Transcript: Wesley Yang On The Successor Ideology
The writer who coined that term - a sort of unifying theory of wokeness - talks with me about the Great Awokening and how to counter it.
Wesley is a columnist for Tablet magazine, the author of The Souls of Yellow Folk, and an indispensable Substacker. I’ve long admired him both for his essays and for his dry-as-toast Twitter feed. In this episode, we discuss the Great Awokening and critical race theory in great detail. You’ve be warned.
The episode aired on July 30, 2021, and you can listen to it here. It’s an especially long conversation but well worth your time — in fact, it’s the second-most downloaded episode on the Dishcast, behind John McWhorter’s. Some money quotes from Wes:
“We claim to be attacking whiteness and white supremacy, when actually we're taking away things from a non-white immigrant group.”
“There’s such an expansive definition of the term ‘white supremacy’ — it refers to the Christchurch killer, and it refers to shades of mascara.”
“During the summer of 2019 — and this was the ‘babies in cages’ period — there were a handful of polls showing that an absolute majority of Hispanics approved of Donald Trump.”
“African-American culture may be the dominant strand of America’s soft power in the rest of the world.”
“Kendi-DiAngeloism and MacKinnonism saw that if they wanted to squeeze more ‘gains’ for oppressed groups, they would have to cannibalize the values of free speech and due process.”
Andrew: Hi, and welcome to another Dishcast. I'm really thrilled to have a writer on today that I've admired for a very long time. Complicated, nuanced, smart, but not "bullshitty." Wesley Yang is the author of “The Souls of Yellow Folk.” It's a collection of essays that really come at you from all sorts of angles that you can't quite predict, and they are extraordinarily moving at times. He's also now writing a new Substack called Year Zero, which is examining the origins and nature of what he has dubbed — and I think it's the best description yet — the successor ideology. The successor ideology is the ideology that is replacing old school liberalism as a basic rubric for our society. Wesley, welcome and thank you so much for coming on.
Wesley: Thanks for having me, Andrew.
Andrew: Tell me: you are the child of immigrants. When did your parents come over?
Wesley: My parents came over in the 1950s and it was pretty unusual at the time because it wasn't until 1965 that large scale immigration from Asia was allowed. I refer to them as both refugees from the Korean War, which they are. My father was able come here because he was the son of a privileged person in Japanese-annexed Korea. Japan annexed Korea, I think in 1908, or it might be 1905, I’m not sure.  My parents grew up in a Korea that was nominally a part of Japan. Sort of colonial dominated Korea. My father's father became a wealthy self-made man under that regime. My father spent the Korean war in Japan and his mother attended Vanderbilt University, which was very unusual at the time.
My grandmother came back to Korea and she founded the nursing school at Korea's leading women's university. And so it was by virtue of all of this that my father was able to come to study at Southern Methodist University in the Jim Crow South in the early 1950s. He didn't know which bathroom he was allowed to use. He did end up using the white one and nobody stopped him. There just wasn't a clear rubric of what you were allowed to do and how he fit in.
There were fewer than a million people of Asian descent in America at that time. He has this interesting, colorful life story that I like to tell, where he used to play poker with the deacon's son at SMU and he actually cleaned him out at one point. And at the time it was a serious hardcore religious university. So he ended up being kicked out and blacklisted from every college in America.
Andrew: Because he was gambling?
Wesley: Because he was gambling.
Wesley: Yeah. And so he kind of kicked around, but eventually he made his way out to Los Angeles where he met my mother. who was there for her own unusual reasons. Because if you were here as an Asian person it was as an exception. In her case, her family was sort of provincial gentry in Korea. They were wiped out by the war and her eldest brother was killed by "friendly fire" from American troops, and American bombers took out her house. So she was working, I think at the age of 15 or 16, in an orphanage. She taught the little kids how to sing and dance.
A visiting delegation of American dignitaries visited the orphanage and they were so moved by the spectacle of these children, singing and dancing, and they asked who had taught them how to do this. Then my mother was introduced to them and there was an American general who wanted to adopt her and bring her to the United States. It turned out to be a couple of women serving in a civilian capacity in the military who did bring her to the US. They sponsored her and they brought her over to the US and to Los Angeles where she eventually met my father.
Andrew: What kind of visas were they on? Forgive me for asking, but did they get green card through their special skills or were they O visas? Or study visas, etc?
Wesley: I think my father was a study visa and my mother it was some kind of charity case of some sort. Part of the colorful lore of my family was that my mother went on a show called "Queen for a Day." Have you ever heard of this, or actually seen it?
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