J. Pharoah Doss: Woke, equity, and anti-concepts

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Recently, HBO talk show host Bill Maher was interviewed by CNN. Maher expressed that wokeness, regardless of how it’s defined, is a collection of ideas that depart from liberalism, and those that embrace woke ideology shut down debate.

Maher also said ten years ago we were “striving to be a color-blind society where we don’t see race. Woke is something very different—it’s identity politics—woke sees [race] all the time. [Race] is the most important thing. I don’t think that’s liberalism.”

The View’s Whoopi Goldberg rejected the notion that “woke” ideology shuts down debate, and Sunny Hostin complained that Maher compared “woke” with identity politics.

However, Goldberg and Hostin avoided Maher’s premise that there was a fundamental difference between liberalism and woke ideology. Why?  Probably to conceal the fact that woke ideology is full of anti-concepts. An anti-concept is a term designed to replace and obliterate a legitimate concept or to obscure understanding.

Let’s take equity as an example.

In 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders sought the Democratic nomination for president. His campaign website stated, “This campaign is dedicated to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring, in programming, and in all other aspects of the work we do.” That meant “building policies, procedures, and services that protect everyone and do not lead to inequalities.”

By the 2020 Democratic primary, every nomination seeker said they wanted to create a more equitable society. Vice President Kamala Harris explained that equality was a good goal, but let’s not presume that equal treatment will lead to equal results because people don’t start on the same footing.

From 2016 to the present, there’s been an insistence that equity or equal outcomes are preferable to the liberal principle of equal opportunity. If equity vs. equality is typed into a search engine, the results show countless examples explaining why equity leads to social justice and equal opportunity leads to social inequities.

Recently, Bernie Sanders was a guest on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher to promote his new book, It’s Ok to be Angry About Capitalism. Maher asked a two-part question. First, Maher wanted to know if we were confusing equality of opportunity with trying to guarantee equity in outcomes. Maher added, “This word equity has come into the language in the past few years; before that, we didn’t hear it a lot [But] people hear equity and hear equality and think it’s the same word, but it’s not the same word or concept.” Then Maher asked Sanders how he would differentiate between equity and equality.

At first, Sanders said he didn’t know what the answer was. Then Maher and Sanders settled on equality as equal opportunity and treating people the same regardless of skin color, while equity equalized outcomes. Based on that distinction, Maher asked Sanders which one he supported, and Sanders said equality.

Sanders didn’t endorse equity because, in order to achieve equal outcomes, groups of people have to be treated differently. Sanders went along with the concept during his 2016 campaign, but the notion always conflicted with what he got arrested for during the Civil Rights Movement.

In 2021, Kerri D. Ingram, Director of the Discovery Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education, wrote that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines equity as freedom from bias or favoritism. In 2020, Vice President Kamala Harris stated that there was a big difference between equality and equity. “According to Harris, equality is problematic because it suggests ‘everyone should get the same amount.’ Instead, she advocates ‘equitable treatment’ which to her means ‘we all end up in the same place’. In essence, Harris advocates for a system in which disparities are eliminated by treating people not equally but with favoritism or bias—a view that conflicts with the very concept of equity as it has traditionally been defined and accepted.”

Again, an anti-concept is a term designed to replace and obliterate a legitimate concept or to obscure understanding. Moreover, anti-concepts prevent the left-of-center from realizing they have more in common with the right-of-center than with woke ideology.


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