Woke Racism: notes from John McWhorter’s controversial 2021 book

Early Christians didn’t think of themselves as a religion but as bearers of truth. So too do a class of progressive activists that put race at the center of everything, and are unwilling to hear any complicating narrative.

That’s the theme of the 2021 book Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America written by John McWhorter, a linguist and prolific writer on language, whom I have long read (he’s also a native Philadelphian). No surprise given the topic and his stature the book has garnered widespread coverage. Some more thoughtful than others.

I respect McWhorter, and am a genuine fan of his linguistics books, so I’ve gone with him on this ride he’s taken into our political and partisan muck. He was one of the hundreds of academics to sign that Harper’s letter that called for greater civility, which received ample generational criticism.

I don’t suggest his politics align with my perfectly but I do take him to be a good-faith arguer. So I appreciate his book’s overall argument that a class of activists are more interested in virtue signaling among their peers than actually progressing forward. The best way to understand this movement is that they’re adherents to a kind of religion, he argues. They’re no more likely to accept other points of views than a Christian is to accept perspective on Christ from Islam.

Instead, his broad perspective on race in America is that culture outlasts original stimuli (ie true racism). It’s thorny. I share my notes from the book below for my future reference.

Continue reading Woke Racism: notes from John McWhorter’s controversial 2021 book

When ordinary fear is enough

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

I used to think all the great kinds of fear were personal ones. Artisanal fear; handcrafted fear; the kind of things that came with a story worth telling. Being lost a bit too long in Japan; crashing an ATV in Qatar; Running with the bulls. Some real life or death adventure, lest I fall victim to ordinary fear.

Back in late March, when it became increasingly clear that it was altogether conceivable that our healthcare system could collapse under the weight of this pandemic, I recognized I was experiencing a kind of universal fear. Certainly not ordinary, exactly, but something so widespread as to begin to feel ordinary. A universal fear that very nearly every person on the planet was experiencing at the same time.

Perhaps there has never been a time when more people in the world were scared of the same thing at the same time.

Continue reading When ordinary fear is enough

Civility is complicity

White Americans often have a habit of assuming the best intentions. It’s a habit I still confront in myself.

We have faith in our institutions and in American exceptionalism. Especially the educated middle class and wealthier among us have been trained to be polite and respectful. We are predisposed to acquiesce.

I’ve struggled with this myself, both as someone who does believe a lot of important work can happen behind the scenes (calling in, rather than calling out) and as a journalist who is washed in the belief of “getting both sides.” This approach as it’s time to be effective. Issues of racial equity is not one of those times.

Continue reading Civility is complicity

White Silence is Violence: a self-audit on doing the work

I run a community journalism organization in part because I believe independent voices that push honest, challenging and productive dialogue are vital.

Especially because of our audiences (a political range of business and civic minded with Technical.ly; and a social services coalition with Generocity.org), we can be a force for change in our communities. I find that everyday, which keeps me excited by our work. It’s even more true in moments of intense scrutiny.

On the heels of a pandemic and an ensuing economic shock, we are in the midst of one of the most consequential conversations on racial equity in a half-century — sparked by yet another high-profile murder of a Black man by a white police officer. I’ve found myself taking a critical look at how I’ve responded. I don’t do enough, but I’ve certainly already been to the “Acceptance Stage of Grief for white supremacy.”

Continue reading White Silence is Violence: a self-audit on doing the work

Kim Crayton on Antiracism

The pandemic has removed distractions and laid bare this country’s foundation, allowing for the largest, most sustained, widespread protests in a half-century to bring about this generation’s high-water mark in white American’s engagement with racial equity.

Do something about it.

Dubbed the Antiracist Economist, Kim Crayton led a virtual version of her Introduction to Being Antiracist Saturday. My small community journalism organization paid for several coworkers and myself to attend, and we kept up a constructive dialogue as a team through the three-hour session.

For years, our company has done past trainings and our reporting approaches seriously economic systems and still Kim’s approach and passion was enlightening, challenging and productive. For teammates who were new to this work and those of us who have tried to put in the work before, it was meaningful time well spent. (Thank you Kim)

You should engage her for your company, or attend her future seminars. (She does six-month engagements with companies and has other upcoming sessions This is not a duplication of her work, just sharing a few top-level notes that I can return to.

Read her 5 Stages of Grief for White Supremacy. Thanks to her prompting, I consumed and put together some notes on a podcast season called ‘Seeing White.”

Read more

Notes from Scene on Radio’s ‘Seeing White’ in 2017

Ahead of an Antiracist seminar that several coworkers and I are attending, organizer Kim Crayton recommended attendees listen back to the popular 2017 podcast season of Scene on the Radio ‘Seeing White.”

Though it’s several years old, I appreciated listening in greater detail and with fresh eyes. It’s as timely today as ever. Here I will share notes for me to return to, but I strongly suggest you listen to the entire excellent 14-episode series on “whiteness,” the historical construct of race and its implications today.

Continue reading Notes from Scene on Radio’s ‘Seeing White’ in 2017

Privilege has nothing to do with how hard you work

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Privilege has nothing to do with how hard you work, or even what you deserve.

Among the many complexities we are confronting in our fist-flying, partisan online discourse, this is a translation issue. If you’re telling someone they’re privileged and you can’t understand why they get frustrated or tune you out, pause for a moment. Likewise, if you’re someone who has been called privileged and don’t understand why they ignore how hard you work, stop to consider.

Continue reading Privilege has nothing to do with how hard you work

On carrying on

I am proud that we at Technical.ly published this piece by my colleague Juliana Reyes and informed by honest conversation among our staff. It’s been an important last couple weeks for me.

On carrying on

In the wake of all this violence against Black men and women, how do a company and its employees cope? A look at how Technically Media is trying.

“On Wednesday, the morning after news broke that a police officer had shot a Black man named Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., our events coordinator Alexandria Leggett posted in #technically-POC, our private Slack group for people of color at the company.”


Shooting young black males, a column lost to the recycle bin

See this and other 2007 crime maps at http://www.philly.com/inquirer/special/violence/

I’m pretty passionate about the web allowing greater public affairs accountability journalism, not worse.

I was reminded of this while skulking around the Internet searching for a column I remember reading back in 2007.

Noted Philadelphia Inquirer scribe Tom Ferrick — who has since launched politics coverage site Metropolis — crunched the numbers on the shootings of young black men, a trend in all U.S. cities but one that was particularly timely amidst one of the bloodiest years in the city’s history.

Though it was written just back in 2007, it was gone. I couldn’t quite find something that fit its point, so I reached out to Ferrick. He warmly shared some of the details of the now somewhat dated piece, as he said he’s working on revisiting the topic.

If for no other reason than for my own ability to link back to it in the future and to prove how valuable the web can be in making available so much powerful knowledge and information, below, with Ferrick’s permission, I share the notes he sent me.

Continue reading Shooting young black males, a column lost to the recycle bin

Perceptions involved in how we see the livability of U.S. cities

Last month, a study from the Brookings Institution was a major news story.

White flight? In a reversal, America’s suburbs are now more likely to be home to minorities, the poor and a rapidly growing older population as many younger, educated whites move to cities for jobs and shorter commutes. [Source]

It’s complicated of course: new immigration trends chasing a different American dream, people of color from cities doing the same, white families from inner-ring suburbs moving farther from cities and younger white people moving back into those same cities (like me).

But it got me thinking about perceptions.

Continue reading Perceptions involved in how we see the livability of U.S. cities