Skip to main content

US politics

“Wokeness” is doomed to failure

Black Lives Matter supporters in Virginia last summer. Eze Amos/Getty Images 

American history is a story of grand protests, says Bret Stephens in The New York Times. Those that seek to bring Americans closer together usually succeed: think of emancipation, suffrage, civil rights and marriage equality. Movements that want to tear things down, divide Americans and replace our national foundations always fail. The ideology-cum-protest movement loosely referred to as “wokeness” belongs to the latter. Last week it had its first big encounter with electoral democracy in Virginia – “and got clobbered”. It won’t be the last time.

There’s nothing wrong with a movement that aims to make Americans more aware of racial injustices, past and present. But now wokeness is overspilling. It operates as if there had been no civil-rights movement, and as if “white Americans hadn’t been an integral part of it”. It operates as if, in city after city, police forces aren’t led by black police chiefs and staffed by officers of diverse backgrounds. It pretends that horrors such as the death of George Floyd are national norms, not national scandals. It alleges that racism is a defining feature, not a flaw, of nearly every aspect of life in the US. America’s past is shot through with racism and, as William Faulkner put it, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” But the allegation is incomplete, distorted and ungenerous to former generations that advanced America’s promise. It has no place in today’s land of the free.