John McWhorter on how to respond to the woke: 'We need to start telling them no'

I’ve written about John McWhorter’s take on things many times before, probably because he often comes down pretty close to where I do on some issues, particularly those surrounding wokeism. McWhorter is currently working on a book in which he expands on the idea that wokeism is truly a kind of religion for people on the left. He’s been working on pieces of it on his substack account and plans to call it The Elect.

Today, Reason published an interview with McWhorter about this new book project. Asked about the meaning of the phrase The Elect McWhorter said, “It’s the woke people who are mean. It’s the nasty woke people.” He continued, “What I mean by the elect is there are people who seem to think of their purpose as being to demonstrate that they’re not racist and to police the rest of us for racism…This is so important that it’s okay to hurt people.” “All of this is very cultural revolution, very Stalin.”

A bit later, McWhorter talked about the case of Donald McNeil losing his job at the NY Times. “The idea that he deserved to lose his job is not something that a critical mass of people would agree with. It’s the elect who think that he should lose his job,” he said. “What’s going on is the elect get their way because we’re all so deeply afraid of being called racist. It’s a reign of terror.”

In other words, the elect don’t feel the need to make converts through persuasion. Their default is to make them through fear. Confront someone and dare them to disagree with your premise about white supremacy or any similar topic. They will either kowtow or they will dare to disagree in which case they can be denounced.

Eventually, interviewer Nick Gillespie asked McWhorter what the solution was to this. McWhorter said he was still working on that but said it basically had to come down to pushing back and refusing to take these kind of ritual denunciations seriously.

“We have to understand that you can not reason with people like this,” he said. “It’s very rare that you teach somebody out of their religion and this is a religion. And so to try to talk these people down doesn’t work. All they know is that you’re a racist and that’s all you’re going to get. So the idea is not to try to have a dialogue with them about these sorts of issues…I think we simply need to start telling people like this no.”

McWhorter added that it won’t stop them from calling you a racist but by ignoring those attacks and going about your business you can demonstrate that “screaming that you’re a racist isn’t going to get them what they want.” He added, “We need to start telling them no.”

I think he’s largely right but it only works to the degree that, for instance, your boss happens to be one of the people willing to tell them no. Because if you tell them no and the woke mob responds with attacks (as they do) your boss might be tempted to solve the problem by pushing you out the door rather than risk becoming the next person on the mob’s target list.

I think he’s diagnosed the problem accurately but there’s still a lot of work to be done on how to resist a religion of freelance heretic hunters in the public square. That said, I’ll be interested to see how McWhorter deals with that problem as his book project proceeds. Here’s the interview which I have cued up to the portion about The Elect.