Stories Of Wokeness

Readers share their personal experiences and insight into a growing phenomenon.

Andrew’s latest column, “Why Is Wokeness Winning?”, elicited a ton of interesting tales from readers — both via the inbox and the discussion forum we experimented with. Below are the best stories of the bunch, edited for concision.

A reader writes:

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for “Why Is Wokeness Winning?” I work at a private pre-school, and we have a bully narcissist Asian-American teacher who is trying to impose critical race theory on the staff. She has issued many orders: I must put my picture and my name last in all photos and correspondence, because not doing so upholds white supremacy. If a child takes a liking to me, it’s partly because of their racism and implicit race bias. She says the staff, director, and parents are all complicit.

I am an immigrant from the Soviet Union and came to the U.S. as a child. My parents came with no money and they worked hard. I can’t wrap my head around how none of this matters; all that matters is my whiteness. 

Next year, I am moving to a public school where there is more diversity of class and race. So I agree with Andrew that this is a sickness of the elites. Poor, working, and middle-class families have too many real problems to engage in this fake virtuosity.

Another reader attests to a similar sort of elite thinking in higher ed:

I’m a professor at a top-50 university in the U.S. Like any university, we have substantial financial aid programs targeted to need and diversity. We also have a very small number of prestigious scholarships that are ostensibly based solely on academic merit, with the aim of attracting a few star students each year who would ordinarily go somewhere a bit higher in the pecking order. I’ve served a few times on the committee that awards these scholarships.

Now, I fully believe in judging merit based on context (i.e. if someone flourished in a difficult environment, this counts in their favor). But I believed that the other committee members went too far with this, conflating group identity with adversity when these are merely correlates.

For example, a biracial student who went to an elite high school, with no evidence that (s)he came from anything other than an excellent home background, got diversity/adversity “points” from the committee. In another case, a student who submitted a poorly written essay, but had the merit of grappling with gender identity, would “bring diversity”. We got unambiguous nudges from the associate dean in charge of the program to boost such applicants.

Another reader turns to STEM:

I would like to draw your attention to a tweet by a respected scientist that states “Racial disparities in any outcome is the result of racism.” She was complaining that the peer reviewers at a scientific journal had the gall to ask her to control for socioeconomic status (SES) in her regression analysis that assessed racial disparities in the outcome of patient safety. In other words, the peer reviewers wanted her to attempt to disentangle the effects of race and poverty on the outcome.

Admittedly this is difficult, because low SES itself may be caused by racial inequities. However, it is standard practice to control for these characteristics separately in multivariable regression models for very good reasons. For instance, when I do this in my own research, I frequently find that being both Black and poor is associated with worse outcomes than just being poor. That actually provides better evidence of a racial disparity that I would not have been able to detect had I not separately controlled for these two characteristics.

This scientist’s statement, however, violates what is a basic understanding about causality in economics and science. We cannot simply a priori assign racism as a cause for any and every outcome disparity. Why even conduct scientific investigation around racial disparities if we are already going to assume the cause?

The fact that this scientist’s tweet was then retweeted by the respected Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at University of Pennsylvania tells me that respected scientists who know better are placing the demands of critical theory above the demands of scientific integrity. I did not respond publicly to this tweet because I work in the same scientific field as the tweeter and do not want to be tarred and feathered as a racist. However, I hope the editors at respected journals such as JAMA and New England Journal of Medicine do not start to adopt this sort of pseudo-scientific mindset. It would actually end up causing more harm than good in the investigation of racial disparities in health and health care.

This reader relays a story from the corporate world:

A friend of mine works for a large multinational consulting firm. In the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, the entire company was told by decree that there would be new racial quotas to be met before any non-minorities (read: white or Asian men) could be promoted. Firm partners were excluded from these rules, of course, especially the ones who could bring in clients and money to the firm. And the crushing 16-hour workdays weren’t being altered either. Money is still king at this enterprise.

For my friend, this means he will be immediately overlooked for any of the next half-dozen promotions that would occur — in an economically depressed Covid world, to boot — on the basis of his race and sex. Yet he will continue to be obliged to work obscene unpaid overtime to meet whatever deadlines or budgets his bosses demand of him. And he remains employed on a precarious contractual basis, meaning he can be terminated whenever a higher up is looking for a few dollars to shave off the budget.

My friend is left wing, very left wing. And he is extremely unhappy that, allegedly in the name of “justice”, he’s not only seeing no reform to the firm’s work practices, but that he is being actively discriminated against so that the firm can release a few hundreds of millions of dollars worth of PR claiming that they are “woke”.

These are the people who will be providing the critical mass to the inevitable backlash against wokeness’s hypocrisy, absurdity, and outright nastiness. And their growing numbers make me believe that the days of wokeness are numbered, despite the victories they are winning right now.

This reader shifts away from race:

I would like to propose an alternate theory for growing wokeness: women. (I am one, so I get to say it.) Or, more precisely, the growing power of women as utterly dominating men in certain industries and professions, all of which are the ones becoming woke at a rapid pace: schools (women are roughly 75% of all teachers), universities (women are beginning to dominate), government jobs, and increasingly, the corporate world.

When men control an institution and women have little influence or power, all kinds of negative things often result, as we have seen throughout history: abuse, hazing, bullying, strict hierarchies, etc. But I have come to believe that when women begin seriously outnumbering men so that they hold most of the influence and power, there are other problems that begin to take hold.

Women are, for the most part, completely aversive to any hierarchy, regardless of whether said hierarchy is based on merit or not. They tend to be obsessed with “being nice” and not hurting anyone’s feelings, are often very hostile to the mere voicing of opinions that differ from those of the group, and will generally give all attention and rewards to whichever person makes the greatest claims to sympathy. I’m sure it all flows from their instincts to protect and love their children at all costs, but it can translate into perverse behaviors at the group level.

I have come to this conclusion for two reasons. First, the conduct of the woke-anistas this summer during the height of the racial moral panic reminded me entirely of the way girls behaved in 7th grade, when they are beginning to flex their social muscles and are at their very worst, mandating obedience and conformity within the group on punishment of social shunning, and resorting to hysterical appeals to sympathy when other methods of gaining approval fail.

Second and more convincing, was my getting involved in various dog-training and dog oriented communities, and realizing that (1) women have almost entirely taken over this industry, as well as the veterinarian industry, and (2) they have gone completely insane. I belong to a few different dog-training groups on Facebook that each have thousands of members. Some of them are “positive only” groups, which means that they literally do not believe in giving a dog any type of correction that might be even mildly aversive — some do not even believe in telling a dog “no!” because it might hurt its self esteem — and guess who that group is comprised of? 95% women.

The “balanced” dog training groups, on the other hand, believe in both positive reinforcement and corrections when needed (such as a “no” or a tug on the leash or god forbid a vibrating e-collar). Those groups are 50/50 in gender. I have come to believe that gender balance is crucial for an institution not turning abusive through male control nor turning insane and dysfunctional through female control.

Anyway, just my extremely unpopular and borderline unsayable conclusions. Show me a single one of these social justice groups that isn’t dominated by women and I’ll eat my hat.

Another reader looks at gender with a much wider scope:

I, too, have an aversion to zero-sum visions of the world. I am currently a grad student about to write a dissertation about extreme ideologies, as an attempt to try to understand what makes such visions of the world so appealing, and understand how so many extreme ideologies are actually so alike in their vision of the world. 

In my previous life I worked in international development, working on mostly women’s rights issues in the Middle East. Quotas are a huge part of much of the work in trying to get women into positions of power in the developing world, and it’s now being pushed as a way to bring equity to corporate boards, hiring, and academia. I don’t have a problem with the idea behind it; I agree that diverse voices and perspectives bring value to difficult conversations and decisions. I agree that governments, to fairly represent the people, should look more like those people they purport to represent. 

The problem is, quotas don’t really work. There is a growing literature in academia showing that gender quotas have not had much of a positive impact on women’s rights, as was assumed. Often in conservative countries, women will be appointed to quota positions who have very conservative or government-friendly views and will not make gender-advancing decisions using their power. 

The nuance here is that people are people. Regardless of their identity, they have beliefs about government, politics, culture, religion, etc. The research on gender quotas show that the simple fact of putting women into positions of power does not mean that they will pass gender-advancing laws that benefit women. 

The example in the U.S. might be Tim Scott. He’s the lone Black Republican in the Senate. Is his presence in the Senate a good thing? Probably. Is he advancing policies that help to chip away at systemic racism? Arguably not. So the idea that is at the core of so many in CRT, and people like Kendi, is that by simply installing BIPOC in positions, everything will change. Yes and no. Will society get more used to seeing BIPOC in positions of authority? Yes. Is that a positive thing? Yes. 

But will it necessarily mean that racism will decrease? No. Will it mean that laws will change or that systemic racism will be solved? No. As Andrew has said, these are much more difficult, culture-shifting issues. They will take years to unravel. I just wish that as a society we were better at having these hard conversations. News stations don’t cover real conversations. Some podcasts do, but who is listening to them? 

Political leaders are only concerned with their next election and aren’t interested in having these conversations. Someone has to take a risk. Why isn’t Obama hosting televised salons with leading intellectuals to get at this? Why isn’t George W. Bush addressing conservative audiences? Who are the people who have cultural power and can bring forth this nuance, and why aren’t they doing it? This, I think, is the bigger question. We can rail about CRT or Trumpism or zero-sum thinking all day long, but it’s never going to go away. What we have lost is the place or venue to have these conversations, and the people willing to have them, at the scale that they need to happen at.

The Dishcast — the name of the podcast we’re launching soon — will hopefully help in some small way. Lastly, a reader turns to religion:

I’d like to respond to this idea that Andrew brings up: “the CRT advocates have brilliantly managed to construct a crude moral binary to pressure liberals into submission. Where liberalism allows neutrality or doubt or indifference, CRT demands an absolute and immediate choice between racism and anti-racism.”

I grew up as a devout Christian believer in the evangelical/charismatic tradition ... born again, if you will. A worldview not without its merits, but infected with fundamentalism. Liberalism was an invitation to look at the world differently: more complicated, less black and white. I could exist in the center between my staunchly conservative religious family and friends, and the more progressive communities of friendship I was cultivating, both who I deeply love and respect. It was a sort of antidote to tribalism.

In our new woke context, “centrist” or “moderate” are dirty words, equated to failing to have the courage to stand up for what is right. Remarkably, I hear from both my old Christian friends and my now progressive friends that we were the privileged few who got to choose to be in the center because it’s not a matter of life and death for us. I thought maybe I’d recount what that privileged past looked like:

When I was a young teenager I witnessed adults telling children that they were possessed by demons and needed deliverance. I had nightmares for years that those demons were coming for me. I was told my body and my desires were bad, even evil. I believed I was born into the bondage of sin, through no fault of my own, and that I needed literal blood atonement to be “saved”. I was taught to pass judgement on those who were attracted to someone of their same sex; they were going to hell. I was terrified that one day I might come home and my whole family would be gone because they had been raptured by God … and I was left behind. I believed that those whose faith differed from mine, even slightly, had been tempted by Satan himself and were being led to fire. Questions were met with admonishment. Doubt met with declarations of “just believe!” Empathy for those different than me met with moral certainty of the righteousness of our mission.

What may I ask is this the “center” of? What privilege exactly is this?

Those who proclaim the moral failing of “centrism” use it to shame us into another version of fundamentalism. What they call centrism, I see as a dedication to uncertainty. To a respect of doubt. To a withholding of judgment of my brother and my sister, a willingness to change those judgments. To a humility that I do not hold all truth in my head. To a faith that we humans are not all good or all bad or all one thing, but many things that are sacred. A belief that grace and forgiveness are among our best values.

I reject the idea that those of us that are dedicated to seeing the value in people regardless of their beliefs and political affiliations are afraid to take a moral stand for what is right. Fundamentalism comes easy. Judgement is at the tip of the tongue. To hold the “center” takes strength and character and humility and requires love … and the center will hold, because we are stronger than certainty. We must be. We are the ones looking into the void. We are the ones wrestling with God.