by UnHerd
Monday, 26
April 2021
Video
15:00

John McWhorter: white people should stand up to anti-racist ideologues

Freddie Sayers spoke to the writer about race relations in America
by UnHerd


When John McWhorter, professor of Linguistics and American Studies at Columbia, described ‘antiracism’ as America’s ‘new flawed religion’ in 2015, few could have imagined just how prescient that description would prove to be. Just last week, the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi thanked George Floyd for “sacrificing his life for justice” while CEOs, celebrities, and other politicians all made versions of the same promise: the work was not done.

McWhorter, author of the upcoming book ‘Nine Nasty Words’ does not count himself as a follower of this new religion. In fact, the professor has become one of its fiercest critics, tirelessly deconstructing the latest example of ‘woke craziness’ to illustrate its incoherence. We therefore thought that it was essential to get John’s opinion on the Derek Chauvin verdict and his thoughts on race relations in America more generally. We really enjoyed speaking to John and thank him for his time.

On the Derek Chauvin conviction:

There is a sense in America that what this verdict was about was black people being killed by the cops. I see it as a victory about people being killed by the cops. And if it has to be a black case that galvanises change under that misconception, well, life isn’t perfect. But I am very happy about what happened to that man. And I’m very sad about what happened to George Floyd. But I’m equally sad about what happened to Tony Timpa, which was very similar, and Tony Timpa was very white, and it was only four years ago, and no one heard about it.
- John McWhorter, UnHerd

Did he get a fair trial?

If fairness requires a certain fear of the streets erupting — that’s not the way I would choreograph it — but maybe sometimes you have to break some eggs to make an omelette. The cop problem is real partly for a human, not race, reason….I think it’s a misperception that the cops are uniquely against black people, and that is the main obstacle to getting past race in the United States.
- John McWhorter, UnHerd

Is antiracism a religion?

It’s a religion — any martial anthropologist would recognise it as such. One of the oddest things is to see mathematicians and philosophers who’ve made their way through Plato, Kant and Kierkegaard, and then all of a sudden when they’re reasoning about Black Lives Matter, they exhibit the reasoning power of roughly an orangutan. Suddenly that’s considered sophisticated.
- John McWhorter, UnHerd

Giving up on the true believers:

You can’t engage people like that… There is nothing you can do to talk somebody out of a religion. There’s no conversation to be had, it’s worthless. Some of them will say they want to have a conversation with you. But what they want is for you to learn from them. If there’s anything that they have to learn from you, it’s that they want to learn what your mental barriers are to understanding their truth.
- John McWhorter, UnHerd

His advice to white people:

A lot of people need to have a little bit more of a backbone, and understand that this person who’s sitting there looking over their copy of “How To Be An Anti-Racist” and telling you that you’re a racist, let them. And then walk on because the world will keep spinning and you will keep existing. I think some white people need to have the courage of their convictions even about this thing called the race thing. And just say, “No, I’m not a racist. Maybe you are. And let’s now talk about football”. That we need more of. 
- John McWhorter, UnHerd

On the elitism of antiracism:

If you’re somebody who is more familiar with struggle or you have a kid in a bad school or you know what it’s like to live in a bad neighbourhood. In a way, this sort of thinking [antiracism] is going to be less congenial. And many people would say, “Well, it’s because you’re a racist”. No, it’s it’s not that. It’s that there is a certain luxury in thinking of black people in these abstractions.
- John McWhorter, UnHerd

On Ta-Nehisi Coates:

There is a certain kind of person who builds their sense of significance in society on a victim role. A person can do that of any colour. It’s a personality type. With black Americans, one way that you do that is to focus on your victimhood or your people’s victimhood, at the hands of whites. It’s not that there isn’t racism. But the idea that what makes you special is your victimhood status in comparison to whites, that can become who you are. Coates is a good writer, but Coates is that kind of person.
- John McWhorter, UnHerd

On the n-word:

I feel that it casts black people as hothouse flowers to a degree that I find condescending. And that’s not to say that people are supposed to run around using the word. But I think America had it about right as recently as about 1995. And since then, we’ve started to treat it in a way that I’m not sure was very productive. But that’s just me.
- John McWhorter, UnHerd

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Chris Scott
Chris Scott
1 year ago

The whole edifice of anti-racism is built on sand. With regards to the UK, how many black men have been killed by the police? I can count on one hand the amount of deaths over the last twenty or thirty years, but politics and those in the race industry ignore the very big elephant in the room regarding black-on-black crime and homicides, especially in London and the Midlands. I doubt those who demonstrated against the Floyd George killing really have what it takes to do anything about this very real issue.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Scott

Apparently you’re not allowed to type the name of the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, here on UnHerd.
It’s Dame Cressida d**k, in case you were wondering. We’ll see how long this takes to get through the net,

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul N
kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

Or Mr Turpin’s first name-see American police article.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Scott

The UK [in most parts] has an unarmed police force, which is why there are far fewer police killings here. Criminals have knives and guns, which is one reason for the number of non-police-related murders.
Of course someone does not have to die to constitute racism – the Commissioner of the Met, Dame Cressida d**k (no, really, that’s UnHerd’s mod-bot’s suggestion), recently had to apologise to the parliamentary Home Affairs select committee after the metropolitan police dragged an Olympic athlete out of her car and handcuffed her, while the athlete’s 3-month old baby was in the back. But at least nobody died.
Sure there is a problem with violent crime in London (and the US). But that does not excuse us for looking the other way if r*cist police officers abuse their authority. It’s a “not in our name” thing.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

But that does not excuse us for looking the other way if r*cist police officers abuse their authority.  Police in the US kill far more white civilians than black, and the officer ranks include no small number of blacks, especially in larger cities. Are they, too, racist?
The second part of your statement – abuse of authority – is worth discussion and exploration. Too many departments cover for the bad actors among them and that is a problem. But it’s not a racial problem.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The problem is not the cops, BUT THE CRIMINALS!
You little desk rabbits, you never will understand that that thin blue line is all which stops you being killed/robbed in your house, attacked in the streets, and having to live in constant fear. IT is all which keeps rule of law from disappearing completely.
I could not care if some thugs get killed by police as they resist, I think most of them should not be free to have the chance if they are a habitual criminal, as most of these guys killed wile being arrested seem to be.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

My “little desk rabbit” life included being around cops quite a bit. Some had no business being anywhere near positions of authority. Again, that group is the minority within the profession.
Chauvin is the second Minneapolis cop convicted following an interaction with a civilian. The first case was far worse but he was black and the victim was a white Australian woman, so there was far less interest in the case. Much like Tony Timpa, whom McWhorter mentioned.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

OK. not everyone is a good guy. But if you want a vital job which is infested with those who should NOT be doing it, look at Teaching. That is where a thousand lives are damaged to everyone the bad cops cause.

Where do you stand on ‘the thin blue line’?

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The first case was far worse but he was black and the victim was a white Australian woman, so there was far less interest in the case. 

Well it made the news in the UK (possibly it was considered relevant because it was a white commonwealth citizen), so there was plenty of interest in the case.
The case of Tony Timpa is also shocking – but I can’t help thinking that if he’d been black the anti-anti-racist crowd would be shouting about how he was off his meds, and parroting the discredited police line that he had been “aggressive”. Why do people feel the need to blame the victim when the victim is black (or simply ignore the abuse when it’s a white victim)?

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

In the context of a discussion on abuse of power by some police officers, SA says:

“The problem is not the cops, BUT THE CRIMINALS!”

If no crime is actually happening, and police officers are throwing their weight around and abusing their authority (this is only a minority of officers, I’m sure, but I have seen it happen) – then how can the problem the criminals who are not actually present?

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

They refused to get out of the car when asked perfectly politely. Instead they responded with abuse.. The whole incident was recorded and could be viewed on the internet.
The forced ‘ apology’ for carrying out one’s legitimate function in an appropriate way was appalling, and is doubtless one more reason why fewer and fewer sensible people wish to join the police force, to the great detriment of society.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  Niobe Hunter

As I recall she said at the time that, since her baby son was in the car, she’d asked for a reason why she should get out of the car, and the officers dragged her out anyway.
Do you have a link that shows something different? The clip on the BBC news site doesn’t seem to contradict her story.
Interestingly, the IOPC subsequently admitted that the lead investigator at the IOPC had stepped down from this investigation because she did not agree with how the regional director was formally classifying the seriousness of the case (about politeness and respect, rather than more serious misconduct). So there seem to have been ongoing problems in dealing with abuse in the Met.
Would it be easier to understand the outrage if I substituted “Labour” for “the Met” and “antisemitism” for “Racism”?

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul N
Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

Dame Cressida shouldn’t have apologised – that she did is part of the problem – because the car the Olympic athlete was in failed to stop when the police saw it being driven erratically.

Last edited 1 year ago by Dougie Undersub
Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

That’s a view you take, but it is not the only legitimate view to take.
It is not so long since we were witness to widespread failure of the police and other authorities to protect children in care. It took a lot to get the grooming gangs brought to justice, yet the rapes were being perpetrated in towns and cities right under the noses of the authorities.

These rapes were tolerated because the victims were white and the perpetrators were not.

You might not like that characterisation of what happened, but I challenge you to look at the mugshots published on the front pages of the Guardian and disagree.

There were no marches (that I recall) in protest about those rapes (and how numerous they were – one girl is reported to have been passed around 100 men). Why?

I would ask you to consider why that was.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kremlington Swan
kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Scott

The latest ‘wheeze’ is to take the works of someone- Geoffrey Chaucer ( who lived in the 13th century-well before any European involvement in the trade)and claim because someone in 17th century owned his manuscripts did this implicates Chaucer-so British Library are going to put lables on his work explaining this. By their logic if I sold my house to someone who then committed a crime , myself ( and possibly even the house!) are also guilty?

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

That seems… unlikely. Do you have any details?

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N
kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago

Yes they are going to have ‘an overhaul of all 210 items in the library’s Treasures Collection.’ I think the famililies of the donors should have their items back & anyone wealthy thinking of leaving for example their paintings to the nation shouldn’t bother. This lot of philistines will probably start cutting bits out of the (original) book or painting which doesn’t agree with them. Puritans usually do destroy things-look at all the world heritage sites that are now gone.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

By overhaul of all items it seems the British Library mean they will mention how they acquired them. As they said, this will make it easier for donors to get credit for their donations – surely a good thing for donors, rather than a bad one?
Thanks, Dougie, for setting the record straight.
Kathleen, why would you imagine that the British Library would cut bits out of their valuable original works of art or manuscripts? Why would philistines take a job in the British Library or Antiquities? Do you never fact check anything you read, however hysterical it sounds?

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

An American lady who was a curator at a museum not only supported the British vandalism of statues last year , she told them how to do it properly so they couldn’t be repaired. The lot who seem to get appointed to National Trust , Briish Library etc are not Roy Strongs-they are political activists.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

You seem to be extrapolating an awful lot from an account of one employee as reported… somewhere, and a manifestly misleading article in the Telegraph.

Neil Cheshire
Neil Cheshire
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

In the minds of the modern day ‘witchfinders’ all pale people and their ancestors are tainted with racist ‘original sin’.

Last edited 1 year ago by Neil Cheshire
Ian Steadman
Ian Steadman
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Scott

Partial reply to Christ Scott’s question: “how many black men have been killed by the police?”
“Around 9 out of 10 (87% of 238) of those who died in police custody between 2004/05 and 2015/16 were from a White ethnic background. Those from a Black background, the next largest ethnic group, made up 6 per cent of deaths (14 out of 238).” Page 19 of Home Office Report 2017 at tinyurl.com/5d266nxb

Zirrus VanDevere
Zirrus VanDevere
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Scott

I literally just got out of a Clubhouse room where one of these so called anti-racists was explaining that although it is important for blacks to decolonize white conversations about race (complaining that there were not enough people of color on the “stage”, though about a quarter of the randomly assembled participants were non-white), whites should not be allowed to be involved in conversations about race that black people are having. And even though the non-whites on stage patiently and respectfully explained to him how ridiculous his statement was, he clung to it with absolute fervor. I think McWhorter is correct, sadly, that there is no point in trying to have a reasonable conversation with those who are zealots. I don’t think this new religion is going to die out before it does incredible damage to our society, though, and to the original cause of liberty and justice and equal rights in the western world.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago

True – it’s hard to have a reasonable conversation with a zealot, whatever side of an argument they may take.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

McWhorter is among the few blacks to be offended by the implications of these ideas, that blacks are somehow incapable of achievement or cannot grasp math or otherwise have no agency.
The ironically named anti-racist crowd treats blacks as wildlife that the rest of us should view from afar.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

At the moment we have a system that rewards the lazy and punishes the hard-working. If you can get into University with low grades with affirmative action , why would any student bother to work?

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Though what they are going to study when they get there-even poor Jane Austen is on the naughty step because she liked drinking tea!

D Ward
D Ward
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Isaac Newton and Chaucer are done for too, apparently.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  D Ward

Chaucer didn’t drink tea, so what was his crime?

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

I don’t know you’ll have to ask Leicester University.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Given the galloping marketry that has such a grip on the university system in the US and the UK, could it have been “not being popular enough?”

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

So universities should offer degrees in Strictly Come Dancing?. I thought the point of University was to train the academic mind?

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

So did I. That, and research.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Why would anyone study? Perhaps from an interest in their subject, or self respect, or the practical difficulty in accurately assessing the minimum of work needed to get a particular grade?
Can you describe this affirmative action programme that you are suggesting gives [un?]privileged groups access to a near lifetime of debt and a locked down remote-learning “university experience” in return for gaining unusually low grades?

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

I asked what they would study , not why , as there have been countless articles by academics whose courses have been cancelled to be replaced by something more subjective ( and possibly easier ) from UK, Canada and US

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

You asked “if you can get into University with low grades with affirmative action , why would any student bother to work?”

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

He is one of the few blacks to speak out, not one of the few to be offended. He has placed principle and long-term benefit ahead of short-term gain.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

I admire academics such as John McWhorter who speak out against wokeness, anti-racism, etc. You can bet he is shunned by many (most?) of his fellow faculty, and as a black man he will doubtless receive harsh criticism from other black academics. I assume he is a full professor with tenure otherwise his career would be in danger.

Mike Feilden
Mike Feilden
1 year ago

How refreshing to hear a level headed analysis of a deeply disturbing trend in society – I found John McWhorter a truly impressive and convincing speaker.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago

“One of the oddest things is to see mathematicians and philosophers who’ve made their way through Plato, Kant and Kierkegaard, and then all of a sudden when they’re reasoning about Black Lives Matter, they exhibit the reasoning power of roughly an orangutan.”

It’s not just BLM. I’ve noticed that if partisan shock horror can be evoked, reasoning stops. On one side, you cry “racism” or “__phobia”, or “teh Nazjs”. On the other, “socialism” “communism” or more recently “woke”. Suddenly the usual suspects line up at their keyboards in battle formation. Even a degree in mathematics or philosophy (or even “Philosophy, Politics and Economics”) doesn’t make you immune. Actually a PPE degree is probably a risk factor.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul N
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

“teh Nazjs”. On the other, “socialism” “communism”

NO – those are REAL, they happened, they killed 100,000,000 and destroyed the lives of ten times as many.

These silly issues today, they are whipped up hysteria, about like the covid responce, 99% self harming craziness, a moral panic which does not really address the issues, but mere political agenda driven by the MSM and Global elites, for dark political purposes, ones aimed at the destruction of the West.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

In case you missed the point, I was talking about the effect on debate of overblown and tendentious comparisons – not denying that Nazjs or Communists were responsible for great evil.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
1 year ago

Watched a few Glenn Loury & McWorther talks on youtube, highly recommend. Loury is superb too.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

***…… The old, “Well I think this entire issue is wrong,,, BUT”…..(as in – actually, I do not think it is wrong at all, just needs expanding and qualifying, and…)

“But I am very happy about what happened to that man (Derek Chauvin). And I’m very sad about what happened to George Floyd.”

Chauvin was convicted and thrown to the howling mob as a scapegoat, and against everything Rule Of Law stands for. The trial, the Politicos threats, the rioting, the Judge, the venue, the paid expert witnesses, and mostly that None of the 3 charges were proven ‘Beyond a reasonable Doubt’.

This guy is pure academia Liberal/Lefty and is a member of that quasi/religious cult of Political Correctness, SJW, and Frankfurt School, anti- the-traditional Conservative Capitalist Establishment.

A religious analogy of this talk would be a Baptist calling Pentecostals Heretics.

Andy Martin
Andy Martin
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

This guy is pure academia Liberal/Lefty and is a member of that quasi/religious cult of Political Correctness, SJW, and Frankfurt School, anti- the-traditional Conservative Capitalist Establishment.”
No he most definitely isn’t.
If you can’t be arsed to watch the video, at least read through some quoted highlights that are listed above.
Also watch his many You tubes and opinion articles that are not too too difficult to find.
Here’s one of his articles
https://newrepublic.com/article/73464/taking-out-my-eraser

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

“Chauvin was convicted and thrown to the howling mob as a scapegoat, and against everything Rule Of Law stands for”

Call me old fashioned, but I thought that the rule of law forbids white police officers, as well as black criminals, from using unjustified force that results in someone losing their life.

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
1 year ago

I find the concept of a martial (sic) anthropologist fascinating. Does it go amongst the savages armed to the teeth? ( though I suppose that might be a good idea, come to think of it, better than ending as a trophy)

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
1 year ago

Funny, the quotes didn’t pick up the bits I thought were important. Firstly, McWhorter gave clear instructions for what to do: focus on support real-life struggles of black people that anti-racism detracts from. Secondly, that academia may be too far gone.

Joe Donovan
Joe Donovan
1 year ago

The professor has a remarkable serenity for someone with a target on his back.
He is right that you can’t argue with those for whom it’s a religion. But when those are family members or dear friends, relations can get badly frayed at a time when we need relationships all the more.

Rafael Aguilo
Rafael Aguilo
1 year ago

The current situation with Academia was entirely predicted and explained by Yuri Bezmenov way back in the early 80’s. We CHOSE not to listen.
https://youtu.be/Z1EA2ohrt5Q

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Rafael Aguilo

Afraid so, though the odd thing is it is academics displacing themselves-they really are their own worse enemies.

David C.
David C.
1 year ago

McWhorter mentioned that this religion has its roots in the 1960s, and I would have been intrigued to hear his thoughts about MLK. It seemed that King and many of his followers were aware of how race and identity politics were being used for dividing people. King shifted his message away from race and began talking about poverty and income inequality, which is when he was assassinated. It seems as though identity politics has been a way for the political and economic establishment to keep the public’s focus off race-based poverty, another issue McWhorter touched on. One way of countering the madness of this new religion might be to try to revive the speeches and messaging that King gave toward the end of his life.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
1 year ago

I am in awe of McWhorter. A great intellect combined with a flowing speaking style and a calm demeanor. I aspire to be more like him.

David J
David J
1 year ago

Blaming police is easy meat. Few mention that US police face an armed public.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago

I think the world has been going backwards on this since the sixties, when Lenny Bruce tried, and then failed, to make people understand themselves a little better.

He wasn’t the first, and certainly won’t have been the last, to fail to make people understand themselves a little better, but he is peculiarly interesting because of his singular approach to the problem of racism.
We’re all racist. That’s not all, either: we are all sexist too.

I say ‘all’ when I just mean me and you. People like Francis of Assisi aren’t racist. Then again, people like Francis of Assisi are rather thin on the ground. At a guess something like one in one hundred million thin on the ground. Which is very thin on the ground indeed.
I don’t think racist and sexist thoughts all the time, of course. Only when I think about race and the opposite sex.

Poor, dear Lenny wanted us to relax about the hatreds and prejudices we all carry around inside us, but only so we could see them and maybe one day come to realise how absurd they are.

If we are in denial about our own prejudices, yet see them with perfect clarity in others, we proliferate and intensify those prejudices. The hatreds deepen, they do not lessen. Conflict becomes more likely, not less likely.

In order to maintain some semblance of public order, states become ever more oppressive in their desperation to control freedom of expression. If they make the laws as ‘catch all’ as they can, and then make the punishments sufficient of a deterrent, all that prejudice is driven under the surface, where it festers and poisons. It absolutely does not go away, and before you know it resentment is off the scale.
Judging another person on the basis of the colour of his skin is something to be laughed at, not condemned. The absurdity of it needs to be held up to the light, so ever increasing numbers of people can see the absurdity in themselves.
Lenny Bruce was condemned as much as he was misunderstood by pig headed people in authority, and the opportunity he offered us passed us by.

Good luck to anyone who is minded to follow in his footsteps. He or she will need it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kremlington Swan