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Life Arts    H3'ed 12/2/21

John McWhorter on Third Wave Antiracism (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) December 2, 2021: Columbia University's prolific multilingual linguist John Hamilton McWhorter V (born in 1965; Ph.D. in linguistics, Stanford University, 1993), who is black, became an opinion columnist for the New York Times in 2021. As many of his previous books show, Professor McWhorter has no shortage of opinions to express. However, it remains to be seen just how long he will last in that columnist position at the New York Times.

His new 215-page 2021 polemical book Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America (New York: Portfolio/ Penguin Random House) illustrates his clear journalistic style of writing and his polemical bent.

To set up the broad framework for his polemic, he constructs a threefold account of recent anti-racism efforts: (1) First Wave Antiracism; (2) Second Wave Antiracism; and (3) Third Wave Antiracism.

For all practical purposes, First Wave Antiracism culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1968, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968" (page 82).

McWhorter says, "Second Wave Antiracism, in the 1970s and '80s, battled racist attitudes and taught America that being racist is a moral flaw. Third Wave Antiracism, becoming mainstream in the 2020s, teaches that because racism is baked into the structure of society, whites' 'complicity' in living within it constitutes racism itself, while for black people, grappling with the racism surrounding them is the totality of experience and must condition exquisite sensitivity toward them [by non-blacks], including a suspension of standards of achievement and conduct" (page 5).

In brief, this Third Wave Antiracism is the target of McWhorter's polemic. To be sure, he operationally defines and explains his terminology of characterizing this Third Wave Antiracism. For McWhorter, leading proponents of Third Wave Racism include the following authors (in alphabetical order):

(1) Ta-Nehisi Coates (born in 1975), author of the book The World and Me (2015) and the magazine article "The Case for Reparations" (June 2014);

(2) Robin DiAngelo (born in 1956), author of the book White Fragility (2018);

(3) Nikole Hannah-Jones (born in 1976), senior editor and contributor to the 625-page anthology The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (2021);

(4) Ibram X. Kendi (born in 1982), author of the books Antiracist Baby (2020) and How to Be an Antiracist (2019).

McWhorter does not attempt to estimate just how many people are proponents of Third Wave Antiracism. I myself have no idea how many proponents of Third Wave Antiracism there are in the United States today.

Concerning Coates' 2015 book, see my 2015 online review essay "Ta-Nehesi Coates' Critique of American Culture, and Walter J. Ong's Thought" that is available through the University of Minnesota's digital conservancy:

Ong's most widely translated book is Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London and New York: Methuen, 1982).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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