The world, as the great economist Kenneth E. Boulding once put it, is a very complex system. It is easy to have too simple a view of it, and to do harm and make things worse under the impulse to do good and make things better. This tendency is what gives rise to left-wing totalitarianism, which negates freedom in service of equality and appeals to those who want simple answers to complex socio-economic questions. This desire is so strong that even after the horrors of the 20th century, such ideologies continue to appeal to Western academics.
One example would be Wokeism, marked by a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice. Wokeism can accurately be described as a mutation of Marxism, with the proletariat and bourgeoisie substituted for particular ethnic and sexual groups, and with revolution substituted for “the long march through the institutions”. As with Marxism, Wokeism negates the individual in service of a reductionist narrative that classifies people as either victims or oppressors, and is fundamentally hostile towards science and the Enlightenment.
In this brief article, we will examine the core assumptions of Critical Race Theory – a cornerstone of Wokeism. Indeed, the uncritical acceptance of this ‘theory’ by our political establishment has led to the twin evils of unconscious bias training and diversity quotas, which demonise white people and infantilise black people in equal measure. We will take a scalpel to this profoundly regressive ideology, which threatens to erode the everyday humanism keeping our social fabric intact. In the shrewd words of Douglas Murray:
It is clear where Critical Race Theory ends. It is not in harmony and fairness. It is a system that attaches electrodes to the brains of a tolerant, liberal and diverse society and then fries them. It is time we stopped it.
Critical Race Theory
For most people, racism is understood as prejudice, discrimination or antagonism against someone based on their race or ethnicity; it is the problem of certain individuals within any given community. For those who subscribe to Critical Race Theory, however, racism refers to a systemic relationship of unequal power between white people and “people of colour”; it is the exclusive and inherent problem of “whiteness”. There are two fundamental assumptions of Critical Race Theory, which can be defined as follows:
1. Racism is systemic. White supremacism is the foundation of Western society, directly informing its values and institutions.
2. White people are born into this system, and are thus inherently racist. As the woke sociologist Robin DiAngelo puts it in White Fragility:
White supremacy is something much more pervasive and subtle than the actions of explicit white nationalists. White supremacy describes the culture we live in, a culture that positions white people and all that is associated with them (whiteness) as ideal.
White people raised in Western society are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview because it is the bedrock of our society and its institutions.
Racism is the norm rather than an aberration.
White people who are not explicitly racist are governed by an implicit bias; it is thus impossible for racism to be absent from any given situation. One may be actively racist by perpetuating racial prejudice or discrimination, or passively racist by failing to notice racism in oneself or others and thus failing to address it. Whatever course of action a white person takes, they are to be presumed guilty of racism. In the ‘anti-racism’ entry for New Discourses, we are given a hypothetical example of implicit bias in practice:
For example, if a black customer and a white customer entered a store at the same time, and the white sales assistant approached the white customer to offer help first, this could be identified as racism because it prioritized the white person’s needs. However, if the sales assistant approached the black customer first, this could also be identified as racism because it could be read as indicating a distrust of black people and unwillingness to have them browse the shelves unsupervised.
Since the question is not “did racism take place?” but rather “how did racism manifest in this situation?”, the only way to be anti-racist is to dismantle the system of racism which pervades everything. Thus, the values associated with the group of oppressors who have achieved dominance must be undermined. This includes the rule of law, freedom of speech, individualism, objectivity, the Scientific Method, the written tradition, and other values which oppress people of colour. To quote DiAngelo and Sensoy (2017):
Another unnamed logic of Whiteness is the presumed neutrality of White European enlightenment epistemology. The modern university – in its knowledge generation, research, and social and material sciences and with its “experts” and its privileging of particular forms of knowledge over others (e.g. written over oral, history over memory, rationalism over wisdom) – has played a key role in the spreading of colonial empire. In this way, the university has validated and elevated positivistic, White Eurocentric knowledge over non-White, Indigenous, and non-European knowledges.
While systemic racism may be taken as gospel by Wokeist ideologues, in reality, its existence is highly questionable. Indeed, among black academics, belief in systemic racism is increasingly regarded as the primary barrier to black advancement in the United States. One example would be the late Joe Russell Hicks, a civil rights leader and community activist. In his address to the Oxford Union in May 2015, Hicks explains how 21st-century America is a fundamentally different country from that of slavery and Jim Crow:
Insofar as systemic racism does exist, it does not follow that individuals should be defined by it – for there is such a thing as agency. Witness, for example, the mass protests of white South Africans against apartheid. The notion that a white person’s viewpoint necessarily comes from a racialised frame of reference may be popular, but it has no basis in science. In a 2018 paper titled ‘Popularity as a Poor Proxy for Utility’, psychologists Gregory Mitchell and Philip Tetlock are critical in their evaluation of the Implicit Association Test (IAT):
It is our contention that, when the public rhetoric about IAT research is compared to the details of the underlying research, the social and scientific significance of this research becomes much less apparent… On issue after issue, there is little evidence of positive impacts from IAT research: theories and understandings of prejudice have not converged as a result of the IAT research; bold claims about the superior predictive validity of the IAT over explicit measures have been falsified; IAT scores have been found to add practically no explanatory power in studies of discriminatory behavior; and IAT research has not led to new practical solutions to discrimination.
Indeed, the ‘theory’ in Critical Race Theory should be understood in the same vein as conspiracy ‘theory’. Proper scientific theories are open to falsification; the Theory of Evolution, for example, could be falsified if modern-day fossils were found among those from the Precambrian Era. Critical Race Theory, however, is impossible to falsify, for it reinterprets any evidence against a white person being racist as confirmation of their racism. This is precisely how conspiracy theorists operate, discounting anything that disrupts their narrative.
In the real world, it is not those who fall under a particular label that are inclined to oppress others, but rather those who are obsessed with labels. Historically, collective guilt has always been wielded by tyrants to eliminate their enemies. The Soviet Communists labelled peasant farmers who resisted the confiscation of their land as kulaks; the Nazis labelled Jews, Slavs and other ‘non-Aryans’ as untermenschen; and Islamofascists such as ISIS label non-Muslims and ‘heretics’ as kuffar. As Kierkegaard famously said, “Once you label me, you negate me.”
Collective guilt always ends in a bloodbath, and Wokeists are no exception to this. The murder of five-year-old Cannon Hinnant in August 2020, for example, was a direct consequence of labelling white people as inherent oppressors. Rather than “white silence being white violence”, it is those who scream this mantra who appear to be the most inclined towards violence. Witness the recent surge in the killing of police officers; from July 2019-2020, felonious officer deaths in the United States jumped by 28 percent.
The flipside to collective guilt is collective victimhood, which is similarly oppressive. Labelling entire groups as victims – as Wokeists do to blacks and others – only serves to exacerbate inequality. It encourages members of these groups to blame all their ills on some external force, to not examine their own faults and make the necessary changes to improve their condition. Anti-Western resentment is primarily why the Muslim world, for example, is in such a dire state. To quote the Iraqi-British academic Kanan Makiya:
Old habits die hard. They die hardest of all among people who have made it their duty to awaken pride in self and a sense of collective identity by blaming all ills on some “other” – a foreign agency or “alien” culture outside the community one is trying to extol, and often more powerful and dynamic. The painful thing to observe is the unrelenting stridency of the Arab intelligentsia’s attempt to blame every ill on the West or Israel. The language gets more unreal, hysterical, and self-flagellating, the less the Arab world is actually able to achieve politically and culturally in modern times.
In his celebrated ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Martin Luther King Jr. stated that people ought to be judged not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character. How absurd and tragic it is that almost 60 years hence, the proponents of social justice have discarded this noble vision and reverted to racism. Indeed, it is profoundly racist to suggest that whites are inherently wicked, or that blacks are alienated by rationality. Commenting on Robin DiAngelo’s profile in the New York Times, Nigerian reader Itunu writes:
I’m a Nigerian living in Senegal, and I suppose living in a place where everyone looks like me is a privilege in itself. So perhaps my critique is colored by this privilege, but I must admit that I’m deeply offended by some of the claims of her training. Rationality and writing are ‘white values’? Is anyone else seeing how condescending and disempowering it is to be told that our fate as black people rests in white people finally deciding to change their ways? Jackie Robinson was ‘allowed’ to play. What about: Jackie Robinson fought and won his struggle to play. Let’s fight for greater equality without upholding and rehashing racist tropes and stereotypes.
If we want to defeat racism, then we must get over our obsession with race. We must stop seeing each other as victims or oppressors, and recognise that we are individuals with agency. We must stop looking for racism where it doesn’t exist, and start focusing on issues of substance, e.g. the Arab slave trade. We must stop undermining the values that racism attempts to poison, and reclaim them for humanity. Until then, all we can hope for is to replace one form of injustice with another. To finish with a quote from Jonathan Church:
When the Scientific Method is subordinated to the eradication of ‘racialized’ perspectives, we cease to learn about the hows and whys of social and economic disparities across racial groups and instead become immersed in the propagation of ideas that lack support from social science research. At which point it becomes difficult to dismiss concerns that progressive activism is not about social justice at all, but about ideological intolerance and conformity, driven by agendas reminiscent of Marxist thought and activism. ‘White fragility’ has become the new ‘bourgeois’ – an accusation sufficient to invalidate any heterodox opinion at a stroke.
The bigotry of low expectations – a major symptom of Wokeism.