Rebirth; Comedy; and Tragedy. Lord of the Flies is the first, its plot eternal. We have many lords, many flies, in our future.


Dutrisac: Placer ses pions (identity politics and polarization in Quebec)

Of interest:

Les élections à date fixe ont un effet pervers : comme on connaît l’échéance électorale, il s’instaure, avant la campagne officielle d’une trentaine de jours habituellement, une précampagne informelle qui peut durer des mois. Or, à plus d’un an des élections d’octobre 2022, François Legault place déjà ses pions, comme on l’a vu à l’ouverture de la session parlementaire cette semaine.

On a dit que le premier ministre avait été « piqué au vif » quand le nouveau chef parlementaire de Québec solidaire (QS), Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, l’a accusé d’imiter Maurice Duplessis. Rien n’est moins sûr. Il a plutôt semblé sauter, tel un félin, sur l’occasion, que lui offrait le solidaire sur un plateau d’argent, de le qualifier de woke.

Chez les caquistes, on parle sans gêne aucune de former une union des Bleus, une nouvelle union nationale. Le sentiment que la souveraineté n’est plus dans l’air du temps — leur idée première —, associé à la dégénérescence du Parti québécois, les conforte dans cette ambition unificatrice. François Legault ne ressent pas d’aversion viscérale envers le « cheuf ». Il n’a pas hésité au printemps dernier à livrer sur les réseaux sociaux qu’il avait lu avec intérêt l’essai Duplessis est encore en vie, de Pierre B. Berthelot. Il a révélé qu’il avait été marqué par une scène de la remarquable série télévisée Duplessis, de Denys Arcand.

Il est ironique que Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois se fasse traiter de woke puisqu’il incarne au sein de QS la gauche classique, celle qui fait grand cas des inégalités sociales, et qu’il a dû lutter contre une faction de la gauche identitaire radicale au sein du parti, le Collectif antiraciste décolonial.

Revenant de lui-même sur le sujet au lendemain de son échange avec le chef solidaire, le premier ministre nous a donné sa propre définition d’un woke : « C’est quelqu’un qui veut nous rendre coupables de défendre la nation québécoise, de défendre ses valeurs, comme on l’avait fait avec la loi 21, de défendre nos compétences », a-t-il dit. Il y a deux partis multiculturalistes, le Parti libéral du Québec et QS, qui sont contre la loi 21 sur la laïcité, caractérise-t-il.

Évidemment, François Legault tourne les coins ronds. On peut être nationaliste et s’opposer à la loi 21. Dans le passé, plusieurs souverainistes au sein du PQ ont d’ailleurs exprimé leurs réserves relativement à l’interdiction du port de signes religieux.

Habilement, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois a fait semblant de ne pas savoir ce que c’était un woke. D’ailleurs, comme l’écrivait notre journaliste Stéphane Baillargeon, si la définition du mot telle qu’elle est contenue dans l’Oxford English Dictionary est simple (le fait d’être « conscient des problèmes sociaux et politiques, en particulier le racisme »), certaines manifestations du phénomène, qui se présentent comme une exacerbation du « politically correct » — la culture du bannissement (cancel culture), la censure et l’autocensure à l’université, et maintenant l’autodafé —, conduisent à un extrémisme qui recourt à l’affect plutôt qu’à la raison. Sur les campus universitaires, ce « crois ou meurs » bien-pensant, cette ferveur presque religieuse ne sont pas sans rappeler l’orthodoxie liberticide et anti-intellectualiste des militants marxistes-léninistes et maoïstes des années 1970.

Agissant en chef de parti qui prépare le terrain du prochain affrontement électoral, François Legault, loin de la réflexion sociologique, a voulu définir ses adversaires en grossissant le trait et proposer un choix binaire entre le duplessisme et le wokisme, entre la défense de la nation et le progressisme multiculturaliste. Dans cette dichotomie, solidaires et libéraux se retrouvent dans le même sac. Quant aux péquistes, ils ne figurent plus, ou à peine, dans l’équation.

Le grand gagnant de cette semaine parlementaire, c’est sans aucun doute Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, qui faisait ses premières armes dans sa nouvelle fonction. Le chef de la deuxième opposition a éclipsé la cheffe de l’opposition officielle, Dominique Anglade. La perspective que les solidaires puissent incarner la véritable opposition à l’Assemblée nationale va dans le sens d’une polarisation qui ne peut que réjouir les caquistes. Rappelons d’ailleurs que QS est maintenant le deuxième parti après la CAQ chez les francophones avec environ 15 % des intentions de vote, soit au moins une fois et demie plus d’appuis que le Parti libéral.

La CAQ pratique ainsi une forme de politique de la division ou de polarisation (wedge politics) qui semble désormais bien ancrée dans les mœurs partisanes. C’est détestable. Mais comme l’a déjà dit Brian Mulroney, cité récemment par Michel C. Auger, « en politique, il est important d’avoir des amis, mais il est encore plus important d’avoir des ennemis ». Et s’ils peuvent se trouver à un extrême du spectre politique, c’est encore mieux.


Joseph Heath: Woke tactics are as important as woke beliefs

Always interesting to read Heath and his uncomfortable observations and analysis:

After several years of creeping illiberalism under the guise of progressive politics, American liberals are finally getting their act together. They are pushing back, creating several organizations committed to combating the influence of “woke” politics and ideology. They have momentum, not just because many woke mantras like “defund the police” have proven spectacularly unpopular, but also because there is genuine growing alarm about the intolerant and authoritarian brand of politics that has become associated with the woke left.

Unfortunately, many of the woke genuinely do not understand why anyone finds their politics, or their political tactics, threatening. In particular, the accusation that they are being authoritarian, or that “cancel culture” is a threat to freedom of expression, is one that they are simply unable to process. 

There is a reason for this — and one that’s worth understanding. There are several key phrases that play an enormously important role in woke politics (e.g. “safety,” “mental health,” “microaggression,” “bullying” and even “human rights”) which they use to deflect the accusation of authoritarianism. If you adopt the right words, it’s easier to convince yourself that you’re the good guys even as you’re acting like the bad ones.

I want to take a shot at explaining how this works. 

The most important thing to understand about woke politics is that it is not a conventional form of illiberalism, it is better thought of as a type of “illiberal liberalism.” It involves making a set of political demands that are fundamentally illiberal, but then articulating them in a way that fits the conventional structure of liberal political discourse. Because of the way that their complaints are packaged, the woke are able to brush off criticism of their tactics.

Take an issue like freedom of speech. There are various versions of this traditionally liberal virtue; predominant among them, is that those who hold this belief are opposed to content-based restrictions on speech. In the old days, lots of politicians didn’t really believe in freedom of speech, as many among the ruling class maintained straightforwardly illiberal views. 

Consider, for example, the aftermath of the “police riot” that occurred during the 1968 Democratic Party Convention in Chicago. The Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey, put the blame for the violence squarely on the protesters. In those pre-feminist times, it was a common tactic for hippie protesters to provoke police by describing, in graphic detail, the various sex acts that they intended to perpetrate on the wives and daughters of the forces of order. Humphrey found this intolerable, and so defended police violence in the following terms:

The obscenity, the profanity, the filth that was uttered night after night in front of the hotels was an insult to every woman, every mother, every daughter, indeed, every human being, the kind of language that no one would tolerate at all. You’d put anybody in jail for that kind of talk. And yet it went on for day after day. Is it any wonder that the police had to take action?

This is good-old-fashioned illiberalism. Someone said something outrageous, something intolerable, and so needs to be punished for it. If you insult the police, you can’t complain if you get beat up. According to Humphrey, it was the content of what the protesters said that justified throwing them in jail.

What I find striking about this example is that people who want to censor speech don’t talk this way any more, because it is such an obvious violation of liberal principles. Modern enemies of free speech have found ways to formulate their demands for punishment in ways that violate the spirit, but still respect the letter, of those very principles. Most obviously, they take advantage of certain exceptions to the general prohibition on content-based restrictions.

Anyone who has studied free speech issues or read John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty will of course be familiar with these exceptions. The biggest one is that, while it may not be permissible to prohibit the expression of an idea, any particular episode of speech can be prohibited if the performance of the speech act is likely to bring serious harm to some other person. Mill, for example, famously suggested that while it was permissible to publish the opinion that “corn dealers rob the poor,” chanting that slogan in front of an agitated mob outside the corn dealer’s home is another matter entirely. The latter can be prohibited, because it is likely to cause harm to the corn dealer.

While this caveat may seem reasonable at first glance, it creates all sorts of problems, precisely because the concept of harm is not well-defined. Notice that in Mill’s example, the speaker does not directly harm the corn dealer. The speaker rather incites the mob, and it is members of the mob who then pose a threat to the corn dealer (and that threat may never materialize). 

This loophole is the one that has been taken advantage of most aggressively by the woke left to push for restrictions on speech. When they come across something they don’t like, rather than calling for censorship on the basis of content, they will instead attempt to restrict it on the grounds that it causes harm. Of course, they are smart enough to realize that the mere fact that it upsets them is not enough to qualify as a harm. So they posit a causal connection to a more serious physical or psychological harm. For example, students who are trying to censor the expression of ideas in the classroom will claim that the discussion makes them feel “unsafe,” or that it threatens their mental health. What is crucial about this move is that it allows them to call for illiberal actions (i.e. censorship or punishment of speech) on grounds that are, in principle at least, not illiberal.

Consider a concrete example of this. My own academic discipline was rocked by a cancel-culture scandal in 2017, involving an article published by the Canadian philosopher Rebecca Tuvel in the journal Hypatia. In the article, Tuvel upset a lot of people by asking the awkward question why, if it’s all just socially constructed, we accept the claims of people who want to switch genders, but not those who want to switch races. What ignited the real controversy, however, was not the article, but rather the attempt by hundreds of academics to cancel it, by signing an online petition demanding that the journal retract the piece. 

This recent trend of demanding the retraction of controversial academic work is a perfect example of illiberal liberalism. Traditionally, the way that philosophers have responded to journal articles they disagree with is to write their own articles criticizing the view. Demanding that the journal retract the paper is an entirely different tactic. On the surface, it is not illiberal, since academic journals are committed to publishing material that meets a certain standard, and are committed to retracting work that is subsequently shown to have fallen below that standard. And yet at the same time, it is clearly punitive. Having published a journal article that subsequently had to be retracted is a major stain on a scholar’s reputation, and could easily serve as an obstacle to being granted tenure.

In the case of Tuvel’s paper, the purpose of the online petition was obviously punitive, since the case for retraction was non-existent. It was clearly a demand for censorship (something illiberal), but it was presented under the guise of a demand for retraction (something consistent with liberalism). 

In the petition letter, the central argument for retraction was made in terms of the “harm” caused by the article, as well as the claim that its publication was “dangerous.” Many wondered how an article published in a feminist academic journal, dealing with an entirely abstract argument about identity and social construction, could possibly cause harm. In its defence, some of the signatories pointed to the high rate of suicide among transgendered individuals, claiming that anyone seeking to ask questions or to debate their claims was putting them at risk of self-harm.

This argument is obviously spurious. The suggestion that upsetting someone who belongs to a social group with an elevated suicide rate should count as a “harm,” sufficient to justify restrictions on speech, is not a defensible conception of harm. Young white American men who own guns also have an extremely high rate of suicide, and yet no one worries much about hurting their feelings. More generally, expanding the category of harm in this way makes it so broad that practically any action can be construed as harmful, and therefore completely undermines freedom of speech. This argument was obviously being gerrymandered to prohibit the expression of a specific view that certain people found offensive.

What is crucial though is the form of the argument. By pointing to these ephemeral harms, those who are trying to engage in censorship of speech that they disagree with are nevertheless able to convince themselves that this is not what they are doing. The appeal to harm is a “fig leaf” argument, in that it conceals their true motive from others, but also, one senses, from themselves.

This analysis allows us to better understand some of the strange “snowflake” behaviour that one sees among young people of a certain political persuasion. Explicitly or implicitly, they have internalized the idea that in order to get other people punished for doing things you don’t like, you have to claim that they have harmed you. This is why they are so quick to claim injury (e.g. damage to their mental health, fear for their safety, etc.), in circumstances that a normal person would shrug off. They are like soccer players trying to draw a penalty. It’s not a “culture of victimhood,” on the contrary, it is more often an act of social aggression, since these performances of injury are typically carried out, not to attract sympathy, but rather punish and control others.

This is also why HR departments have become an important vector for illiberalism. At my own university, for example, staff at the Office of Accessibility Services have attempted to censor the curriculum in certain philosophy courses. The logic of this is not difficult to see. Students realize that they are not going to get authors or texts banned by appealing to the faculty. So instead they go to their disability services counsellor and claim that they cannot attend class when certain authors are being discussed, because they feel unsafe. Staff have no particular commitment to academic freedom, and so are happy to take up the cause. 

HR departments aren’t full of cultural Marxists, they’re a liberal fig leaf used to cover up these fundamentally illiberal impulses. Most HR professionals have no particular ideology, they are just extremely averse to conflict, and think that the easiest way to make a conflict go away is for the person who is saying the thing that is upsetting other people to stop saying it.

As a member of Generation X dealing with young people, I sometimes feel like a hockey player watching a soccer game, trying to figure out whether the players are completely hamming it up, or whether they actually are that delicate. The answer is probably somewhere in between. I have no doubt that many young people truly are lacking in psychological resilience, but it is important to recognize that there are also important political motives at work that encourage them to act this fragile.

It is equally important to recognize the futility of calling them “left fascists” or authoritarian.  Not only do they brush off the accusation, but it encourages them to double down on the snowflake behaviour,because it’s precisely by claiming injury that they deflect the accusation of intolerance.


Coren: Change can be intimidating, but that doesn’t justify turning words like ‘woke’ into slurs

Another interesting column by Michael Coren. Best line IMO “while I’ve no idea if I’m “woke” or not, I hope I’m not asleep”:

Back in the late 1970s while living in the U.K., I took a university course on modern British history. In one tutorial we discussed pre-war fascism and its leader, the repugnant Sir Oswald Mosley, whose black-shirted followers would randomly attack Jewish people in London’s East End. One of the young men sitting around the table said, “We had that chap speak at our school once.”

Silence. I broke it by asking if there were any Jewish children at the school. Pause. “I rather think there were,” he drawled. How, I asked, do you think they felt? His reply: “I have absolutely no idea.”

No, he certainly didn’t.It’s increasingly fashionable to make fun of, dismiss, even insult concepts of “political correctness” and “woke,” and to describe progressive comment as “virtue signalling.” The habit, a spasm really, used to be the preserve of the hard right, but has become increasingly common in the mainstream.

The well-known British actor Laurence Fox recently became something of a hero to some, for example, when he appeared on a highly popular weekly television show and made the correct noises for conservative-minded viewers. He then solidified his status by claiming that he would never date a woman under the age of 35 because they are “too woke” and that “woke people are fundamentally racist.”

In Canada, federal Conservative Party leadership contender Erin O’Toole ran an ad in January in which he said he would, “defend our history, our institutions against attacks from cancel culture and the radical left.

Cancel culture — the most important issue to everybody in Canada! No doubt he said it because he thinks, or was told, that it hits home within right-wing circles, among people who genuinely believe that free speech and contrary opinion are distant memories. And it probably did.

Which is odd, because almost every weekend when I look at Twitter I find right-wing journalists trending because of yet another ultra-conservative and provocative opinion expressed in their newspaper column. I also see the same types of people – white, usually male, invariably from similar backgrounds – dominant in politics and business.

I graduated from the University of Toronto last year as a mature student after spending three years studying for a Masters of Divinity degree. Based on all the noise around woke culture, I’d confidently expected a hotbed of censorship and intolerance. In fact, it was incredibly similar to the university I’d attended in Britain three decades earlier, other than the students were generally more studious and less self-indulgent

Which is not to say that there are not problems. As society evolves and power is redistributed, there will be abuses and extremes. The healthier rhythms of a balanced and just culture will eventually settle, but it’s hard to deny that there are people on the far left, sour and jargon-adoring puritans, who seem to define themselves by how offended they are. Sometimes about everything.

They seek to control, curtail and ban, and they can be harsh and even violent. We learn about their excesses, however, not because they are particularly common occurrences, but usually because those who are their victims, tellingly and ironically, have access to media.

But these zealots are a small and vocal minority, and are little different from those on the far right with similar notions.

Six years ago, after I embraced a more open and radical view of my Christian faith and in particular spoke out in support of equal marriage, I was banned from speeches, fired from jobs, harassed and vilified. My children’s Facebook pages were trolled, my wife received letters demanding that she leave me, and I was accused of being a rapist and a thief. By the very sort of people who shout “woke” at those with whom they disagree. I know this because they said it, and still say it, to me.

That alliance of the polarized and irrational is hardly surprising, and both sides — the far left and the far right — are convinced that it’s the other, not them, who is the problem.

I appreciate that change can be intimidating, and I say this as a 61-year-old white, straight man. But this doesn’t justify sweeping generalizations and turning “woke” and similar terms into abuse. It’s not only facile and inaccurate, it also reveals an enormous misreading of life’s realities.What we might think of as political correctness is, at its best, being socially aware and sensitive.

It’s about developing a visceral and emotional understanding, openness to transformation, and the ability to admit painful and often shocking truths about oneself. Privilege isn’t linear, but it is genuine — and about the only people to deny that are those who fail to grasp their own possession of it.

The recently canonized Cardinal Newman, although often adored by modern conservatives, wrote that, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” That implies a permanent revolution of new vision, an ever-expanding circle of sympathy and ideas. It’s not easy, and if it were it probably wouldn’t be the real thing.

It was not very long ago that jokes about racial minorities, LGBTQ2 people, and anybody else outside of society’s circle of dominance were mainstream and common. Today most of us cringe when we recall that time, but some still try to justify it with, “They were just jokes!”

Not for their targets.

I’d much rather signal a virtue than scream a vice. And while I’ve no idea if I’m “woke” or not, I hope I’m not asleep.

The bloodstream of the body politic is receiving a transfusion, and while a few toxins might sometimes be flowing, we’ll all likely be a lot healthier in the end.

Source: Change can be intimidating, but that doesn’t justify turning words like ‘woke’ into slurs

How White Liberals Became ‘Woke,’ Radically Changing Their Outlook On Race

Interesting history and analysis:

Jeromy Brown, a 46-year-old teacher in Iowa, considers President Trump a white supremacist.

“If the shoe fits, then say it, and the shoe fits him,” Brown said, while waiting in a photo line at an Elizabeth Warren rally in August. “Why should he be excused from that label?”

Brown, like many white liberal voters, appreciates that some Democratic presidential candidates have begun explicitly referring to Trump as a white supremacist. His top choice, Warren, told The NPR Politics Podcast in August that “when the white supremacists call Donald Trump one of their own, I tend to believe them.”

But she’s not alone in using such strong and direct language. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has repeatedly referred to Trump as a “racist” on the campaign trail. And former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke insists that tackling white supremacy should be the No. 1 law enforcement priority in the country.

Undoubtedly, race and racism have become more salient political issues because of how the president talks about immigrants and minorities.

But the shift in how white liberals think about race actually predates both the president’s victory and the response from 2020 Democratic candidates.

Beginning around 2012, polls show an increasing number of white liberals began adopting more progressive positions on a range of cultural issues. These days, white Democrats (and, in particular, white liberals) are more likely than in decades past to support more liberal immigration policies, embrace racial diversity and uphold affirmative action.

Researchers say this shift among white liberals indicates a seismic transformation in the last five to seven years and not just a blip on one or two survey questions.

“The white liberals of 2016 or even 2014 are very distinguishable from the white liberals of the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s,” said Zach Goldberg, doctoral student at Georgia State University who has been studying the change.

In poll after poll, on a range of racial issues, both Goldberg and another researcher, Andrew Engelhardt at Brown University, have independently discovered repeated evidence of a more left-leaning white Democratic electorate.

These days, a large majority of white liberals — nearly 3 in 4 — say discrimination is the main reason black people can’t get ahead.

Don’t see the graphic above? Click here.

For some context, in the early 2000s, white liberals were split on that question — about half said blacks who couldn’t get ahead were mostly responsible for their own condition.

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An increasing number of white liberals now think the criminal justice is biased against black people. An increasing number of white liberals also say the police are more likely to use deadly force against black people.

And, more white Democrats say the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism, rather than Southern pride. The reverse was true in 2000.

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Some metrics even seem to be suggesting that white Democrats express more woke attitudes than their fellow brown and black Democrats.

Goldberg cited the 2018 American National Election Studies pilot survey, which found that 78% of white Democrats thought having more races/ethnicity in the country make it a “better” place to live. Fifty-seven percent of black Democrats, and 63% of Hispanic Democrats said the same.

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About two years ago, Engelhardt said he also noticed another major shift.

“Starting about 2016 … white liberals actually rate non-white groups more positively than they do whites,” explained Engelhardt. “Usually, it’s the opposite.”

Most racial groups feel more warmly about their own race than they do about other races. That’s true for every group, except white liberals, according to the American National Election Studies.

Engelhardt says these recent flips suggests there’s something about being white in America that white liberals are trying to distance themselves from — something that could be accelerated by the rhetoric and tone of Trump and some of his supporters.

When white liberals adopt some of these progressive positions, Goldberg said, they’re “virtue signaling” — they want to prove that they’re allies of minority groups and feel they need to do that more assertively and openly in the Trump era.

Although Trump did not create the current conditions, both Goldberg and Engelhardt agree the president has accelerated the change in white voter attitudes.

Brown, from the Warren rally, derided some of his fellow white people for being “white supremacists” who think they are the only people “with the real birthright claim on this land, even though that makes no sense whatsoever.”

Engelhardt also suggests white guilt could be a motivating factor.

At an O’Rourke rally in Iowa a few weeks ago, 64-year-old Polly Antonelli teared up as the former congressman recounted a story from the El Paso, Texas, shooting. The suspected shooter in that incident had told police he was targeting Mexicans.

Antonelli said it’s “highly appropriate” to refer to Trump as a white supremacist.

“He is the one dividing people, by saying the things that he says about Muslims, about Mexicans, about s******* countries,” she said. “Calling him out on his crap might sound divisive, but it’s a reaction to his divisiveness.”

Antonelli admits that her own opinions on race have evolved as she learned more about different cultures.

“I realize how little I know and how I need to be more careful about what I say and how I pigeonhole people because of how they look,” she said, indicating a sense of cultural awareness you hear more often voiced by white liberals in recent years.

The “moral buttons” are being pushed

One possible explanation for the dramatic shift in racial attitudes in the last decade is that white Democrats who disagreed with the party’s embrace of diversity have just abandoned the party altogether. But even though the makeup of the parties has fluctuated, that’s not the only explanation; Researchers point to a genuine shift among the white liberals who have remained in the party.

“Whites’ identification as Democrats and Republicans is motivating them to hold different attitudes about people of color in the United States,” said Engelhardt.

Goldberg says he noticed an abrupt change around the time mainstream news outlets started picking up on social media accounts of fatal police shootings of black men.

“[White liberals’] exposure to injustice inequality has been heightened because of the internet,” said Goldberg. “The moral buttons of white liberals are being more frequently pressed.”

Engelhardt agrees, and pointed to one specific incident as a potential catalyst — when a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

“This kind of renewed attention to discrimination is new and novel for white liberals,” he said, explaining why there has not been as large of a shift among people of color on these survey questions, in part because they didn’t need social media videos to know what was already happening in their communities.

Source: How White Liberals Became ‘Woke,’ Radically Changing Their Outlook On Race