There are white people in this country and elsewhere who rank human beings by race, with the whites at the top, blacks at the bottom and everyone else in between. They are convinced that whites have a divine or natural right to rule, and they abhor racial intermarriage. They are a minuscule minority, here and elsewhere. White supremacists hold no government power. Their resources are negligible. They gather in obscure places, online as in person, and their conventions are ridiculous spectacles in which the costumes are as odious as the fantasies are pathetic.
It wasn’t always like this. From about the sixteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, the world was theirs to exploit. Western politicians, thinkers and scientists theorized freely about racial hierarchy. It didn’t remain theoretical: these “scientific” theories were used to justify the enslavement of black people. To cut a long and tragic story short, the ideology of white supremacy was once — until quite recently, in fact — potent, widely held and well-resourced. This is no longer the case.
What remains of white supremacy today is ridiculous and marginal: skinheads, the Klan, neo-Nazis. The dangers of their cancerous ideas are documented and understood, and our vigilance is fully justified. But to claim, as President Biden recently did, that white supremacy is “the biggest domestic threat we face” is nonsensical, histrionic and self-serving. To compare Jim Crow to requesting voter IDs in Georgia is to implicitly express contempt for the victims of Jim Crow and the men and women who fought against white supremacy.
The ideology that now threatens our societies goes by many names: neo-Marxism, intersectionality, Social Justice Theory, Critical Race Theory, anti-racism. I call it “wokeism.” If white supremacists are racist because they put race at the center of all human interaction, what are the woke? The woke also put race at the center of everything and rank human beings into races. They also obsess over degrees of skin color and place brown-skinned people in the middle of the race hierarchy, as “white-adjacent.” For the woke as for the white supremacist, the white-skinned people are on top — only this time, they’re bad because they’re the top at oppressing other races. And blacks are still placed at the bottom as victims.
The similarity is eerie. So is the insistence that every social outcome is determined by your genes. Merit, punctuality, hard work, hygiene, individualism, objective truth and the notion of lifting yourself up by your bootstraps: all of these are now manifestations of heredity and “whiteness.” If you are Jewish, you are now white. Never mind that, not so long ago, a serious attempt was made to eliminate Jews because they were considered pollutants of the white race.
One reason why it’s difficult to pin down what wokeism means is that its theories are constantly expanding, with grievance piled on grievance, theory on theory. Perhaps this ambiguity is intentional. If you can pin an idea down, you can expose it and bin it. But if its meaning keeps shifting, it remains elusive and alive. We can’t test these “theories” like we can test a scientific theory. They are immune to falsification, and their verification is assumed.
The woke seek unchecked and absolute power. They are advancing from the academy into the other institutions of society. Our language is constantly policed so that it may be “purified” of bigotry and injustice, defined only as the woke define them. A substitute lexicon describes the reality the woke wish to impose, and it is a contamination of language. You may have heard Wokespeak: microaggressions, safe spaces, equity, diversity, non-binary, inclusive. In America and the rest of the English-speaking world, there is no issue of any significance that can be discussed in a meaningful way without running into woke sabotage.
Look at how we talk about the challenges we face. From globalization, technology and immigration to social inequality, healthcare and radical Islamism; from the pandemic and climate change to authoritarian powers like China and Russia — none of these issues is free of Wokespeak. In almost every case, we tend to bend toward where the arc of wokeness leads.
Imagine if the federal government were to adopt the language of white supremacy. If states adjusted their orders to the police to suit white supremacist demands. If the US military held training sessions in white-supremacy consciousness. If sports stars used white supremacy gestures. If Hollywood and the media edited or censored their output for the cause, and ran propaganda for white supremacy. If elementary and high schools or universities openly taught the principles of white supremacy. What would this say about the health of our society?
Today, white supremacy is tolerated in none of these institutions. That is a huge milestone. But wokeism is embedded in almost every institution. Anti-racism is the disease that it purports to cure. Its narratives of resentment are dividing us once again by race, weakening our hard-earned freedom and mutual trust, and threatening our children’s future. We have no option but to fight it as we once fought white supremacy.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s December 2021 World edition.