The woke bigotry of low expectations

There is nothing ‘anti-racist’ in treating people of colour as socially inadequate.

Fraser Myers
Topics Politics UK USA

Woke identity politics has always had remnants of old-fashioned racism – not least in that it upholds and strengthens the racial categories that genuine anti-racists of the past sought to transcend. Of course, the new identitarians would say that their use of racial identity is ‘anti-racist’ – putting forward a positive view of minorities and challenging the ‘complacency’ of colourblind attitudes to race. But one feature of the new ‘anti-racism’ that stands out is its soft bigotry of low expectations.

Calls for the censorship of hateful speech, for instance, imply that minority groups (particularly ethnic minorities) are uniquely vulnerable to words and ideas, and unable to cope with the cut and thrust of public life. Diversity initiatives and affirmative action can send a similar message – in some cases undermining minority success instead of bolstering it.

Thanks to the rise of critical race theory, the nature of anti-racism has changed significantly. Anti-racists today are less concerned with explicit acts of racism and discrimination than with eradicating ‘whiteness’ – a kind of free-floating, ever-present racism which hides in all our interactions, words and deeds. Whiteness, then, becomes the root of all social norms, which activists then want to dismantle – even if those norms are fairly benign or positive.

Last week, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) released a list of the ‘aspects and assumptions of whiteness and white culture in the United States’. Some of the traits of whiteness supposedly include ‘politeness’, ‘hard work’ and ‘objective, rational thinking’. As I pointed out last week on spiked, it’s a list that could have been written by a klansman, but was actually drawn up by supposed anti-racists in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Some anti-racist consultants believe ‘mechanical time’, ‘clock time’ and punctuality are oppressively racist constructs. If ‘anti-racists’ seriously believe that being polite, punctual, working hard or thinking rationally are onerous tasks for people of colour, then they must hold them in extremely low regard.

Another oppressive imposition, according to woke anti-racists, is grammar. This latest example comes from the English department at Rutgers University in New Jersey. As part of a slew of anti-racism initiatives ‘in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement’, this week it moved to incorporate what it calls ‘critical grammar’ into its teaching. Critical grammar, explains the English department’s chair, ‘encourages students to develop a critical awareness of the variety of choices available to them w/ regard to micro-level issues in order to empower them and equip them to push against biases based on “written” accents’ (sic). What is really being said here, is that traditional grammar constitutes an unacceptable racial bias, and non-white students should resist being held to this standard.

Last year, Evergreen College in Washington similarly warned teaching staff against correcting the grammar of students who were undocumented migrants. ‘Tutors are there to provide culturally sensitive feedback on writing (though not to correct grammar)’, said one resource from the college’s Writing Center. Considering a university is supposed to provide an education, you might presume that correcting things like grammar would actually be useful to these students – even more so if English is not their first language. Billions of non-native English speakers around the world want to learn English, and even migrate to English-speaking countries. But if the English language is viewed as a tool of oppression, it suddenly becomes progressive to withhold important knowledge about grammar.

There is a similar bigotry of low expectations in the now widespread moves to ‘decolonise the curriculum’. It is one thing to call for a greater diversity of texts and authors to be taught and studied – the curriculum should not be fixed in time forever. It is quite another to claim – as campaigners do – that a focus on the canon of ‘Dead White European Males’ puts non-white students at a disadvantage.

There are two major problems with this approach. First, as the great radical humanist CLR James might have argued, any genuine anti-racist would recognise that the canon of Western literature is as much the birthright of black and Asian students as it is of white Europeans and Americans. It tells the racist lie that the universal truths of the European canon are inaccessible to non-whites.

Secondly, once again, it betrays a bigotry of low expectations. In the process of decolonising its curriculum, Kingston University altered its geography course out of fears that it ‘normalised the white experience’. Kingston said explicitly that BAME students would struggle to grasp concepts such as the ‘rural idyll’. Academics proposed teaching about rural areas in Africa and Asia instead, so that students could ‘see themselves and their backgrounds’ in the curriculum.

Oxford University even plans to ‘decolonise’ its science degrees by including ‘race, gender, colonialism and empire’ in its syllabuses. Apparently, these kinds of soft and self-reflexive subjects are better suited to students of colour than maths and engineering. (Thankfully, non-white students are getting into Oxford in large numbers and are not in need of the university’s patronising initiatives.)

Whatever we might describe the current movement sweeping through education and other institutions – whether it’s wokeness, political correctness or identity politics – we certainly should not call it anti-racist.

Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked.

Picture by: Getty.

Let’s cancel cancel culture

Free speech is under attack from all sides – from illiberal laws, from a stifling climate of conformity, and from a powerful, prevailing fear of being outed as a heretic online, in the workplace, or even among friends, for uttering a dissenting thought. This is why we at spiked are stepping up our fight for speech, expanding our output and remaking the case for this most foundational liberty. But to do that we need your help. spiked – unlike so many things these days – is free. We rely on our loyal readers to fund our journalism. So if you want to support us, please do consider becoming a regular donor. Even £5 per month can be a huge help. You can find out more and sign up here. Thank you! And keep speaking freely.

Donate now

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Samantha Duggan

30th July 2020 at 8:49 am

I find the same bigotry of low expectations applies to class as well as race.
My parents are / were working-class but through grit and hard work gave me and my siblings the education and encouragement we needed to be middle-class ourselves. They are incensed by middle-class suggestions that working-class people commit crime because of lack of opportunity or anything other than personal choice.
I found this attitude challenging as an over-educated leftist (my University and younger adult years).
Nowadays I realise they intuitively grasped the negative consequences of absolving anyone of personal responsibility.

Stephen Kennedy

25th July 2020 at 8:48 pm

All these points and many more good ones besides, have been made by a group usually called ‘Black Conservatives’ … Shelby Steele, Jason Riley, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams. In listening to them it seems to me a basic concept is that since the Great Society Programs began, race relations in the US have consisted of White Guilt Black Dependency. Their thinking was mainstream from Frederick Douglas to Martin Luther King, but ended with Johnson’s speech about equal results versus equal opportunity. The Civil Rights Movement had a real opportunity to integrate Blacks into the rest of American Society. It’s succeeded to a good extent, but BLM shows that ‘helping’ has done a lot of harm … the prime example being welfare, which destroyed the Black family (which was very healthy up to that point).

Stephen Kennedy

25th July 2020 at 8:49 pm

The little symbol I placed between White Guilt and Black Dependency seems to have vanished.


25th July 2020 at 8:04 pm

The black community is unfortunate because the (mainly white ) media chooses such awful examples as George Floyd to idiolize rather than worthwhile men like David Dorn. The general assumption given is that it is understandable that Floyd committed to a life of crime because of racism , so that anything he actually did-he held a gun to a pregnant woman while her house was raided , causing her to miscarry -were somehow not his responsibility. As though black criminals are like children , not adults making life decisions like everyone else. Biden reinforced this attitude by stating that black people who did not vote democrat are not actually black-an extraordinary remark from a man standing for President.

Melissa Jackson

26th July 2020 at 10:35 am

This isn’t just unfortunate – This is deliberate. How many times do we have to see the same exact pattern before it stops being a coincidence?

We never ever ever hear about the black citizens killed by stray bullets. Completely innocent people, children who were just doing homework. And we never ever hear about it.

It is deliberate that the media only chooses to talk about criminals whose short, violent lives came to a conclusion with cries of “Well what do you expect?”.

fret slider

25th July 2020 at 2:41 pm

An irrational fear. An irrational hatred. Let’s call it what it is:


Gerry Mander

25th July 2020 at 10:48 am

Everyone prefers their own race—this applies to blacks as much as whites. The most racist people I have met have been Asians.

Mike Stallard

25th July 2020 at 8:51 am

Have we gone mad?
I know lots of people with all sorts of different coloured skins, and, do you know what? Some are horrible. Some are lovely, friendly and good to be with. Racism and white privilege and black racism (yes, that too) doesn’t come into it.
I think my only enemy has a very white skin because he is Russian. I could not watch telly last night as a very posh middle class Australian lady in a nice house with a lovely little girl was pretending to be an aboriginee (aka Native Australian) on the Miriam Margolis show.

Michael Thompson

25th July 2020 at 5:06 am

Asserting that dealing with ‘micro issues’ will empower non-white people is another part of the patronising attitude towards them. The poor dears can only deal with the small things. Leave the big issues for white folk to sort out.

You do not become powerful by dealing with micro issues. You become powerful when you deal with injustice no matter where it exists. Not every injustice is of equal importance and many of us let a lot of injustice wash over us. We keep our energy for the big issues but this movement is suggesting that non-white people cannot react to their own values but must react to what whites see as important for them. They would like to think that they are helping non-whites but such an attitude is itself quite racist. Non-whites do not know what is important to them- they need us to tell them.

Non-whites who are products of this education lose the fundamental capacity to react to their natural feelings which are the sign posts of injustice. It is just another form of oppression which hopefully they can see and fight against.

Vivian Darkbloom

24th July 2020 at 10:25 pm

It’s really not that deep. We’re witnessing the usual USA imperialism and exceptionalism, which used to be expounded by white yanks, now being expounded by black yanks who have been co-opted into the failing imperial project under the guise of self-interest; which is really the interest of the USA elite as it ever was. How long will it be before a reorganised America bomb and invade a country because it’s deemed to be “racist”? We’ve had the liberal excuse for the Iraq and Libyan assaults: “we’re importing western democratic values.” If those spurious values include anti-racism then who could complain against the latest intervention? Why doesn’t the USA empire attack Iran for anti-gay activities? You see, any excuse will do. It’s all a game and a cover for USA geopolitics. All this and the fact that US Americans are almost completely parochial in the sense that they have no idea about the world outside their own ambit.

Vivian Darkbloom

24th July 2020 at 10:37 pm

I mean, a black British friend of mine went to the USA as a tourist and ordered food in a restaurant. Upon hearing her accent and inquiring about her country of origin the waitress retorted “wow, so you have African Americans in England!”

Ray Diator

24th July 2020 at 10:43 pm

And Americans can never understand why we built Windsor Castle so close to Heathrow Airport

T Zazoo

25th July 2020 at 1:16 am

A comment worthy of the Guardian.

Remember folks it’s not racism as long as it’s only at the expense of Americans. Don’t say it about anyone else though.

Ray Diator

25th July 2020 at 8:06 am

T Zazoo

The US of A has caused so much death, destruction and misery all around the world, and you don’t like people taking the pi $$ out of them? Grow up

Mike Stallard

25th July 2020 at 8:53 am

At a school I was assisting on a trip to Kenya we had one very black Ugandan. He was sent to order a taxi for the party because he spoke Swahili.
He came back distraught. They had called him mzungu – Honkey!

James Conner

25th July 2020 at 8:54 am

Remember folks, Americans aren’t a race, and neither are Muslims.

David Wolcott

24th July 2020 at 9:37 pm

This YouTube item on the similarity between the far right and far left in terms of racism is brilliant (and very funny):

cliff resnick

24th July 2020 at 8:41 pm

woke betide us all

Hasting Keith

24th July 2020 at 8:24 pm

So the National Museum of African American History and Culture lists “politeness, hard work and objective, rational thinking” as being traits of whiteness. I would also list these as being traits of the Indian, Chinese and other south-east Asian communities in the UK, who seem to be prospering in our ‘racist’ society. Maybe the NMAAHC should have a think about not whether these traits are too ‘white’, but about whether they would actually help people prosper in society. I thank my parents for instilling in me an ethos of politeness, hard work and rational thinking – it certainly helped me to escape poverty.

Ray Diator

24th July 2020 at 7:31 pm

”Academics proposed teaching about rural areas in Africa and Asia instead, so that students could ‘see themselves and their backgrounds’ in the curriculum.”

If I ask a black person where they’re from, it’s racist, a microaggression, or whatever.
But teaching them about where they’re from, is fine.


24th July 2020 at 7:31 pm

When Britain had its industrial revolution it became the first place where more people lived in urban rather than rural areas. A standard of behaviour evolved which became known as British good manners of politeness , hard work and rational thinking which allowed many people to live relatively peacefully together. This excluded bad behaviour ie the salvation army was against alcohol and thrift was praised . These rules of behaviour were artificial and have come to be criticized as people not expressing their true feelings. However they are better than people being rude or even violent towards each other. The new rules are created so that the poorest always fail as they need all the advantages in life they can get -wheras rich people will usually be alright . So a poor child brought up by its married parents has an advantage to a poor child brought up by a single parent-but it is not done to say this , even though gang violence in black communities is blamed on the absence of fathers.The new rules praise or excuse bad behavior because it means people will always need society ie benefits and social community ( which create jobs for the middle classes ) and vote the ‘correct’ way wheras an independent person won’t.

Treacle Tart

24th July 2020 at 6:37 pm

Poor Hertford College, which has never colonised anything.

Kevin Turner

24th July 2020 at 6:03 pm

California politicians are calling for a repeal of anti-discrimination legislation (Proposition 209) in the name of equality – read equity. The legislation, as it stands, is designed to stop discrimination based on race, sex, colour, ethnicity, or national origin. The argument behind repealing Proposition 209 is that it prevents positive discrimination, which is another way of saying in prevents companies and organisations from discrimination against white people in the name of affirmative action. This is sheer madness and will set race relations back 25 years.

Gordon O Gopher

25th July 2020 at 11:39 pm

And presumably it’ll also leave plenty of room to go back to discriminating against black people if anyone so wishes.

Yeh, great move California, what could possibly go wrong?

James Knight

24th July 2020 at 5:54 pm

The low expectations may once have been “unconscious bias” it is just fast becoming institutionalised as “conscious bias”.

Gordon O Gopher

24th July 2020 at 5:32 pm

Anti-racism is just another form of racism. It’s ‘anti’ a certain form of racism by assuming another form of racism. It’s certainly not non-racism.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.

Deplorables — a spiked film