Columbia University Professor John McWhorter compared the social justice politics of white progressives to Christianity in a Thursday column for The American Interest.
The column, entitled “Atonement as Activism,” makes the case that social justice politics has certain similarities with aspects of Christianity. At the outset of the piece, McWhorter told the story of an event he attended at which a black speaker subtly accused white Americans of bigotry. According to the column, the mostly white audience laughed along with the speaker. McWhorter used this anecdote to explain how white social justice politics mirrors Christianity.
This brand of self-flagellation has become the new form of enlightenment on race issues. It qualifies as a kind of worship; the parallels with Christianity are almost uncannily rich. White privilege is the secular white person’s Original Sin, present at birth and ultimately ineradicable. One does one’s penance by endlessly attesting to this privilege in hope of some kind of forgiveness. After the black man I mentioned above spoke, the next speaker was a middle-aged white man who spoke of having a coach come to his office each week to talk to him about his white privilege. The audience, of course, applauded warmly at this man’s description of having what an anthropologist observer would recognize not as a “coach” but as a pastor.
McWhorter goes on to talk about how social justice politics has distorted the actual aims of white progressives who claim to be interested in racial justice. He argues that the social justice politics of white progressives are mostly comprised today of virtue-signaling.
The self-affirming part is the rub. This new cult of atonement is less about black people than white people. Fifty years ago, a white person learning about the race problem came away asking “How can I help?” Today the same person too often comes away asking, “How can I show that I’m a moral person?” That isn’t what the Civil Rights revolution was about; it is the product of decades of mission creep aided by the emergence of social media.
You can read the entirety of the column here.