Episode 31, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube


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“I think more and more people are beginning to realize that it doesn't make you a racist not to agree with radical people with a very narrow agenda.”

Today’s episode of Keep Talking features author and American linguist John McWhorter. During the conversation, John talks about the genesis of "The Elect" (his word for woke anti-racists), the dangers and flaws of the ideas of The Elect, how those ideas are counterproductive to helping black America, and how The Elect abuse and intimidate those who disagree with them. John also speaks about maintaining standards in American society, the George Floyd murder, the relationship between black men and the police, policies that might help African-American communities, and strategies for having courageous, nuanced, well-meaning conversations about race in America.

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About John McWhorter (quote from Wikipedia):

"John Hamilton McWhorter V is an American linguist with a speciality in creole languages, sociolects, and Black English. He is currently an associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University, where he also teaches American studies and music history."

Time Stamps:

(00:00) Intro
(00:51) Get to know John McWhorter
(02:47) The reason for writing "Woke Racism"
(05:51) John’s sense of duty in pushing back against the anti-racist movement
(09:40) The state of racism in America in 2022
(12:20) A description of “The Elect”
(15:56) How the world will look if the ideas of "The Elect" take over society
(18:57) An ethical way to approach race relations in America
(26:21) Ideas of "The Elect" that are counterproductive to improving black communities
(31:45) John’s assessment of the current state of black America
(38:08) The relationships between the cops and black America
(47:05) Advice for white Americans to have honest conversations about race in America
(52:02) What a successful pushback against anti-racism would look like


“I am not what many people understandably think. A lot of people think that I wrote 'Woke Racism' because I want to appeal to the sensibilities of white people who are looking for a black person to tell them they're not racist. They think that I'm courting the white right-wing. And I get why they think that and I have a history of contrarian race commentary. But no, that canny operator that they see has nothing to do with me, I'm a linguistics professor.”

“By radical, I don't mean blowing up buildings. But the idea being that we need to really hit a whole restart in society before there can be black success. I don't believe that.”

“The Elect are defined by a trait where your eyes roll backwards in your head, even hearing the beginning of it. (...) If you are the kind of person who believes that battling power differentials should be at the center of everything, you're an Elect. If you feel that (this power struggle) should be at the center of everything to the point that anybody who doesn't appear to agree with that deserves abuse and dismissal, that's the elect.”

“One thing that I think people need to do in that situation is, first of all, resist anybody, whatever their color, who tells you that the solution to our problems is to change what we think of as standards. There's room for that on the sidelines. But what people are asking for is that whenever there's any kind of inequity, we assume that the previous system was biased against black people in some way, such that we need to change what we think of as achievement, what we think of as qualifications. That never works."

“The worst sticking point on the race debate is the cops. And one of the saddest things about all of this is that the news is much better than anybody tends to hear from the mainstream media.”

“Just because somebody (who) advises (antiracist ideas) has dreadlocks and wears a suit at the same time, that's not a reason that they're right. You listen to the reasoning, don't let that person scare you. And that's what I'm urging in the book.”

“I think there is a pushback, I'm feeling confident in saying it at this point. 'Woke Racism' is me writing, steaming mad in the summer of 2020. And people were being pushed out of windows left and right, called terrible things for reasons that didn't make any sense. It was endemic, after about April of 2020.”

“I think more and more people are beginning to realize that it doesn't make you a racist not to agree with radical people with a very narrow agenda.”

Resources Mentioned:

Book Mentioned:

People Mentioned (Quotes from Wikipedia):

  • Michel Foucault  – “Paul-Michel Foucault was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, writer, political activist, and literary critic. Foucault's theories primarily address the relationship between power and knowledge, and how they are used as a form of social control through societal institutions.”
  • Martin Luther King Jr. – “Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesman and leader in the American civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968.”
  • Glenn Loury – “Glenn Cartman Loury is an American economist, academic, and author. In 1982, at the age of 33, he became the first African American tenured professor of economics in the history of Harvard University.”
  • Daryl Davis – “Daryl Davis is an American R&B and blues musician, activist, author, actor, and bandleader. His efforts to fight racism, in which, as an African American, he has engaged with members of the Ku Klux Klan, have convinced a number of Klansmen to leave and denounce the KKK.”

Connect with John:

Twitter | New York Times