Source: Michael Curtis

We live in a continually changing world, with new concepts and ways of developing practical arguments and evaluating moral truths on race, sex, and sexual issues.  Today, those ways are seen through the prism of racial justice, emphasized in colonial and post-colonial studies, Critical Race Theory, intersectionality, queer studies, gender studies.  These are part of the present obsession with race and sex.  At the heart is the pessimistic, postmodernist contention critical of the possibility of objectivity, questioning whether there can be reliable knowledge about a reality that exists independently of human perception.

There is a prevailing sensibility of new fundamentalisms in academia, Hollywood, parts of media, featuring race and identity politics, a new religion, in which individuals are reduced to their politics, and formulation of simple categories: victim and guilty, oppressed and oppressor.

 Because of the incessant targeting and advocacy of this sensibility, too many people remain silent for fear of abuse for any challenge.  Indeed, people may accept agreeable lies or misstatements and cling to them rather than cause difficulties.  Jonathan Swift’s aphorism is still valid: falsehood flies, especially now online, and the truth comes limping after it.  The need for self-questioning is urgent, as is the attitude, often uncomfortable, of listening to different opinions, theories, or moral stances.

It takes courage to counter this position of what can be considered wokery or cancel culture.  One such exhibition of courage is the challenge in April 2021 coming from a middle-aged math teacher in an expensive private school, Grace Church High School, in lower Manhattan, a school to which celebrities send their children, costing $57,000 a year.  The teacher, Paul Rossi, publicly accused the school of indoctrinating students with anti-racism ideology that is offensive to white students.  He criticized the school policy of wanting teachers to embrace antiracism training and to treat students differently on the basis of race.  He argued that this policy makes students identify with their race before individual identities are formed.  He considered this indoctrination and ideological conformity, resulting in students being afraid to speak up.

Rossi was reprimanded for airing his differences in a public forum but, at least at present, has not lost his job.  The principal, George Davison, responded that every facet of the work of the school is enhanced by the diversity of the community, by equity and inclusion, which are virtues essential to sound learning.  But these were not enough.  Even more important was commitment to the work of anti-racism and to the cause of justice.  From Grace, he said, students would hear the call to serve the common good and the dignity of humanity.  However, Davison failed to address any of Rossi’s claims and criticisms.

Race and color have become a subject of contention in Britain, even in indiscreet fashion.  The host of the British Channel 5 TV chat show, the 55-year-old Jeremy Vine, on the program on April 15, 2021, asked a guest whether she thought it was a problem that all 30 attendees at the funeral of Prince Philip at Windsor castle would be white: “I’m just trying to think whether there’s anyone of color in there.”  To her credit, the guest, herself a radio star, responded somewhat curiously that she did not think it was a problem “because the Royal Family are a family.”  Interestingly, and probably because of the boorish remark of Vine, the BBC received over 110,000 complaints from listeners, many of whom, among other criticisms, regarded the remark as race-baiting.

Entertainers have become overly alert to and bothered by alleged issues of racial and social discrimination and injustice.  Hollywood, where conservatives are an endangered species, has made this apparent by its recent offerings.  Now we have the humble apology given to “every single Indian person” by the actor Hank Azaria for his performance in the sitcom The Simpsons,for voicing the amusing Indian-American character, Apu.  The character, he now realized, was created with good intentions, but it had contributed to “structural racism.”  Azaria, now 56, explained he was a white kid from Queens, and he had not known that there could be negative consequences in the nearly thirty years he played the character.

The acute answer to wokery is laughter.  John Cleese, 81-year-old well known acerbic satirist, not wanting to be left behind by Azaria, immediately commented on the confession.  He mockingly offered his own apologies on behalf of Monty Python for all the many sketches they did making fun of white English people: “We’re sorry for the distress we may have caused.”  Cleese was also serious and to be taken seriously.  The call to be nice to people finished up as humorless, censorious, literal-minded, posturing ideology.

The impact of wokery is pervasive.  Apologies have also come from the Rowntree Society, a small charity, and its associates, which promotes the history of the Rowntree chocolate company, founded in 1822 — apologies for the fact that the wealth of the company may have come from the practices of indenture and slavery.  It issued a rallying call to renew its focus on racial justice.  Besides the business of manufacturing confectionery, the Rowntrees, a Quaker family, has also been involved in social reforms, philanthropy, and charities.  The research of the Rowntree Society, in response to the BLM movement, is reviewing the company’s supply chains and any history relating to slavery and colonialism.

From chocolate to the skies — United Airlines has announced a new recruitment policy for its pilots.  The flight deck will reflect the diversity of its passengers.  It plans for 50% of its future 5,000 pilots training in the next decade to be women or people “of color,” compared to the present situation, where just over 7% of the more than 12,000 pilots are women, and 13% are non-white.

Another recent controversial decision concerns critical reactions to the new Georgia voting law and alleged restrictions of voting access to non-white people.  As a result of the controversy, the MLB commissioner, Robert Manfred, decided to move the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta, Georgia to Denver, Colorado.  The decision was approved by some companies — Delta, Coca-Cola, J.P. Morgan — which were critical of the voting law, though not by other companies.

The controversy is open.  Should businesses, sports leagues, and others boycott dealing with and censuring governmental bodies because of political differences?  Will wokery and its companion, cancel culture, dominate political and economic behavior?