Why Black Moderates Awoke The Woke
The backlash to progressive Wokeism, or victimology, has been brewing for years. Why did black moderates tip it over the edge?
From left to right: John McWhorter, author, Woke Racism; Marcus Arbery, father of Ahmaud; San Francisco Mayor London Breed; New York Mayor-elect Eric Adams; former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter
For a period of time last year it felt as though everything having to do with race, crime, and policing had changed. The killing of George Floyd, and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, resulted in a broad and intense reaction from from every major institution in American life. Mayors and city councils of San Francisco, Oakland, New York, and Los Angeles acted to defund the police. Senator Elizabeth Warren effectively ended the brief and expensive presidential run of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at their only debate through a single, devastating attack on his police department’s use of “stop and frisk,” a policy widely viewed by progressives as racist. And sweeping federal legislation on policing and criminal justice reform seemed inevitable, not least because President Joe Biden promised it.
Today, that time seems very far away. Police reform died in the Senate in September for lack of bipartisan support, a significant loss for progressive criminal justice reformers and the Biden Administration. After homicides rose in 2020, San Francisco, Oakland, New York, Los Angeles, and most other cities that had acted to defund the police reversed themselves. Homicides rose 30% in 2020 and will rise in two-thirds of America’s big cities in 2021; at least 13 cities will break homicide records, with Philadelphia coming in number one with 545 as of today. And some of the strongest voices for a crackdown on crime are New York Mayor-elect, Eric Adams, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who are all black and moderate Democrats.
Those black moderate elected officials will be the first to point out that racism, racial disparities, and police violence still plague our criminal justice system and should be addressed. Police are 50 percent more likely to use nonlethal physical force on black people than white people. Black Americans are more likely to be wrongly convicted of murder, rape, and drug crimes, to be incarcerated longer for the same crimes, and to be convicted to life without parole for nonviolent offenses, than whites. And blacks are more likely to receive higher bail requirements for the same crime, to be offered plea bargains that include jail time, and to be incarcerated while waiting for trial, than whites.
But the officials are all also demanding stricter policing and criminal justice measures to reduce crime. In November, New Yorkers elected former police captain Eric Adams on an agenda to crack down on crime including by returning to stop-and-frisk (Adams calls it “stop, question, and frisk”). Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was so enraged by District Attorney Larry Krasner’s outright denial that there was a homicide crisis that he denounced him in The New York Post and on CNN; Krasner issued an emotional apology. And, after San Francisco Mayor London Breed last week called for a crackdown on crime and drug dealing, saying that 90 to 95 percent of San Franciscans are being impacted by it, progressives admitted, after nearly 18 months of gas-lighting the public, that San Francisco is, indeed, experiencing a crime wave.
The backlash by black moderates on crime is aided by the rapidly growing backlash against cancel culture and “Woke” progressivism. Witness the mainstream embrace of Woke Racism, a slashing liberal polemic against progressive “anti-racism,” by Columbia University linguist John McWhorter. Progressives had in the past been hostile or dismissive of McWhorter’s longer, more evidence-driven books, Losing the Race (2000) and Winning the Race (2001). (“McWhorter stirs the waters,” sniffed a New York Times review of Losing the Race. “Unfortunately, he does not clarify much in the process.”) But over the last few weeks The New York Times, MSNBC, PBS, CNN, and even the liberal hosts of “The View” gave Woke Racism largely positive treatment, turning it into a best-seller, and making McWhorter, who is also now a New York Times columnist, the most influential American thinker today on race.
Why is that? Why did it take black moderates to finally break the hypnotic race trance progressives fell into last year?