Skip to main content


Is wokeness on the way out?

Martin Luther King in Washington DC, 1963. Bettmann/Getty Images

Has the tide turned against wokeness? There are certainly signs of a backlash, says Ed West in his Substack newsletter. A recent “parental revolt” against critical race theory in schools saw the election of a Republican governor in Virginia. “But the fact that wokeness is very unpopular doesn’t mean that it won’t win.” The US civil rights movement was not widely liked at the time: in 1964, only 16% of Americans said mass demonstrations had helped the cause of racial equality, while 74% said they had hurt it. But just a generation later, Martin Luther King was the closest thing America had to a patron saint.

It was the same for “political correctness” in the 1980s. Most Americans thought it was a bad thing; New York Magazine likened it to apartheid. Yet people stopped talking about it in the end, not because it went away, but because it succeeded. In 1987, 74% of British people said that same-sex relationships “were always or mostly wrong”; by 2016, only 16% believed this. Unpopular ideas, “if supported by a small but impassioned minority”, can become popular, mainstream and eventually orthodox. Wokeness – the core desire of which, “equality of outcome”, is already enshrined in law in the US – may well do the same.

Get our daily newsletter in your inbox

We cut through the noise to give you a fresh take on the world – in just five minutes a day. Sign up for the newsletter here.