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The mind virus is finally breaking

The reaction to Claudine Gay’s resignation shows a big shift in attitudes toward wokeism

Claudine Gay speaks at Harvard's commencement ceremonies in Cambridge, Mass., on May 25. Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne

The mind virus is finally breaking

Over the last decade, what Elon Musk calls the “woke mind virus” has infected the American mind.

There are many aspects to what it means to be “woke,” but the parts comprising it are a stew of grievance, oppression, and identity politics. More could be said, of course, but for simplicity’s sake, wokeism is a catch-all term for the academic influence of critical theory on American culture. I would argue that over the last decade and especially since 2020, wokeism overtook America.

My belief, though, is that the high point of wokeness has crested, and America is finally breaking free of the virus that once captivated and captured America’s mind into adopting absurd and simplistic categories for navigating social interactions.

A recent episode and the response to it demonstrates why wokeness is in decline. The resignation of serial plagiarist Claudine Gay from Harvard University’s presidency was met with accusations of racism and sexism. Even Gay’s own statement alluded to “racial animus” as the cause of her departure. It is expected that she would make such an accusation to deflect attention away from her own responsibility. That’s a key pillar of wokeism: Just accuse something or someone of racism or some other “ism,” and voilà, you can absolve yourself from any responsibility and put blame elsewhere.

Then came the defenses of Gay by well-known cultural proponents of wokeism, who said her firing was due to racist and sexist structures. Ibram X. Kendi said, “Racist mobs won’t stop until they topple all Black people from positions of power and influence who are not reinforcing the structure of racism.” Then came Nikole Hannah-Jones, the architect of the 1619 Project, arguing that “Black women will be made to pay.” And finally, Cornel West, who found a link between the Israel-Hamas war and racism: “This racism against both Palestinians and Black people is undeniable and despicable!”

Pardon me for being so blunt: This is all profoundly foolish, and we should not hesitate to say so out loud and unapologetically.

Americans have seen enough of the woke worldview to see how it acts as a toxic acid to destroy national unity, civic fraternity, and moral responsibility.

To be clear, racism and sexism—Biblically defined—are vile and sinful, so it is a good thing that neither are happening in this embarrassing spectacle.

Claudine Gay is out of a job because she failed to condemn genocidal language against Jews and because of substantial evidence of plagiarism. Neither of those has to do with her sex or skin color (notice that the category of “woman” based on biology becomes suddenly allowable when used to the advantage of progressives). To put matters simply, Gay demonstrated incompetence and misconduct in high form. Making Claudine Gay’s resignation a species of racism and sexism is too simple and frankly infantilizing. To downplay professional incompetence and unethical behavior and expect a different set of moral expectations because of one’s sex and race are subtle though real expressions of racism and sexism in reverse. Lowering moral expectations because of someone’s sex and skin color is indeed the soft bigotry of low expectations.

But what shocked me was how Gay’s resignation, along with her most elite defenders, were scoffed at on social media. The online responses to Kendi, Hannah-Jones, and West have been universal dismissal and scoffing, not because racism and sexism are acceptable but because fake and imagined insinuations of both are threats to the fight against real forms of these toxins. When everything is racist and sexist, nothing is racist and sexist. Few take the indignation of wokeness’s champions seriously because Americans have seen enough of the woke worldview to see how it acts as a toxic acid to destroy national unity, civic fraternity, and moral responsibility. The Overton Window has shifted around wokeness such that now it is possible to laugh and dismiss it for what it is: A corrupt worldview that collapses moral responsibility into the never-ending folds of “identity” and blame-shifting.

If you want to know what ideas are impenetrably safe and unquestionable, consider whether it is OK to laugh at the ideas themselves. A few years ago, criticizing or scoffing at wokeism was hardly allowable because of the grip it had over Americans. Others have observed the sea change of attitudes that Americans have toward wokeism. It seems the American mind is now thawing from the woke winter. Americans have seen too many absurdities (like that math is racist) to keep standing silently back and believe that wokeism is really about protecting the marginalized and the historically oppressed. It is not. It is a form of cultural Marxism at odds with freedom of expression, moral responsibility, national unity, and cultural sanity. Christians should oppose it vehemently.

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew is the managing editor of WORLD Opinions and serves as associate professor of Christian ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. He resides with his family in Louisville, Ky.

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