On CNN, John McWhorter Rebukes New Liberal 'Religion' of Anti-Racism

Liberal writer John McWhorter spotlighted how the anti-racism cause has become a "new religion" during a segment on Tuesday's CNN Tonight. McWhorter underlined that "we have a religion in that, there is scripture; and there are questions you're not supposed to ask; and there is original sin...the scripture says that America is based on racism, and that racism is what America is all about today." He added that "the idea that you're supposed to engage or ask questions...that's considered...heretical....You're racist. You don't get it." [video below]

Anchor Don Lemon brought on McWhorter to discuss his recent article on the "new religion" thesis. After noting the "scripture" of anti-racism, the guest cited how "Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic writes a piece called 'A Case for Reparations'...what people like about a piece like that – who are members of this anti-racism religion – is simply that it was said...the idea that you're supposed to engage or ask questions – or some people might even want to be skeptical – that's considered incorrect. It's considered heretical."

McWhorter continued with a common question in response to allegations about police mistreatment of African Americans, and how people who ask that question are treated by the "believers" of the "new religion:"

JOHN MCWHORTER, "WINNING THE RACE: BEYOND THE CRISIS IN BLACK AMERICA": ...[S]uppose somebody asked – and I'm noticing that people are asking this a lot lately – why is it that the black community is much more upset about one white cop killing a black man or a black woman – than the black men, who for various reasons, are killing one another at alarming rates in our cities year after year? Why is it that people are more upset?

Now, if you ask that question, then you're given half answers. Somebody will say that there's a difference between people doing it from within the community as opposed to doing it as a figure of authority. But...that's not a satisfying answer. You might have more questions, but you're not supposed to ask – or somebody will, like Charles Blow, for example, will say that the people who are killing each other in these communities are doing it within a structure of racism. Now, that's a start, but you may want to say, still, why are we more upset at the one white cop? You're not to ask.

Now, of course, there are people who do ask. But when you ask the question, you're treated as if you've done something wrong. You've blown on a tuba in church. You're racist. You don't get it. You're not understanding the scripture. You're not with Jesus. That's what it is.

LEMON: You say that it's...not unlike religion. It's you...must have faith. It's like someone saying, in an argument – when you're talking about politics or whatever – you say, well, why is that? Because God said, or because the Bible said. There are just certain things that you just don't go, and you have to buy into that. Otherwise-

MCWHORTER: You are wrong-

LEMON: You're wrong-

MCWHORTER:  There are certain questions you are simply not to ask – or, if you ask them, you are treated as if you've done something wrong – the eyes roll; you are a part of the problem; you are evidence that America doesn't want to talk about race and racism – when I think you and I both know that we talk about it all the time. The idea that anybody would say that is what I mean by 'religion.'

Lemon then brought up a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that "found that nearly six in ten Americans think that race relations are bad, and nearly four in ten think race relations are getting worse – that's according to The Times. African-Americans are the most unhappy since the Rodney King riots in 1992." He asked McWhorter, "Is this perception – is this real? Why is that?"  The writer asserted, in part, that "the main reason that black America feels that racism is still the defining aspect of being black...is the problems with the cops. And, over the past two or three years, there have been many high-profile incidents – which have been terrible things – and that, I think, and all of the fallout from that is why race relations are considered a problem."

The CNN anchor ended the interview by bringing up how Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley was recently shouted down at the left-wing Netroots Nation conference for saying that "all lives matter." McWhorter first replied, "I get where they're coming from," but added that "a lot of people are listening to the slogan 'Black Lives Matter,' and they're thinking, is it that black lives matter only when white people take them? And they're impatient. And it's not all right wingers. This is many middle-of-the-road liberal people." He then returned to his original point about the "religious" aspects of anti-racism: "We lack imagination because of our religion – which is that those same people with the same indignation...we should have people like that working on the problems within our communities, too."

The full transcript of the John McWhorter segment from Tuesday's CNN Tonight:

DON LEMON: America is a nation of many faiths – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhists, Hindu – even no faith at all, if you choose. But, joining me now: the man who says we have a whole new religion – and that new religion is anti-racism, with its own preachers, scriptures, and commandments the faithful don't dare break.

John McWhorter is the author of 'Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America.' Another fascinating piece by you – I'm so glad that you're in here to talk about it. So, why do you think that anti-racism – you said anti-racism is the new religion. Why is that?

JOHN MCWHORTER, "WINNING THE RACE: BEYOND THE CRISIS IN BLACK AMERICA": We have a religion in that, there is scripture; and there are questions you're not supposed to ask; and there is original sin. And so, for example, there is scripture – the scripture says that America is based on racism, and that racism is what America is all about today.

Now, those aren't indefensible positions, but we're taught now to treat those things as scripture. And so, for example, if someone like – Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic writes a piece called 'A Case for Reparations,' and the main point is to indicate that scripture that I said – then, the piece isn't engaged. At this point, what people like about a piece like that – who are members of this anti-racism religion – is simply that it was said, and they're harkening to the proclamation. So, the idea that you're supposed to engage or ask questions – or some people might even want to be skeptical – that's considered incorrect. It's considered heretical.

Now, this is not a knock on Ta-Nehisi Coates on what he wrote. It's the way the work is supposed to be received – and that also goes for his current book.

LEMON: And I didn't think it was. I thought that you – the way you did it was just as a starting point, because it was – you said it – when this book came out – and many people had written things about reparations before-

MCWHORTER: Very much-

LEMON: It wasn't that different than what many people had written. But this was seen as gospel.

MCWHORTER: Yeah. I was genuinely perplexed, because I just thought reparations, less than 15 years ago – we kind of already went through this; and yet, there was this reception. And also, we all know that reparations isn't going to happen in any real way. And yet, there was this reception. And that's when I realized – wait a minute: it's that he's preaching, and there's a community of people who are taking in the preaching. And why I call it preaching is because there's a sense, in this religion, that if you ask questions – beyond a certain, small point – then there's something wrong with you. There are things that you're supposed to just allow.

And so, for example, apart from what Ta-Nehisi Coates has written, suppose somebody asked – and I'm noticing that people are asking this a lot lately – why is it that the black community is much more upset about one white cop killing a black man or a black woman – than the black men, who for various reasons, are killing one another at alarming rates in our cities year after year? Why is it that people are more upset? Now, if you ask that question, then you're given half answers. Somebody will say that there's a difference between people doing it from within the community as opposed to doing it as a figure of authority. But-

LEMON: What's the difference?

MCWHORTER: That's not a satisfying answer. You might have more questions, but you're not supposed to ask – or somebody will, like Charles Blow, for example, will say that the people who are killing each other in these communities are doing it within a structure of racism. Now, that's a start, but you may want to say, still, why are we more upset at the one white cop? You're not to ask.

Now, of course, there are people who do ask. But when you ask the question, you're treated as if you've done something wrong. You've blown on a tuba in church. You're racist. You don't get it. You're not understanding the scripture. You're not with Jesus. That's what it is.

LEMON: You say that it's unlike – not unlike religion. It's you have – must have faith. It's like someone saying, in an argument – when you're talking about politics or whatever – you say, well, why is that? Because God said, or because the Bible said. There are just certain things that you just don't go, and you have to buy into that. Otherwise-

MCWHORTER: You are wrong-

LEMON: You're wrong-

MCWHORTER:  There are certain questions you are simply not to ask – or, if you ask them, you are treated as if you've done something wrong – the eyes roll; you are a part of the problem; you are evidence that America doesn't want to talk about race and racism – when I think you and I both know that we talk about it all the time. The idea that anybody would say that is what I mean by 'religion.'

LEMON: I want to talk about this – this is a New York Times/CBS poll – news poll – conducted between July 14 and July 19 – found that nearly six in ten Americans think that race relations are bad, and nearly four in ten think race relations are getting worse – that's according to The Times. African-Americans are the most unhappy since the Rodney King riots in 1992. Why – is this perception – is this real? Why is that?

MCWHORTER: Oh. Well, I would say that that is because – and I've said this often – the main reason that black America feels that racism is still the defining aspect of being black is the cops –  is the problems with the cops. And, over the past two or three years, there have been many high-profile incidents – which have been terrible things – and that, I think, and all of the fallout from that is why race relations are considered a problem.

Just the other day, I was listening to two men on a train platform – two black men talking about race in America – I started counting the seconds – and the first thing that came up was anybody who doesn't see racism as crazy, think of Mike Brown. And I thought to myself that conversation is representative. That's what's behind that poll.

LEMON: Behind that – and since Mike Brown, we've had all these young people who are going around the country – we have the 'Black Lives Matter' and all that.

I want you to play – play this sound bite. This is Martin O'Malley at the Netroots, and this 'Black Lives Matter.'

MARTIN O'MALLLEY, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (from speech at Netroots Nation conference): Every life matters, and that is why this issue is so important. Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter. (shouts from the audience) Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.

LEMON: What did you think of that moment?

MCWHORTER: You know, I get where they're coming from.

LEMON: Yes-

MCWHORTER: Because what they're saying is that – yes, all lives matter, but there's a problem with some people thinking that black lives don't matter enough. But the problem is, a lot of people are listening to the slogan 'Black Lives Matter,' and they're thinking, is it that black lives matter only when white people take them? And they're impatient. And it's not all right wingers. This is many middle-of-the-road liberal people. And what I just think to myself is these people who are patrolling communities and calling attention to what white cops are doing – I get it. They're fierce. The New York Times magazine article – I cheer them. But I think to myself, we lack imagination because of our religion – which is that those same people with the same indignation, looking at their phones, heroes – we should have people like that working on the problems within our communities, too.

LEMON: John McWhorter, thank you.

MCWHORTER: Thank you.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan was a news analyst at Media Research Center