The time you invest in reading this essay by Victor Hanson will be well invested. He explains the complexities and frailty of the new world’s wokeness.
Can the Great ‘Awokening’ Succeed?
Wokeism is creating a future group of politically incorrect Trotskyites on a proverbial rendezvous with a Mexican ice ax, given that by birth they will never be woke enough for the new Stalinism.
By: Victor Davis Hanson
April 11, 2021
We all know that we are living in revolutionary times. The origins, ascendence, values, laws, and future of the United States are all under assault by self-described, though accurately described, revolutionaries. It is a Jacobin, Bolshevik, or Maoist moment. All aspects of life, well beyond politics, are now to be ideologically conditioned. Everything from kindergarten messaging, cartoons, workplace reeducation, and television commercials to college admissions, baseball games, and the airlines are to be “fundamentally transformed” along racial lines.
Long gone is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of a colorblind society.
Gone, at least at the state level, is confidence in the melting pot of assimilation, integration, and intermarriage (although mixed marriages and multiracial children are at an all-time high).
Gone are even the affirmative-action doctrines of proportional representation and disparate impact. (Yet the two mandates were always arbitrarily applied, in the sense that the U.S. Postal Service and the professional football and basketball leagues never paid much attention to racial quotas based on demographic percentages, which apparently only applied to white and Asian “overrepresentation” elsewhere).
Wokeism, however, is essentially tribal. It seeks to identify particular nonwhite constituencies, unite them not by identical class, not by similar skin color, not by collective similar history, not by shared experience, not by mutual cultural affinities, not by longstanding historical alliances, but simply by two premises:
- Those of the woke collective are either claimants to being “nonwhite,” and thus victims of racism, or they are architects and supporters of the wokeist agenda, and:
- they can thereby all either directly leverage reparatory concessions in hiring, admissions, careers, compensation, and general influence or ensure the revolutionary guillotine exempts themselves.
A cynic might add that much of this new racialism is a product of globalteering, and seeks to cater to huge foreign markets—China especially—by both “looking more like the world,” and delighting America’s critics, while appeasing far less moral audiences and consumers abroad than a perceived shrinking market at home. Still for the woke revolution to succeed, a number of experiments will have to go their way.
Merit Was Always a Sham?
Wokeism assumes that merit was mostly an arbitrary white construct. Its use was to insist on ethnocentric and culturally exclusionary criteria to ostracize the Other. Otherwise, “merit” had not much relation with real competency.
Is that allegation true? We shall soon see.
But note first that few are saying to keep bar-exam grading static, or SAT minimum scores for admission the same, and thereby instead create a Marshall Plan effort in the inner-city to stop the violence, turn failed schools into stellar academies, and honestly critique single-parent households, illegitimacy, and inordinate criminality—as an effort to ensure African American youth are not just qualified, but better qualified meritocratically than those who are deemed to hold these monopolies.
Instead, take the United Airlines idea that it won’t necessarily train the most qualified would-be pilot candidates. Now it will target applicants by racial groupings and, by fiat, limit white males to 2,500 of 5,000 slots in its pilot-training schools. If a non-white applicant has less prior experience with flight, scores lower on a test, or compiled a less than competitive high school or college record, it won’t matter then. These were all always useless benchmarks apparently.
In today’s age of computer-driven avionics, the prerequisite ability to do math, to know something about navigation, to understand computers, or to have the proper temperament to fly a plane doesn’t really matter. The fact that thousands will enter pilot training, and soon aircraft controlling, in part on the basis of their gender or race, will not in any way affect the safety or efficacy of travel. We will know fairly soon the answers to this woke experiment by two criteria: Will pilot error, whether fatal or incidental, increase? And will our elites, whether in Air Force One, or in their own Gulfstreams, follow suit and hire pilots on the basis of their diversity first, and avionics record second.
We can ditto race-based criteria now used at the corporate and financial level, in high-tech, the military, entertainment, education, and in likely everything from movie roles to book contracts to national awards.
Again, such emphases assume that our current managers, professionals, and directors of the last 50 years were heretofore racists or were hired by racists. Or at least they satisfied artificially constructed high standards that bore little relation to actual skills required on the job. Or, they must no longer enjoy percentages in the workplace simply representative of their demographic percentages, but rather in reparatory fashion become underrepresented rather than just demographically correct.
To sum up, in other words, if there were similar race-based/diversity criteria applied to the current meritocratic NBA, would it matter all that much? If African American athletes were by protocol and statute kept to between, say, 12-20 percent of the NBA player roster, to reflect the black 12-13 percent of the U.S. population, would it make that much difference?
Would the starting L.A. Lakers five, with one African American forward, one white player, a Latino guard, an Asian center, and a Punjabi shooter be all that less exciting, skilled, or successful a team? Are the current standards that accept or reject an NBA player constructed or weighed to favor African Americans that can be judged by their “overrepresentation”?
In the logic of wokeness, would the resulting appeal of a team—that “looks more like” a multiracial America—makeup in diversity, unity, cohesion, equity, inclusion, and appeal what it lost in sheer abilities to make plays, dribble, shoot, rebound, dunk, or block? Were the all-white racialist and exclusionary teams of the 1940s really no different in skill and ability than the purely meritocratic 2021 teams? Of course not.
Again, we are going to find out, and in a number of professions, what happens when traditional meritocratic standards are replaced by woke guidelines.
Some Racism Is Not Racism Wokeism assumes asymmetry. That is, it assumes, for recompensatory purposes, that the spirit of slavery remains, that the hatreds propelling Jim Crow from 1879 to 2021 are very much alive, that the civil rights movement of “equality of opportunity” of the last 55 years was more or less a noble dud. And the result is wokeism’s doctrine that reparatory bias is not bias. Or if it is, the people will understand, Animal Farm-style, why some discrimination is good and different from other discrimination that is bad or why some prejudice is more tolerable than other prejudices.
If asymmetrical wokeism then operates with a necessary and correct imbalance accepted by most, then there will be nothing wrong. There will follow no backlash, no social chaos, in using race to denigrate others collectively.
There will be nothing wrong in ad nauseam using “whiteness,” “white privilege,” “white supremacy,” and “white terrorists’” in pejoratively stereotypical terms—collectively to apply to all 230 million deemed whites‚ whether the unemployed welder or the part-time junior college instructor or Bill Gates—in a way that it would be terribly wrong to talk pejoratively and collectively in terms of any other group.
If one collates all the things that have been said over the years about whites in general by Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, or Maxine Waters, and yet more recently in more sophisticated fashion by the new generation of racialist-obsessed intellectuals such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi, Damon Young, or Elie Mystal, and then switched the terms white to black, would there be any outcry that it was becoming wrong to deductively extrapolate from individuals collective values and beliefs, and then, in circular fashion, reapply them to individuals as an innate trait? We shall soon discover whether this tenet of wokeism—asymmetrical use of collective stereotyping—is widely accepted by 330 million Americans. We will soon see one of three consequences from this unapologetic woke racial generalizing:
1) The American people are so inured to their hateful origins and history, that they do not mind at all when whites are collectively demonized as enjoying positions they never earned and thus logically should not continue to enjoy.
2) Given that no one objects to stereotyping 230 million people, no one objects to anyone stereotyping others on the basis of race, in the manner that once fostered the civil rights movement.
3) We will all for survival, as Rwanda, the Balkans, and Iraq teach us, group together by first-cousin affinities and tribes. Recalling Hobbes’ bellum omnium contra omnes, we will freely stereotype, denigrate, and separate from other groups on the premises that our particular generalizations and deductions are the one and only true and accurate typecasting.
What made a 90 percent white population of the late 1950s and 1960s finally sicken of racial bias? Many things—protests, boycotts, the force of moral persuasion. But three things stand out. One, segregation and bias were always contrary to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
Two, these assumptions of racial prejudice were not predicated on any discernible science, logic, or coherent basis other than tribal bias, hatred, and ignorance. Three, racial unfairness robbed the United States of critical talent by ignoring merit and substituting pseudo-scientific tribal affinities.
Yet by the emerging 1960s did anyone really believe that Perry Como de facto had a better voice than Harry Belafonte or Sammy Davis, Jr., that Sidney Poitier must be a less gifted actor than Frank Sinatra, that Hank Aaron was innately less impressive than Roger Maris, or that Senator Edward Brooke was less competent an American senator than Senator Herman Talmadge? Again, no.
Wokeness is returning to such tribal separation and crackpot categorization on the one assumption that its arbitrary rules will not alienate Americans as they finally did in the past.
So, how are we to believe that non-whites can pick the race of their future roommates in colleges without audit or complaint? Farm aid shall be doled out to all except whites? Welfare in Oakland must exclude poor white recipients? Vaccinations will be targeted to non-white groups first? Will 330 million Americans grow to accept that racial typology will govern all state policy—in following a noble and successful historical precedent?
In each mass shooting, we shall broadcast the horror only if the shooter is white and his victims not so, but mute the story if the opposite should be true? For noble purposes, criminal suspects shall not be identified by race unless they are white? It will be fine in advance to announce the gender and race of a vice-presidential candidate that mostly alone will determine the selection? We will massage data, and suppress or publicize statistics depending on their usefulness to the woke movement?
If blacks are disproportionately responsible for hate crimes against Asian Americans, we will keep still, or better yet nobly lie that whites are.
Such wokeness assumes that the Eastern Europeans never tired of their ministry-of-truth propaganda, that the cynical Soviet citizen never ignored Pravda’s assertions, or that Cubans really believe the Castro communique. Wokeness is either unaware of, or unconcerned with, the seething religious, caste, and racial tensions that plague India, or wrecked Lebanon, or unwound Yugoslavia. That is, the woke believe their Byzantine books of race-based exceptions, exemptions, and absolutions will convince 330 million Americans that segregation, or official untruth, are permitted, given historical circumstances and the common good. But they will not.
Finally, wokeness takes for granted that its elite white Dr. Frankenstein architects will always control the prejudicial woke monster they created—on the assumption that one will never devour its creators. But history suggests ideologies often do just that.
Over the last two weeks, many of America’s most elite colleges seem to have deliberately restricted white admissions to around 30-40 percent of their incoming classes—on the altar of diversity and post-George Floyd wokeness. Yet, not every high-earning, bicoastal white liberal can give $10 million to Yale or Stanford or sire a likely future Major League Baseball star.
For the woke white elite, then, it will be hard to find some exemption from the rules that 70 percent of the population will be artificially recalibrated to 30 percent of the successful admissions.
A white liberal may have said “Who cares?” when hard-working Asians who represent six percent of the U.S. population were deliberately restricted to no more than 30-40 percent of the nation’s “best” colleges. But now? Will he really preen, “Bravo, my super-prepped, hyper-achieving prodigy got rejected at all the good schools and I’m so proud he took one for the woke team?”
Or what happens to the wannabe woke CEO who offered every sort of humiliating “unearned” confession, but nevertheless was still of the wrong color? Or what will be the mindset of the progressive, white male lieutenant colonel who found that his loud wokeness was mostly useful in preparing him to better understand why he should not be promoted to brigadier general?
It is OK for woke whites to be constantly accused of “unearned privilege” as long as their bicoastal billets were tolerably reduced by just 20 percent due to racial gerrymandering. But does their magnanimity extend to a 30-40 percent white jizyah, that cuts so close to progressive homes? Will the brilliant actress in a blockbuster classic mumble, if even just privately, that she was the wrong color to be nominated as best actress?
Sure, some may feel that these are elite psychodramas. But for that reason, they will become mostly the angsts of the Left. The liberal white elite class engineered a system of woke racialism that they assumed rested on some sort of unspoken 70 percent White/12 percent Black/10 percent Latino/six percent Asian, and two percent “other” formula that would always still leave them plenty of spoils while the unhappy consequences fell instead on Dotty the Deplorable, Charlie Chump, Cliff the Clinger, and Irene Irredeemable. They did not sign up for a 30-40 percent white allotment that cuts into the white woke; that is, the good and the morally superior whites.
So this, too, will be another of wokeism’s greatest tests, when elite writers, professors, actors, lawyers, newsroom grandees, and CEO magnificoes learn that they, too, can be of the wrong color under the new tribal prejudice they fostered.
Wokeism is creating a future group of politically incorrect Trotskyites on a proverbial rendezvous with a Mexican ice ax, given that by birth they will never be woke enough for the new Stalinism