The Working Class vs. Wokism
Winston Smith, the protagonist in George Orwell’s 1984, said: “If there was hope, it must lie in the proles…” Increasingly, events have shown these words to be prescient. Last week in Louisiana, the St. Bernard Parish School Board voted 10-1 to retain the name of Andrew Jackson Middle School despite the countrywide moves to rename schools, buildings, and institutions named after slaveholders. There are things unique to St. Bernard Parish that enabled this pluck. The Battle of New Orleans was fought in 1815 in St. Bernard Parish, which is immediately downriver from the city. Today, the battlefield is a tourist attraction and many streets in St. Bernard Parish are named for prominent figures in the battle, so the area has a unique attachment to Andrew Jackson.
Perhaps more than historic affinity, demographics explain the area’s resistance to “wokeness.” St. Bernard Parish has been largely populated by the white working-class population -- who migrated from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans in the 1950s and 60s -- and by their descendants. This migration is still evidenced in the prevalence of the Brooklyn-sounding “Yat” accent once almost ubiquitous in New Orleans, but now only heard in its white working-class suburbs. The working-class origins also manifest in the extremely low percentage of St. Bernardians who have a college degree: 12.3 percent vs. 35 percent nationally. Not surprisingly, being both disproportionately white, approximately 70 percent, and non-college-educated, Trump won 64.7 percent of the vote there in 2016.
A manifestation of wokeness is support for the Black Lives Matter movement. According to polls, there is a large gap (66 percent vs. 42 percent) in support of BLM for whites with college degrees versus those without. This poll was carried out in June at the beginning of the George Floyd chapter of the BLM riots, and shows sharp differences between these two groups concerning approval of how the police do their job (64% no college and 48% college), the harm done to blacks by discrimination (52% no college and 76% college), and support for the removal of confederate monuments (32% no college and 63% college). For whites, college education correlates with adherence to woke tenets across the board.
BLM and their absurd policy positions such as defund the police are embraced most enthusiastically in cities with large populations of educated whites. Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis are all outliers in their percentages of college-educated whites and their enabling of BLM violence.
Why does this chasm between whites exist? Much indoctrination is required to believe ideologies like Marxism or unlikely propositions that belie common sense such as “gender is merely a social construct” or “racism as the exclusive explanation for black poor outcomes.” The Communist Party was historically strong at elite institutions such as Harvard and Cambridge. Lenin himself argued that communism would triumph through an elite vanguard rather than through a movement led by the proletariat. Because communism was rejected by the working class throughout the West, this may have been one of his few accurate predictions.
Wokeness, with its accompanying white ethno-masochism, is merely the latest manifestation of an improbable ideology imprinted on the miseducated middle and upper classes. The working class is spared this indoctrination by avoiding a crucial underpinning of wokeness, Critical Race Theory, which is served up in most Humanities departments, many law schools, and now even in some hard-science departments.
Popular culture offers examples of instinctively conservative working-class characters at odds with a college-educated, scold-filled, newly minted ideological certainty. “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Roseanne” are just a few TV shows that displayed that that dynamic.
It’s not only in the U.S. that you see working-class resistance to policies fashionable with the woke college educated. According to polls, support for Brexit decreased with educational attainment. More than just a reassertion on national sovereignty, Brexit was seen by many as a necessary step to restrain mass Third World immigration into Britain. Expressing concern about massive demographic shifts due to immigration is taboo in many educated circles, but it seems to have been a factor in working-class support for Brexit.
Of course, the response to higher education being the incubator of wokeness is not to discourage young people from going to college. Instead, we should make sure that they know there are other, more rational approaches to issues of race and gender. Every college student you know should be exposed to the work of brave scholars who take on woke dogma, such as Heather Mac Donald, John McWhorter, and Charles Murray. The most fashionable nonsense is still vulnerable to reason. Until the intellectual fight is won by scholars such as these, expect to find the most aggressive resistance in the Woke revolution to be in places such as St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.
Randy Boudreaux is an attorney who was raised in St. Bernard Parish by New Orleans Ninth Ward natives.