“In racist society, it is not enough not to be racist. You have to be anti-racist.” If the famous phrase by American activist Angela Davis, a former member of the Communist Party of the United States at the time of the civil rights movements, was just an appeal to identify behaviors and cultural traits remaining in societies marked by racial slavery – such as Brazil and the United States – which continues to have concrete effects in the lives of black people, the fair fight against racism was perhaps not immersed in so many controversies.
In the 21st century, however, the term “anti-racism” has less to do with staunch opposition to discrimination and more to do with a kind of profession of faith, according to which the racism is the only explanation for the most complex social problems and white people are invariably privileged and fragile. Anyone who dares to disagree with the premise that racial prejudice is as innate and inevitable as a genetic trait, or simply seeks to add nuance to the discussion, is invariably “cancelled” by racism and runs the risk of having their reputation burned by the networks’ courts. No wonder linguist John McWorther, a professor at Columbia University, classifies the set of practices that mark what he calls the “Third Anti-Racist Wave” as a new religion.
In his recently released “Woke Racism: How a New Religion has Betrayed Black America” (“Woke Racism: How a New Religion Betrayed Black America,” in free translation), still no translation into Portuguese, McWorther, columnist and author best-seller
from The New York Times, argues that the anti-racist militancy that has emerged in the last decade operates not in the mold of a social cause that benefits its target audience, but of a credo based on unquestionable dogma (which makes their divergents are treated as heretics) and a select caste of priests whose cathartic sermons do no more than instill primary emotions and conduct rituals of atonement.
Incisive and ironic, McWorther has no qualms about using, for example, the very canceled “denigration” (“carefully chosen word”, he adds) and warns, from the beginning, that many of his peers will see him as a “traitor” by for the sake of the work, even though it seeks to treat activists with generosity amidst the sting.” We need not assume that all anti-racists do this cynically. Listen to that family member, neighbor or co-worker you know who thinks like that and ask yourself if they really give any indication of being desperate for power. The Third Wave anti-racist genuinely hates racism, like most of us,” he argues. “We must understand them—partly out of compassion and partly to keep them from destroying our lives. This can only happen if we understand them not as lunatics, but as fervent religionists.”
Here, a critique of the linguist’s formulations is appropriate: McWorther is avowedly atheist and progressive and, although these attributes do not invalidate his arguments, when comparing the anti-racist creed with the Judeo-Christian faith, the author slips by putting it in the same basket the dogmas of anti-racism and the “inexplicable beliefs” of religious people. The comparison between identity guidelines and religions is not unprecedented and is well founded, but McWorther would be more understandable if he made the effort to demarcate the difference between “common” religious and fanatics, for example.