[Order Bruce Bawer’s new re-released masterpiece, The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Birth of the Woke Ideology: HERE.]
I was new in town. I had no money. I was determined to get a PhD. I had been accepted to an Ivy League school. I had to turn it down. They offered no funding, and the school was in an expensive city. I came to this university, in the middle of farm country, with lower rents. I begged for an assistantship, a job that would cover my tuition. I was hired by an elegantly dressed professor, slim and attractive as a fashion model. Her CV was a cavalcade of accolades and presidencies.
As we interacted, I immediately noted that she was as dumb as a box of rocks. Her speech was borderline incoherent. Student evaluations are supposed to play a role in faculty advancement. The majority of her students consistently, year after year, gave her one star – the lowest – evaluations. And there was something else, something I couldn’t put my finger on, that was wrong with this woman. When she began to harass and threaten me, I realized that she was at least a sadist. I talked to a dean, who said that the professor “had ruined many,” and “almost killed someone,” but “no one would do anything because she’s black and female and everyone is afraid to be called racist and sexist.”
I was paralyzed. How could I tell anyone any of this? I was a powerless graduate student, utterly under the control of a world-class university with an impressive reputation. I, too, would be called racist and sexist, or maybe just crazy. And what would speaking up accomplish? Nothing I could say or do would benefit me or be so much as a pebble in this woman’s upward trajectory. Other professors would stigmatize me as trouble. I’d get lower grades and no letters of recommendation.
And there was so much more I couldn’t tell anyone, when I was a grad student, when I was a job seeker, when I was an adjunct professor. People hear “college professor” and think power, status, prestige. In fact over seventy percent of college faculty are non-tenure track. Many lack healthcare, and qualify for food stamps. They have no job security, and if they go against the grain – if they assign a failing grade to a failing student; if they teach a non-Woke fact; if they are openly Christian or Republican – they lose what little work they can find.
People hear “college professor” and think “leftist.” Yes, the majority of tenured faculty in the humanities self-identify as left-wing. They are also, in contradiction to their own politics, openly contemptuous of working-class students. I have heard, in classrooms, in private conversations, in faculty meetings, professors say the most degrading things about blue-collar workers, Southerners, military members, Christians, or political conservatives. As a professor myself, I tried to advocate for Christian students who had to endure professors mocking and bullying them in class. I’ve been told, “Nothing we can do.” If a professor, on the other hand, mentioned Islam’s gender apartheid, that professor was asking to be shown the door.
Heads of departments, themselves minority group members, have moaned to me that they oversee faculty who frequently miss class, who sabotage students, who are simply incompetent, but whom they cannot let go, because, “diversity.”
How do I communicate any of this to anyone, without sounding like a paranoiac, a right-wing fanatic, a sore loser – and of course a racist and a sexist?
The other question is even harder. How do I communicate how much this matters? People scoff. “Yeah, college campuses are a joke. Who cares. Let them rot. ”
How do I tell these blind people how much we are sacrificing?
My parents were immigrants from peasant families in Eastern Europe. Why did we come to America? My dad used to answer that question, “The czars burned our books.” It was a metaphor. Of course the czars did not travel to an isolated, tiny village and burn books. My Polish relatives had no books for the czars to burn. I understood what he meant. Only thirty-five percent of the population in that part of Poland could read. My grandmother never learned.
In America, there were always books, in every room, and they were treated with reverence. We read over breakfast and to relax in the evening. We read while taking a bath. Down the shore, my sister spent more time zipping through heavy paperbacks than in the water. I held books in my lap during boring classes and I read with a flashlight under the covers at night. We talked about ideas. We weren’t rich – that part of the American Dream eluded us. But we could read. We could think. We could speak. Our loved ones in Eastern Europe still lived under “the czars,” but Soviet ones. America was a miracle.
I wanted to share the light. I taught in Africa and Asia, in two of the poorest countries on earth. As I sat outside at night, writing in my journal, villagers stared at me. They touched, as if handling enchanted talismans, my pen, my hand, my diary page. “You write,” they said, in awe. They didn’t mean “You write” as in you are a famous writer. They meant “you write” as in you are literate and we are not. Families sacrificed labor in their fields to send a kid to school. Kids sat outside, struggling to wring that last drop of light from sunset skies. Paper was a precious commodity. Villagers saved wrinkled scraps, flattened them out, handed them to schoolkids to write on.
Teaching at a state school, I encountered that same reverence, that same awe for knowledge, though it was deep underground, like the diamonds in a mine. Students might come to class late, might goof off and make schoolwork a last priority, but that awe was still there, glinting and glimmering.
“Who needs the humanities? Study something real like engineering.” How do I make them understand?
When I was an undergraduate English major, I resented studying the Dead White Males. As I matured, these Dead White Males stalked me like a spurned lover; they were among my most reliable companions. “To strive, to seek to find, and not to yield,” Tennyson. “This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is in one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore,” Thoreau. “Out of the cradle endlessly rocking, Out of the mocking-bird’s throat, the musical shuttle,” Whitman. “More light! More light!” Hecht. “She walks in beauty like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies,” Byron. “Turning and turning in a widening gyre,” Yeats. And, yes, even “Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,” Anonymous. “Who is the other who always walks besides you?” It’s you, T.S. Eliot, you and the rest of the Dead White Males.
I never tried to memorize any of those lines. They all accompanied me as I fell in love, as I watched loved ones die, as I pursued dreams, as I gave up on dreams, as I greeted a new spring.
The humanities are every bit as important as engineering! This isn’t just the voice of someone who is secure and well-fed. Listen to author Azar Nafisi:
“I am often asked what I did in Tehran as bombs fell during the Iran-Iraq war. My interlocutors are invariably surprised, if not shocked, when I tell them that I read James, Eliot, Plath and great Persian poets like Rumi and Hafez … When our lives are transformed by violence, we need works of imagination to confirm our faith in humanity, to find hope amid the rubble of a hopeless world. Memoirs from concentration camps and the gulag attest to this. I keep returning to the words of [Leopold] Staff, a Polish poet [who survived Nazi occupation]: ‘Even more than bread we now need poetry, in a time when it seems that it is not needed at all.'”
I read an essay once by a Polish man who was hiding out from Nazis in a safe house. His kidney had come lose, causing him excruciating pain. In the safe house, he came across a copy of Edmund Spencer’s Faerie Queene, a sixteenth-century, 36,000-line, sword-and-sorcery allegorical poem designed to “fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline.” The Polish man rejoiced. English literature helped a Polish man survive Nazi occupation, just as Polish poetry helped a Persian woman survive bombing.
Nature abhors a vacuum. A person trained in the King James Bible, Shakespeare, Robert Frost; a person who survives war with Leopold Staff or Faerie Queene, is going to be different from someone trained in different literature. Mein Kampf, The Communist Manifesto, Might is Right by Ragnar Redbeard, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, the works of the Marquis de Sade or Sayyid Qutb, or 4chan or Tumblr, generate distinct worldviews in their readers. A mind that has never been taught the logical fallacies, that has never been asked to defend ideas in a civil but rigorous debate, is a mind that weakens, rather than strengthens, its society.
A lot has changed since I began graduate school and didn’t know how I could ever communicate to anyone how far American education had fallen. In the mainstream press, we’ve read about victims of American education’s demise. Jodi Shaw, a heroic librarian, made headlines by standing up to anti-white racism at Smith College. Erika Lopez-Prater, a former adjunct, sued Hamline University after it fired her for teaching what she was hired to teach, including an Islamic artwork. Professor Nicholas Meriwether filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Shawnee State University. The school had ordered him to refer to a male student as “she.” The University of Southern California replaced Prof. Greg Patton for saying a word in Chinese that sounds like the n-word.
Book-length works have tackled the decline of American education. A standout is James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose’s 2020 bestseller, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity – And Why This Harms Everybody.
The single best book I’ve read so far on this topic is Bruce Bawer’s The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Birth of Woke Ideology. The book was first published in 2012; it’s been rereleased because it is desperately needed right now. My review in brief: buy this book, read it, share it, and act on it.
Revolution is the product of a highly intelligent mind, a dogged researcher, and a passionate soul who cares deeply about the future and wants to do what he can to affect that future in a positive way. Bawer is an award-winning writer. His prose is easy to read and quote-worthy. While Lindsay and Pluckrose emphasize theories, rendering their book a cold and dry read, Bawer emphasizes people. You meet real students in his book, the students whose minds are reduced to mush by Woke education. The polish of Bawer’s prose and the flesh-and-blood humanity of his approach do not in any way lessen the books’ intellectual rigor. As I read, I deeply admired Bawer’s scholarly research. He is clearly fascinated by his topic and he pursued Woke education not just in the dusty pages of dead French perverts, but also in young people’s minds and hearts, and in consideration of America’s future.
Bawer is systematic, passionate, and wide-ranging, an awesome combo. He introduces the reader to big names of foundational theorists, and also to almost comical student writing from Woke courses. He reviews historical events, and then brings the reader up to date with visits to classrooms and conferences. Reading this book hurt. I cried. But I’m really glad I read it, and I want others to read it as well.
Bawer devotes chapters to Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Queer Studies, Chicano Studies, and a chapter that addresses several other “studies” including Fat Studies and Disability Studies. Readers must understand that Bawer’s evisceration of these departments is by no means an expression of hostility to blacks, women, homosexuals, Mexicans, fat or handicapped people. Bawer is himself gay, and he has written significant works in support of equal rights for homosexuals.
Bawer is no anti-intellectual philistine. He has a PhD and his literary criticism has been well-received by fellow intellectuals. Revolution is very much not a book by someone who simply hates the Ivory Tower. It is a heartbroken and heartbreaking keen from someone who realizes how much has been squandered, how young people have been cheated, and how much is at stake. When an observer of Bawer’s caliber tells you that academia is drowning in “postmodern jargon” produced by barely literate students and teachers, you need to listen.
Bawer makes abundantly clear that black studies is not invested in the welfare of black people, women’s studies is the enemy of women, and Chicano Studies wishes that successful Chicanos did not exist. Rather, these departments are shakedown operations, utterly divorced from the populations they purport to represent, and often actively undermining the welfare of those people. Professors and administrators employed in these departments are careerists operating a massive con. If, tomorrow, the departments were eliminated and the faculty who occupy them were fired, not a scintilla of harm would be done to American minds or culture. No woman would be at a greater risk of rape or discrimination. No Chicano would be pushed farther away from the American Dream. No black person would spend one more second in a ghetto.
As Bawer makes abundantly clear, those shortsighted ostriches who say, “Let American education rot! Who cares? It has no impact on me!” are fooling themselves. No matter how far you are from a university, you are not immune. As goes American education, so goes American life. Bawer is not just concerned with the formation of the individual. He is also raising an alarm about the fate of the entire nation. “What is it that holds a nation together?” Bawer quotes Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Education used to hold Americans together. “Primary and secondary schools, by instilling civic values in young people, were a critical element in the perpetuation of a shared national identity. … If you or I had set out to invent an ideology capable of utterly destroying the America of the Declaration, the Constitution, and the melting pot, we could scarcely have done better … This isn’t a minor or fleeting development that you or I can hope to ignore, keeping our heads down until the freak parade passes by.” Education, now controlled by Woke idealogues, is intentionally driving us apart.
Yes, there are real evils in American society. White supremacy, misogyny, exploitation of Mexican farm workers, cruel bullying and exclusion directed at fat women and the disabled, are all bad things. To the Woke, the pain that these injustices cause is not to be healed. Rather, that pain is to be mined to serve a Marxist agenda, and shysters’ and careerists’ bank accounts.
The left constantly seeks new weapons to launch against Western Civilization. In the case of each individual department, more and yet more useful subpopulations are championed. Championing women and criticizing misogyny was not enough. One had to champion lesbians, seen as more useful tools in opposition to Western Civilization than mere women. Attacking misogyny was not enough. Consensual heterosexual intercourse and marriage had to be attacked next. Lesbians were not useful enough. One had to flock to black lesbians. Eventually, of course, one had to hold up men-who-pretend-to-be-women as the most useful anti-Western tool.
Soon enough, black studies, women’s studies, et. al departments bore no real relationship to the needs and desires of real life black people, women, etc. Successful Chicanos who worked hard, voted Republican, and achieved the American Dream needed to be anathematized, just as happily married women and black people who say they’ve never encountered racism were jettisoned.
Black students who aren’t all that interested in the suffering of their ancestors under a now abandoned Jim Crow, or gay men no longer hiding in any closet, or young women who choose not to identify as feminists, are the targets of Woke professors’ ire. How dare these young people lead healthy, productive, success-oriented lives? It’s their job to wallow in misery so as to prove the evils of the West and the need for a Marxist revolution.
Each of Bawer’s chapters introduces the reader to each department’s particular shysters, hucksters, con artists, and opportunists who recognize a meal ticket just as horseflies sniff out veins ripe for cutting open and delivering up their bloody harvest. Some, like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, struck this reader as mere clowns, deluded by their own mental games, swept along like corks on a tide much larger than themselves. No matter when Shakespeare was born in the West in the past four hundred years, he would have been Shakespeare. In any other era, without Woke to elevate her, a Sedgwick would have been a muttering menial laborer, or a mental patient. Judith Butler, on the other hand, comes across as something more sinister. The secret police would have found a place for her. In fact, given the toxic impact of her work, they may very well have.
Revolution makes a feature of Woke abundantly clear, although, given all that he is accomplishing, Bawer does not devote time to developing this theme. Woke is a religion. Woke erects a primitive, tribal, caste system, with some populations on top, and others, the infamous heterosexual, white, Christian, American man, at the bottom of the hierarchy. Woke promotes dogma. Woke obliterates scientific facts that interfere with its dogma. Woke destroys those who reject its dogma. Woke does not allow questioning. Woke insists on occupying and taking over the functions of the human mind and spirit devoted to differentiating between right and wrong, true and false, virtue and vice. Woke has a priesthood and Woke carries out rituals. Bawer describes one such ritual, the “NO circle.” The Woke endow themselves with Godlike abilities to use education to “make human beings” and “invent souls” in the words of one Woke patriarch. Young students exist for the same reason babies fed into the fires of Moloch existed. They are there as human sacrifices to feed Woke’s rapacious cult. They are, at best, potential soldiers. Like a glioblastoma replacing healthy brain cells with terminal tumors, or a fungal growth, Woke crowds out the Judeo-Christian tradition and allows only itself.
Like a tumor, Woke is self-replicating. Bawer quotes Shelby Steele describing the process. “Once you implant an idea like racial preferences in the culture, people are going to run with it – money, fame. My generation … has been ruined by this … It’s demanded that we become hustlers. That’s how you move ahead: you keep trading on your race, and then you get good enough at doing that to trade on your race at a higher level, and then you get good enough at it to trade on your race at an even higher level, and then finally you become somebody like Skip Gates—an empty figure who could honestly now become the president of Harvard if he wanted to.”
The academic superstars Bawer details are hypocrites. Butler calls herself a feminist but she hates her own female body so intensely that others must refer to her not as “she” but as “they.” She characterizes feminists who disagree with her as “fascists.” She claims Jewish identity and betrays her fellow Jews. She preaches ethics while making ambiguous statements about Hamas and Hezbollah. She speaks for non-violence while pushing ideas so extreme that were they ever carried out they would result in mass bloodshed. She claims to value average people while building her career on prose that average people could never decode. And she is, of course, like so many other Woke opportunists and parasites on the capitalism they condemn, rich.
The Woke’s indefensible mental gymnastics required to remain true to their false, foundational dogma recurs chapter after chapter. Foucault was a liberatory hero who championed the underdog. Foucault was a sadomasochist who raped impoverished Arab boys between eight and ten years old. Celebrate the former and ignore the latter. Hijab, child marriage, widow burning, and female genital mutilation are not bad. What is to be condemned is any American’s condemnation of hijab, child marriage, widow burning, and female genital mutilation, because imperialism. Woke departments and classrooms must operate as “collectives” where no one person is higher than anyone else and everyone’s opinion matters. Anyone who voices a non-Woke opinion must be ejected from the collective. It is wicked stereotyping to portray women as more emotional than rational, or black people as better at music than book learning. Women’s greater emotional side, and black skills at music, must be incorporated into not just the classrooms, but fields of study. No more “male” or “white” math. We need women’s math, black math, trans math, Chicano math. Two plus two just might equal five. Blacks, women, and “queers” are immensely strong survivors. Blacks, women, and “queers” are so fragile that they must be protected from anything that might “trigger” them because “speech is violence.” It is not violence for Amira Baraka, New Jersey poet laureate, to call for violence against whites. Americans are evil because they don’t care about the poor and dispossessed in Third World countries. When Americans actively help the poor and dispossessed in Third World countries, they are evil neo-colonialists and neo-imperialists. No one should “rescue” that child prostitute; she’s just expressing a different culture that deserves respect. Segregation is bad. Blacks, women, “queers,” must be cordoned off from others. Don’t condemn all Africans for some Africans’ participation in the slave trade. Do condemn all white Americans for slavery. Condemn white royalty and rich whites. Be in awe of African royalty and rich Africans. Homophobia and anti-Semitism are bad when expressed by white Christians. Homophobia and anti-Semitism are above reproach when expressed by blacks. Non-Western peoples must study their own scholars. Non-Western peoples must embrace Karl Marx, a white, male, German, product of the West. Abortion rights are above criticism. One must not abort fetuses that might grow up to be homosexual. Aborting individuals is okay. Aborting members of certain groups is forbidden. Empires that dominate others are evil. The Aztec Empire and the Inca Empire, both of which enslaved neighbors and performed human sacrifice, are beneficent. Technology is bad. A PowerPoint presentation on the evils of technology is good.
Male scholars, funders, and administrators advanced women’s studies. White scholars, funders, and administrators advanced black studies. American scholars, funders, and administrators advanced Third World studies. Heterosexual scholars, funders, and administrators advanced queer studies. The Ford Foundation and other immensely wealthy sources sprinkled the magic fairy dust of cash, cash, cash, on them all. Each department must depict itself as a martyr of white, male, American, hetero oppression.
Woke professors insist that, “Everything we do, we do for our students. We are liberating them.” If students reject Woke pedagogy, professors say things like, “The students don’t feel oppressed,” and “The students are unwilling to be liberated” – these are real quotes. We must liberate and empower our students; if our students reject what we offer, we must explain to them that they are completely blind and must submit to our point of view. Submitting to us will liberate and empower them.
This is not a game. Bawer quotes major names, superstar Wokesters who have won multiple awards and achieved the most powerful positions, expressing the most extreme, violent, hateful rhetoric. There are explicit calls for rape of enemy, white, American women. Americans are compared to animals. There are calls for massacres. The Woke are not playing around, and the quotes from Bawer’s book prove it.
Octavio I. Romano was a Chicano professor at UC Berkeley. Romano said that for Chicanos to be educated, “the very nature of objectivity … had to be rejected.” In response, another professor said that Romano, “provided Chicanos and Chicanas with a radical weapon in their battle with the academy and knowledge.” For the Woke, rejecting objectivity and doing battle with knowledge are admirable.
I know something about one of the key authors of one particular, relatively well known, book from the Woke canon that Bawer cites. I can’t go into detail or report how, without seeking it out, I was made aware of this fact. This canonical author publicly pretends to two identities, key to academic and authorial success. Without claiming these identities, the author never would have been published in this foundational, frequently-cited text. This author is, in fact, not a member of either one of those groups. Publicly pretending to be a member of these two groups has resulted in success and remuneration. I have to wonder how many other such authors are in fact not at all members of groups they pretend to belong to, purely for reasons of professional advancement.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.