Reader’s Corner: ‘Woke Racism’

I reviewed John McWhorter’s most recent book, which came out last fall and became a quick (not surprisingly, given the title) bestseller, for PopMatters:

Woke Racism has the feel of something written in a blaze of indignation between podcasts, which is both a strength and a weakness of the text. This may explain the nuggets of anti-woke outrage, mostly stories about writers and academics targeted by antiracist Twitter mobs, dispersed somewhat randomly throughout. Many of those stories certainly pass the absurdity test—very few Twitter pile-ons or abrupt firings following a social media defenestration look defensible in the light of day. But a scattering of anecdotes does not an argument make…

You can read an excerpt of the book here.

Screening Room: ‘The Exorcist’ and True Evil

Turns out that besides being a young preacher, scourge of the empowered classes, and essayist whose words could scorch the hair right off your head, James Baldwin was also a crack film critic, when he wanted to be.

devilfindswork1In The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky pulls out a choice quote of Baldwin’s from his mostly ignored 1976 book The Devil Finds Work. Here, he writes about one of the decade’s two most influential horror films (the other being Halloween, just as trashy but not given as much critical deference at the time):

The mindless and hysterical banality of evil presented in The Exorcist is the most terrifying thing about the film. The Americans should certainly know more about evil than that; if they pretend otherwise, they are lying, and any black man, and not only blacks—many, many others, including white children— can call them on this lie, he who has been treated as the devil recognizes the devil when they meet.

It’s one of the reasons people hate critics, and why at least some critics (of a level with Baldwin) can actually be construed as necessary to the culture. Few people want to think about the evil that surrounds them every day; they’d rather go to the cinema and be treated the indulgent thrills of imaginary threats (demons, and the like).

The critic who reminds us of our short-sightedness is rarely rewarded for doing so.

New in Books: ‘What’s the Matter with White People?’

The new book What’s the Matter with White People? falls prey to the desire for clever/provocative titles that don’t necessarily have much to do with the subject matter at hand; it’s not quite the racial jeremiad that one might imagine. My review is up now at PopMatters:

Salon editor-at-large and MSNBC analyst Joan Walsh grew up a working-class Irish Catholic on Long Island in the ‘60s, with plenty of cops and firemen and construction workers in her extended family. It was a good vantage point to study what she terms the “destruction” of that decade. Walsh was perched on the verge of a rapidly imploding city, surrounded by relatives who fled the boroughs’ increasing crime. She uses her relatives as examples of what were once termed “white ethnics”, taking shelter from the societal chaos in the assurance of something that felt more concrete and protecting than the wispy liberalism that they blamed for it all. In other words: Nixon…

What’s the Matter with White People? is now available in finer bookstores everywhere.