What follows may be gratuitous. A book report, perhaps. It may also be of some general interest to those of us currently enjoying McWhorter’s installments on The Elect.

That is to say, McWhorter has been addressing questions such as these consistently, and for several decades; as a result, he has put out a formidable reading list. I count myself among the fans, at the same time I disagree with various of his positions. (For instance, he seems to regard teachers’ unions as largely malign; I am one of many whose life not just work has been made markedly better because of membership in teachers’ unions. For another, he takes a jaundiced view of sociology, particularly when it is conceived as merely theory for activist social work. Some sociologists do say some dumb and even deleterious things, sometimes. Yes: some; sometimes.) That said, I do think his stuff is well worth the time.

That formidable reading list takes some time. I am still reading. Whether recent articles in the Atlantic, or the path-breaking Losing the Race (2000), or the follow-ups Authentically Black (2003) and Winning the Race (2005) I find that not only am I likely to learn new stuff (some of it hiding in plain sight but nonetheless below the radar of the received wisdom, academic and journalistic alike) but I am likely also to encounter pithy conceptualization. (I can recommend specifically the essay ‘”We Don’t Learn our History!”’ in Authentically Black, and the analysis in Winning the Race of how welfare went from widows’ pensions to a full income program under the aegis of social-worky activists, particularly after 1966.)

(I might add, he has a seriously polymathic approach to a range of the relevant literature, sociology included.)

I don’t know if phrases like Dark Intellectual Web exactly apply but McWhorter consistently reports, and analyzes, material that one will find on CBS, MSNBC, NPR or in the Newspaper of Record, almost never. Alas in some cases one really doesn’t get this sort of take anywhere else.

One of his consistently points is that the kind of things about which we read here now on The Elect has been a long time brewing. CRT is but the latest installment of what McWhorter calls The Saga, and “therapeutic alienation.” Adversity is not new, certainly not to the descendants of chattel slaves; celebration of Thug Life is. Why? Good question. In the “History” essay he looks at thriving Black communities of the past -- and in Winning, has a very interesting (and strategically chosen) case study of Black life in Indianapolis across the 20th century. It seems to me this is a sound approach: ask the long-haul questions in order to understand 2020.

So I just wanted to note: if you’re enjoying The Elect but haven’t read the earlier stuff, then I so envy you; you have such a treat in store.

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Dr. McWhorter, what a great chapter. Tough, hard-hitting, direct. I clipped nine highlight paragraphs. Your book really hit its stride with this one.

This passage particularly jumped out at me:

"The pathway is short, then, between Critical Race Theory's celebration of communal 'narrative' over empirical truth and this modern black frame of mind in which a certain kind of exaggeration is allowed to pass as a kind of alternate form of honesty."

Reading that caused me to flash back to the DOJ report on the Ferguson shooting where an alternate form of honesty was the rule for many, many of the witnesses -- shown clearly when they later recanted as their stories fell apart. Other witnesses -- who actually observed the incident -- were afraid to speak to authorities out of fear of the communal narrative.

A question: How much of a role does crass politics play? At first I didn't think this idea fit into your theme of the Elect as a religious cult, but then I thought about the local merchants who view church services in financial terms, not spiritual. Blacks reliably vote 90+ percent for Democrats. In terms of politics, that's monolithic. Whatever such a voting bloc wants to hear, they are going to be told.

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I hope you saw Robert Woodson's commentary in the Wall Street Journal yesterday (April 16.) He is focused on the damage the Elect and their media advocates are doing to our most impoverished and needy communities. Los Angeles is exhibit A.

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Thanks. I receive post from a college in Hillsdale Mi..for the past months most of issues have argued against most of the cdc. Or scientific and epidemiologists recommend producing writers on fringe. This month critical race theory article. I found the concepts reprehensible.

Heather Cox Richardson a scholar mostly centered on the last half of the 19 th century. She claims to be a Lincoln follower but here discusses unusual Republicans at America First.I presume critical race theory is part of the platform


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A law professor (Regina Austin): “. . . drawing on lawbreaker culture would add a bit of toughness, resilience, bluntness, and defiance to contemporary mainstream black political discourse, which evidences a marked preoccupation with civility, respectability, sentimentality, and decorum.” Wow. Immediately I thought of Tom Wolfe’s imaginative reconstruction of Radical Chic (at Bernstein’s cocktail party for the Black Panthers): “These are no civil-rights Negros wearing gray suits three sizes too big . . . “ Whence the fascination with Street Cred in the first place?

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“How many people can we realistically tar as insane? In which human society have a critical mass of people become mentally deficient?” This frames an important question -- not only for the current topic (anti-racism) but more broadly. So much discussion proceeds as if to hold a view different than mine is to be either 1) morally deficient 2) mentally deficient or 3) both. For instance, Bill Maher (and I’m a fan but fair is fair) does this a lot: anyone opposed to Obama did so because they are fearful, particularly of President Blackenstein (so they are morally deficient). Trump was elected only because white Americans remain deeply racist. Likewise, anyone opposed to the latest gun control proposal is a gun-nut (so they are mentally deficient). (Referring to hunters’ clothes, “orange is the new whack” -- one of Maher’s quips -- is only made to seem an analytic proposition. Clever, yes; analytic, no.) Mrs Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” is another example; as is Mr Romney’s “47% moochers,” and need I go on with further examples from that side of the political spectrum?

Yes indeed: “in which human society have a critical mass of people become mentally deficient” -- or even 47%? Social and political analysis conducted as diagnosis of psychopathology (ditto for moral turpitude) is, generally, dimming.

So certainly it is the right question to ask: how could so many presumably sensible people embrace, and enthusiastically so, an ideology so patently flawed?

McWhorter gives respective answers for white, and Black, partisans. I find he offers insights into the latter that make sense, that I have yet to read elsewhere, and that clarify. About the former, I am not so sure.

“I’m valid when I’m disrespected.” Cultivating a sense of survivorship helps keep one’s bearings; and this functions as “an ersatz kind of pride.” “One way to ease that sense of being a prodigal is to adopt an identity as a beleaguered black person, where you are united with all black people regardless of social class or educational level by the common experience of suffering discrimination.”

What is the relation of survivorship to survivor’s guilt? William Julius Wilson (The Declining Significance of Race, 1978, i.a.,) has said what McWhorter also says here: the Civil Rights movement has had a discernible economic effect, to the extent that by 1980 half the Black population was middle-class; so that (I paraphrase) whereas in DC, Duke Ellington may have lived next door to Pullman porters in the Shaw neighborhood, today’s Black bourgeoisie in LA may elect gated communities to keep out the undesirable underclass. Over time it has become harder to say We Have All Got to Get Together, with a straight face; but Elect unity may be a way (especially for the more prosperous) to smooth over class tension and assuage survivor’s guilt within the Black population. “Black electness is old-school.”

While on the subject, it seems to me that survivor’s guilt is also at work with “white privilege.” “Benefit implies cause” lies at the heart of the sense that white privilege is the cause of Black disprivilege. But this is special pleading: ordinarily the police do not arrest the beneficiary of a murder victim’s insurance policy; sadly, we all are free riders on military sacrifice, but we did not cause those deaths. Survivor’s guilt is a disorder of logic or psychology (or at mildest, a coping mechanism), not a principle of causal explanation and moral responsibility.

Yet reading this chapter, I’m still not sure I understand why we have today “a critical mass of white people coming to think like a charismatic hard-left contingent of black people have been thinking for decades.” We do. If it helps to understand current Black Electness as old-school, could white Electness be old-school as well? “The difference today is that so many whites now think of this view not as defeatist oversimplification from certain black radicals, but as truth they are morally bound to evangelize?” I wonder how many white people did, in fact, think of this as defeatist oversimplification in the first place? Hari Kunzru also raised this question in “The Wages of Whiteness” (NYRB 24 Sept 2020; available outside the NYRB paywall at https://30dayearningsformula.com/the-wages-of-whiteness-by-hari-kunzru/) I’m not sure we have an answer yet (to the long-range causes of white Electness) but it seems to me one of the important questions.

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First of all, the preliminary words about this excerpt being extra long have an apologetic tone to them, and I want to say Dr. McWhorter that your writing is always a pleasure to read and you should never apologize for providing us with a larger-than-usual dose of it.

Anyway, this will be a bit of a tangential comment, but regarding the discussion of All in the Family episodes, I always find it fascinating to observe what passed for socially progressive messages in fiction through different decades. Reading that reminded me of how just yesterday I was watching an episode of the British version of The Office, in which David Brent makes a bad-taste joke about black people to some of his coworkers, clams up at the punchline when a black colleague joins the circle, is relieved when he sees that the token black guy in the office is cool with it, and later confronts his colleagues when a complaint is made over his head. David is completely taken aback to find that the complainer was a white woman and tries to defend himself by pointing out that the black guy wasn't offended by the joke, only to get the retort, "But what's *he* [the black colleague] got to do with it?" followed by "But why is it that only black people should be offended by racism?" And I was thinking about how dated the "what's he got to do with it" comment seems now, coming from a context that was considered in 2001 to be a really progressive message (I remember first seeing this as a late high schooler and feeling like it taught me something about racism. Of course, Ricky Gervais is not exactly on great terms with woke culture now...)

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“And maybe playing the ukulele!” 😂😂. Dude that got a legitimate out loud laugh at me

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The longer I observe, the more language seems to have gone on holiday.

It must be a truly bizarre time to be a linguist, John.

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An absolute must read in today's NY Post.


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Dear John, thank you for another instalment. I want to point out what I see as a bit of inconsistency.

When the rapper Trife said that “I’m valid when I’m disrespected” it was not a statement about his lyrics, and not about his life in general, but about hip-hop specifically. Here is a full quote:

> Later, Dog said: "Hip-hop is bringing the races together, but on false pretenses to make money. Look at Trife. He's got two felonies. That means he's finished in society. But he can rap. His two felonies, in rap, man, that's a plus."

> "It's messed up," Trife said. "In hip-hop, I'm valid when I'm disrespected."

From the NYTimes: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/library/national/race/070600kleinfield-hiphop.html

That article is actually interesting in itself, as a sort of time capsule, you can see how the race relations were described in thenytimes at the time.

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I’m in academia and I really get the sense that criticizing CRT and Intersectionality is taboo because they were made and championed by Black woman. I like that you pointed that out. I think an analysis of that social dynamic could be really useful.

It makes total sense because Black women have been so marginalized and face the double whammy of “Black people aren’t smart” and “women can’t theorize.” There are so few examples of Black female intellectuals in the popular mind, so attacking one of the modern shining lights is seen intuitively as brutal and indecent. But I think we should give Crenshaw her deserved credit for innovation in legal theory, while also criticizing the Elect version of CRT. Crenshaw herself said that Intersectionality is not about making white men the new pariahs. I think you can make the argument that white “allies” have harmed these Black scholars by blowing up some of their great ideas into sophomoric theories of everything that they never intended. And then maybe they enjoyed the fame as most humans would. Then once white people make people like Nicole Hannah Jones and Kendi into high priests and priestesses, there is no graceful way to bring them down to their more modest and deserved stature as smart, talented writers who also make mistakes, like everyone.

There has to be a way for academics to talk about this dynamic. White Elect deifying select Black figures (most definitely not the brightest ones) out of their guilt, treating them like how people treated special needs kids when I was growing up. I think the key is emphasizing that there are indeed many towering Black intellectuals who need to be heard - they’re just picking the wrong ones!

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Thank you. Best chapter yet.

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'We must not be taken in by the fact that this is called “critical,” that it’s about race and that it’s titled a “theory.” ' Spot on. It has long amused me, the conceit of the Frankfurt School & epigoni, that all of a sudden, in the 20th c., theory became Critical --- at long last. This, more than two millennia after Thales -- not to mention Plato or Kant. (Or Marx.) Especially since "Critical" Theory is so often uncritical to the point of being just blinkered. This is not a right-wing point; but if you're going to advertise "critical," then deliver the goods, please.

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This is tragic what CRT has wrought. This is burning our society down from the inside and top. The only white people I know who buy into CRT are wealthy, living in safe enclaves, and obsessed with establishing moral and intellectual superiority over all others. Just like Orwell pegged pacifists in WWII as objectively pro-fascist, committed "anti-racists" as defined by CRT, are objectively anti-freedom, because freedom and liberty are impossibilities without any sense of individual responsibility, accountability, or agency. CRT does away with such things and replaces it with insane tribalism that will make the entire country as dysfunctional, violent, and unjust as the most gang infested areas in our country's history.

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One of my pursuits is to restore some respect for religion in this overly rational society. I agree with the statement: "if institutional religion no longer grounds one’s thought, then some similarly themed ideology will come in to serve in its place." However, I believe institutional religion (the practice of mature, collective religious tradition) could still play a role in bringing us back.

My hypothesis: The fanaticism the Elect's CRT indoctrination in our secular age is due to the fact that people no longer know how to "do" religion. Psychology and other modern social sciences cannot encompass the scope of human experience that religion can. The younger generations and their teachers have no clue as to what a faith journey is. As a result, they are completely unequipped when it comes to forming a new social ideology. They are stuck in the black-and-white, absolute-sin, inquisitorial stage of their new religion.

Many learn how to be religious from their parents: they absorb how their parents have incorporated religious traditions and ideas into everyday life. A lifelong process that includes faith involves learning how to balance between doctrine and love. Then, awareness of the process itself makes one aware that there is no final state: the way you relate to a doctrine or belief changes every moment. Collectively, people learn that everyone has their own evolving beliefs. In a healthy church people support each other in their personal journeys. Because yes: Doubt, yes: Forgiveness.

Since religion encompasses the entire human personality, there are stages of faith (James Fowler). A faith can provide a scaffold for human development that takes into account the entirely of human life.

A mature religion includes its own constraints and paradoxes which allow people to live healthy lives. In Western traditions, we acknowledge our human fallibility but we also have time-honored traditions of repentance and forgiveness, as well as mandates about loving others, that help us steering away from self-hatred and absolute condemnation of others.

McWhorter is helping me understand the intuitive discomfort that began with our department's diversity training in the 90s and is re-emerging with CRT. But at the same time, ever since James H. Cone told a mostly but not entirely white class of young divinity students in 1974 that "you have to be black to be Christian" (see MT 5:3), I've been contemplating racism from a liberal Christian standpoint. Since as a Christian (agnostic, by the way) I'm comfortable with my innate sinfulness (how people hate that word!) This just means that I'm comfortable with my innate racism (as well as with all my other innate biases: ageism, ableism, anti-fat people, anti-millennial-kids+63, ad infinitum.) Accusations that I'm racist run right off me like water off a duck's back. Been there, done that, happy in my own mature skin. At the same time, a well-developed conscience keeps me constantly looking for ways to improve non-offensive behavior towards everyone. (I find it helpful to relegate "microagressions" to the category of "tips and tricks for acting respectfully in different cultures.")

Meanwhile, to arrogantly regard oneself (or one's entire White culture) to be irredeemably sinful/racist would be seen as the sin of pride in some traditions. "Self-flagellational guilt," in short, is a sin. As such, it's a good starting place for growth.

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