Wokeness is in. Context, nuance, critical thinking, science- not so much. And that is a problem. Black problems are real and complex and call for honest conversation, data, and comprehensive policy. Sympathy and three-letter hashtags do no good and leave the black masses as immobile as ever.
The guise of ‘social justice’ pushes for uniformity of thought and performative activism at all costs- leaving reality largely unaddressed. What’s insidious about wokeness isn’t that it inspires uncomfortable conversations, or galvanizes the youth- but that it stumps any real progress for the very communities it claims to be uplifting. In the conversation on black socio-economic mobility, America’s racist past is used as a blanket explanation for present disparities. Under ‘wokeness’, there’s no room for reason or pragmatism- not under the vanity and excess of progressivism. For the black community, this is especially deadly. If there’s anything that COVID-19 has made clear, it’s that hashtags and mantras are far detached from actual black problems. The black reality remains ironically unchanged, even as our ‘allies’ agitate on our behalf louder than ever. Wokeness is but a luxury belief, that is used to confer status and respect among progressives. The policy implications are brutal.
The fringe left dominates the conversation on black mobility and is far more interested in black suffering than black accomplishment. When NPR reporter asked George Patrick Evans, mayor of Selma, how the events of the past half-century can fit into the “current conversation about race relations”, he blinked, confused (Riley, 2021). His response: “I’m not sure how it fits. We have a lot more crime going on in 2015 all over this country than in 1965.” The black mayor’s refusal to racialize the issue left the woke masses unappeased. The truth: violent crime in black communities declined in the 40s, and dropped even lower in the 50s (Adler, 2015). Compared to today, blacks living during Jim Crow segregation, closer to the era of slavery, experienced lower rates of violent crime and incarceration (both in absolute terms and relative to other racial groups). So why is this swept under the rug? Simple; it contradicts the narrative prescribed by wokeness.
Even more urgent, luxury beliefs like this one produce tangible consequences for disadvantaged groups. While it’s been long established that homicide is the leading cause of death among young black men, wokeness has reconstructed the narrative entirely. Mainstream media remains fixated on the 2 percent of homicide cases related to police brutality, simply because wokeness demands it. The numbers tell a different story: around 80-90 percent of black gun-related violence is attributed to black-on-black crime (Poussiant, 1983). Plainly: more black boys are dying at the hands of other blacks, than at the hands of the police. If black lives have any intrinsic value, the leading cause of black death warrants attention, at minimum. Giving precedent to black issues that promote the ‘woke’ agenda achieves nothing. It promotes the tale of black victimization in lieu of paying attention to the real, lived experiences of the community.
The Biden administration would much rather discuss white criminal behavior from centuries ago than black criminal behavior in Baltimore, Chicago, or St. Louis today. It’s what helps Democrats get elected, and activists raise money. What’s less clear is how any of this helps black socio-economic mobility. Black history is about a lot more than victimization at the hands of systemic racism. The residents of Tulsa 100 years ago didn’t wait around for the government to save them. Within two decades of the riots, homes were rebuilt and black-owned businesses anchored the community. Long before an expanded welfare state came to ‘rescue’ them, blacks accomplished a lot. In the first half of the 20th century, incomes rose, poverty fell, and education gaps narrowed (Maloney, 2002). Among racial and ethnic groups in similar circumstances, historians have emphasized the noteworthy rapidity of these gains as unprecedented. History teaches us that the progress of blacks and other minorities isn’t conditioned on racial tolerance- but this is also swept under the rug.
How it serves the black community, then, to abandon pragmatism and join the fringe left, is unclear. Though wokeness may detest it, black politics has always been pragmatic in nature. Black pragmatism is how civil rights leaders sat across the table from President Lyndon Johnson, an avid racist, to achieve the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and consequently the Voting Rights Act of 1965. What’s more, black voters aren’t the monolith exit polls make them out to be. Pew Research Center found that a quarter of black Democrats identify as conservative, and 43 percent identify as moderate. Overall, around 70 percent of black people self-identify as either moderate or conservative, leaning towards political centrism (Philpot, 2017). It’s how we get things done. And more importantly, it’s the only path forward that is still in touch with reality.
America’s racist past should never be forgotten or sugarcoated. In the same breath, it shouldn’t be used as a blanket explanation for present disparities. The focus on the past behavior of whites, ignoring present realities, achieves little besides giving groups like NAACP relevance. Actual upwards mobility requires the kind of confrontation that dismantles wokeness; a close and honest examination of socio-cultural realities black people face. Numbers matter: they tell us what’s real. Good data matters: it informs good policy. And wokeness does neither.
Adler, J. S. (2015) Less Crime, More Punishment: Violence, Race, and Criminal Justice in Early Twentieth-Century America, Journal of American History, 102, 1, 34–46, https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/jav173
Gilberstahd, H., & Daniller, A. (2020). Liberals make up the largest share of Democratic voters, but their growth has slowed in recent years. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/01/17/liberals-make-up-largest-share-of-democratic-voters/
Maloney, T. (2002). African Americans in the Twentieth Century (R. Whaples (ed.)). EH.Net Encyclopedia. https://eh.net/encyclopedia/african-americans-in-the-twentieth-century/
Pilpot, T. (2017). Conservative but Not Republican: The Paradox of Party Identification and Ideology among African Americans. Cambridge University Press.
Poussaint, A. F. (1983). Black-on-Black Homicide – A Psychological-Political Perspective. Victimology, 8(3–4), 161–169. https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/black-black-homicide-psychological-political-perspective
Riley, J. L. (2021, Jun 02). Upward mobility: Liberals choose racial catharsis over progress for blacks. Wall Street Journal Retrieved from http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/upward-mobility-liberals-choose-racial-catharsis/docview/2535685140/se-2?accountid=14244