It’s a rather strange claim of the American far left that their interests are opposed to that of corporate America, because there’s virtually no evidence to support it. Quite the contrary: During the wave of Black Lives Matter rioting that took place during the early summer of 2020, American corporations marched in lockstep. Not only did they use social media to swear fealty to this political movement, but they also made massive internal changes in conformity with BLM propaganda.
It’s called “woke capitalism” and while it’s not necessarily new, it’s certainly more prevalent than it ever has been. The term itself was coined by conservative editorial writer Ross Douthat in 2018. He succinctly summed up what woke capitalism is: superficial nods toward cultural leftism that allow the company to do what it really exists to do – make money.
You might be confused or think that there’s something ironic or askew about major corporations backing supposed “rebel” ideologies. However, this stems from a very surface understanding of the topic. When we delve deeper into it, the motivation for large corporations siding with ostensibly “anti-capitalist” groups will come clearly into focus.
What is “Wokeness?”: Understanding “Critical Theory” and The Frankfurt School
Before going any further, we should spend some time defining what “wokeness” means.
Wokeness is a kind of shorthand for an area of the American political left that is obsessed with identity politics. This is, as the name would imply, the politics of identity. Thus, people are not rational actors, nor are they necessarily economic units. Rather, they are little more than a collection (or, in the parlance of this ideology, the intersections) of skin color and séxuality.
Socioeconomic class might enter into this, but if it does, it’s generally as an afterthought. While Marxism might play some influential role, the wokeists are far more likely to locate the revolutionary subject in, for example, trans-identified black men than it is the working class.
One can understand the hostility of the “woke” to the Bernie Sanders campaign in this context: it is much more revolutionary under the guidelines established by wokeism, to put more racial minorities with unusual séxual identities on the board of Lockheed-Martin and Goldman-Sachs than it is to provide for greater economic equality on behalf of their workers.
The bedrock of wokeness is not classical Marxist socialism, but something called “critical theory” and in particular its variant “critical race theory.” This has its roots in the Frankfurt School and an early 20th-century Italian philosopher and politician named Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci’s big idea was that cultural power preceded political power. Thus, to have a Marxist political revolution, one first needed a Marxist cultural revolution. This was to be accomplished by a “long march through the institutions.” What this means is that leftists were to infiltrate every institution of significance and gain power within them.
We can see the result of this idea today. While American leftists bear little, if any, resemblance to Marxists of old, they have penetrated our institutions and dominate culturally – in academia, in entertainment and increasingly in the economic sphere as well. If one were to read the Communist Manifesto, there are a series of demands at the end, most of which have come to fruition such as universal public education, a progressive income tax, a national bank, and the industrialization of agriculture.
This isn’t to say that there is a massive Gramscian conspiracy with thousands of members. Such a thing would be completely impossible to prove or disprove. However, the kernel of the idea has taken root, in part thanks to bona fide promotion in academia, and in part because it simply seems to have largely been a successful operation.
Thus “critical theory” is effectively a sociological philosophy and method that involves constant ideological attacks on Western civilization. Its guiding principle is that Western civilization is based on subjugation, dominance and tyranny. This takes many forms including “racism,” “patriarchy,” “heteronormativity” and “cisséxism” – all of which are predicated upon weaponized guilt.
Weaponized guilt is essentially taking those elements of Western and Anglo-Saxon culture, which prize even-handedness and “fair play,” and turning them against the culture itself. Indeed, the selection of the name “Black Lives Matter” is a masterstroke in weaponizing guilt: The only possible disagreement (or so say the advocates and allies of the movement) is that you don’t think black lives do actually matter. But, of course, except for extremely isolated, marginalized and numerically insignificant pockets, virtually everyone agrees that all lives have the same value. Indeed, it is a cornerstone of Western civilization and Christian teaching that this is true. It is nearly axiomatic. The Declaration of Independence declares that the basic equality of men is “self-evident.” No one would even know where to begin “arguing” this, simply because it is so accepted as a fact.
It’s worth noting that wokeness largely entered the American political vernacular after the fall of the Occupy Movement. This is not an endorsement of either the Occupy Movement specifically, nor economic reductionism and confiscatory tax redistribution schemes more generally. However, it is worth noting that the corporate affinity for a seemingly “radical” form of politics requiring nothing in the way of actual financial sacrifice began after the death of a political movement demanding corporate accountability and economic redistribution starting at the very top.
The Business Side of Things
A “conspiracy,” or however we wish to define it, is not the only reason that Wall Street loves wokeness. Beyond the misdirection, there is also a lot of money to be made catering to the woke. This has nothing to do with what “most people” in America want or need. Rather, it has to do with catering to those on the coasts and within bigger cities in the interior of our nation.
Almost all of the income growth in America over the last ten years has been concentrated in cities in Southern California, Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest, hotbeds of leftism in general and wokeism in particular. However, even places outside of these regions that have seen income growth tend to be far left-leaning. Examples include Austin, TX, Denver, CO and Nashville, TN.
What this means is that the larger companies in America, including the big banks in New York, the tech companies in Silicon Valley, the entertainment industry in South California and the cable news companies that cover the goings on in Washington, D.C., are all interested in chasing after the dollar of urban wokes. Increased wealth concentration, including the massive transfer of wealth that happened under the COVID-19 panic and subsequent lockdown, have made big companies increasingly the only game in town, with smaller, more responsive Main Street America businesses becoming more and more marginalized where they continue to exist at all.
It’s not that big companies think they’re too good for your money – they just know that you don’t have anywhere else to go.
The Colin Kaaepernick sneaker incident is an excellent example of woke capitalism in action. In times past, companies generally avoided wading into controversial social issues. After all, in the words of Michael Jordan, “Republicans buy shoes too.” But in an attempt to appeal to Generation Z (also known as “Zoomers”), many companies are deciding that it’s worth alienating rural and exurban flyover people in favor of courting the woke dollar.
For Nike and many other companies, this commitment to “social justice” doesn’t run much deeper than marketing. Nike knows it has a disproportionately black customer base. But only 8 percent of their vice presidents are black. What’s more, the company is notorious for using sweatshop labor in the third world to produce its expensive sneakers.
Some other quick notes on the purchasing power of the woke left: While there is certainly no direct overlap between a college education and being a radical wokeist, the woke are certainly clustered around America’s college campuses and the cities that they move to after graduation. (The average college graduate is going to earn over $1 million more than their less educated counterpart over the course of their life.)
There is also the spectre of the unmarried and the childless: these people will also have significantly greater disposable income than married couples with children living in smaller flyover cities.
All of this adds up to a very lucrative market, both for catering to the woke and pillorying the unwoke. There is no shortage of examples of either on your television during commercials.
Wokeism’s Radical Evangelism: Diversity Training Seminars
One of the most disturbing elements of wokeism is its evangelistic quality. As we saw during the riots of 2020, it was not enough simply to not be racist. One was now required to be an active “anti-racist” under the definition and terms established by the woke. Those who failed to comply were often attacked in a way that went far beyond simply being hassled online. People’s jobs and livelihoods were attacked in a manner befitting a Communist dictatorship.
The very notion of dialogue and civil debate isn’t just missing. There’s a deep hostility to the notion that there is any point of view other than the most woke possible. There is a line in the sand: On one side, there are the people who believe that America is a profoundly racist country and that this colors every aspect of our history. On the other side, there’s anyone who is even mildly skeptical of this – and the people on this side are “white supremacists.” By the logic of wokeism, these people deserve anything that happens to them (including being “cancelled”).
What this means is that wokeism does not simply operate in the background of the rest of society. You cannot simply ignore the cringe-inducing woke commercials on your television and not click the frankly hateful and racist articles of the woke online. Your compliance is a required aspect of wokeism. Think back to the social media phenomenon of large companies denouncing alleged “white supremacy” with a black square. Compliance with this was required, as if one were painting blood over their threshold to avoid the plague of the firstborn in ancient Egypt.
Corporations have begun echoing this rhetoric on social media, but there is a far more insidious element of wokeism’s radical evangelism: the “diversity training seminars” that are now de rigueur in the workplace. While often positioned as some kind of politically neutral gathering to increase workplace cohesion, these are in fact little more than Maoist struggle sessions – for all employees. We categorically reject the assumption that these are any more comfortable for non-white employees than they are for the white ones.
So what goes on at these seminars? There was a taxpayer-funded seminar in Seattle that acts as an excellent exemplar of such.
It was called "Interrupting Internalized Racial Superiority and Whiteness.” This has nothing to do with eliminating racism as is commonly understood. If we’re being frank, we can probably agree that individual racism has largely been eradicated in America, especially among educated people. This seminar and others like it are about pillorying whites and eroding workplace solidarity – and also about cushy little gigs for those giving the seminars, which aren’t cheap.
The seminar includes instruction in qualities that allegedly represent “white supremacy.” These include objectivity, perfectionism and comfort. They also ascribe some rather insidious qualities to whites in toto: arrogance, violence and anti-blackness. These are the exact words used by the seminar.
Employees are urged to engage in “self-talk” that “affirms complicity in racism.”
As is often the case, there is not really a “right” answer for whites taking the seminar. Talk too much at one of these events and you’re imposing yourself and dominating the conversation. Talk too little and “silence is violence.”
The Seattle seminar was only for white employees. So to be clear, the City of Seattle used taxpayer dollars to propagandize at and pillory white employees in a segregated forum. While investigating the seminar using public records requests, City Journal editor Christopher F. Rufo was unable to find any information about who ran the seminar or how much it cost the taxpayers.
While the seminar might sound extreme, it’s not. In fact, these are happening all across the country in America’s workplaces and on our college campuses – and many times even in elementary schools. They are totalitarian in nature but are increasingly a requirement of continued employment. Employees who push back against them can expect disciplinary measures up to and including termination of their employment. There is also the specter of “racism” hanging above anyone with even the slightest opposition or skepticism: they must be secret racists or else they’d be as gung ho as everyone else.
Many have noted the religious aspects of wokeism that go beyond its evangelical zeal. This includes a concept of “original sin” (whiteness), holds blacks and (to a lesser degree) indigenous peoples as a sort of “holy” race, and has a process for confession. However, one aspect of religious thought is missing – there is no process for redemption in the world of the woke. One may “do the work” as the saying goes, but there is no way to complete it and be redeemed. The fallen are simply fallen and constantly repaying their debt in a sort of state of karmic bankruptcy.
White Fragility: The Communist Manifesto of Woke Capitalism
Every ideology and movement has its foundational text. In the case of woke capitalism, this is White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. She earns a whopping $12,000 a day to lecture white people on their alleged racism. That doesn’t include travel expenses, meals or accommodations. Good work if you can get it and she does: DiAngelo has worked with companies such as Amazon, Netflix, Nike, Facebook, Under Armour, CVS, Goldman Sachs and American Express.
DiAngelo’s critics are not restricted to the right. Socialist journalist and podcaster Matt Taibbi has described her writing as espousing a “Hitlerian race theory.” Others have criticized the book for robbing black people of agency or condescending to them in other ways.
The term “white fragility” itself works a kind of magic for DiAngelo and the proponents of this theory. It is, for them, axiomatic that all white people are racist simply for existing. Any words or actions whites take in their defense is de facto evidence of white fragility.
While $12,000 a day might sound like a lot of money, we should compare the corporate cost of a DiAngelo seminar to increasing wages for workers, or offering additional benefits, or providing mentoring programs for new employees or literally anything that might benefit employees in the long term. Such programs would be extremely costly in comparison to the piddling cost associated with a day of lost productivity spent on indoctrination, which also has the important side benefits of eroding worker solidarity and providing a cheap and easy PR win for woke consumers.
Woke Capitalism and Governance
It hardly seems worth explaining how much power large corporations have over the United States. However, we should take a moment to examine the power that woke capitalism wields over public policy.
Consider the proposition, totally uncontroversial within living memory, that biological séx is a real thing. Note that this does not require some rigid enforcement of social expression of gender: one does not need to believe that “boys wear blue and girls wear pink” to accept the existence of biological séx. But states have been targeted by large businesses for the crime of codifying this belief, again, totally uncontroversial in recent times. North Carolina was brought to heel by a coordinated corporate boycott of the state after it passed a law barring trans-identified men from women’s bathrooms. All told, the boycotts cost the state nearly $4 billion.
The 2017 boycott of North Carolina is hardly the only example of woke corporations bringing state governments to heel. For example, when Georgia passed a law defending the rights of the unborn, Hollywood leapt to action. Because a lot of television shows and movies are filmed in Georgia – for the cheap labor and tax incentives – the entertainment industry quickly declared that it would boycott Georgia if it passed a law restricting abortion.
Even state flags aren’t safe from the attack of woke capitalism. The SEC and the NCAA publicly discussed a boycott of the state of Mississippi, as did other companies. This was during the moral panic about “racism” that followed the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
One political entity that woke capitalism does not see fit to challenge? The People’s Republic of China. Indeed, the NBA brought a general manager to heel over his support of Hong Kong democracy protesters. The normally outspoken coach Steve Kerr was strangely silent on the topic. And while the NBA has now approved political statements on jerseys, “Free the Uighurs” isn’t one of them.
The Woke Corporate Stasi
If the only problem were state governments being undermined, woke capitalism would still be a serious problem. However, there are numerous examples of private individuals being targeted by woke mobs with quick compliance from their corporate overlords. Indeed, socialist podcaster Aimee Terese has likened the woke mob to a sort of HR department vigilantism. The language of these totalitarian mobs is often remarkably similar to that which is used by HR departments, particularly when they roll out diversity training seminars.
A graphic designer at the Washington Post was fired after it was revealed that she attended a 2018 party in blackface. She was confronted at the party, left in tears and apologized to her hosts the very next day. None of this was enough for the woke mob. The designer was fired after a large – and largely manufactured by the Post itself – outrage. Many editors at the Post found themselves deeply uncomfortable with the decision to run an article outing the woman. Around the same time, a 62-year-old communications chief at Boeing was fired for comments he made in 1987 at the age of 29. The man was very clear that these were not his opinions today. For reference, Barack Obama opposed same-séx marriage until 2015, which means he opposed it during both of his presidential campaigns.
In what is perhaps the most outrageous example of woke mobs getting a man fired, a truck driver was terminated after he flashed an “OK” hand sign, which is claimed by many to now be a symbol of white supremacy. Even after an investigation into the matter by his employer, he was fired.
Why Woke Capitalism?
If all of this has you wondering “why,” you’re not alone. Many have pondered the question of why corporations want to take a stake in politics. It goes without saying that there is a massive political advantage to corporations being able to throw their weight around in this way and that there is little reason for them to not attempt to claim power whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself. What’s more, diversity training seminars and woke mobs make it much easier to fire – and thus control – employees.
The best part is that this kind of progressive posturing comes at absolutely no cost to the company. They don’t have to pay their younger workers in expensive cities higher wages, thus opening up the possibility of employment to those whose parents cannot subsidize the first few years of their career. They don’t have to offer onsite childcare or other tangible – and expensive – benefits that might actually address some of the issues that these corporations feign concern about. Instead, they can pay the relatively inexpensive annual fee for a diversity training seminar, throw out some woke branding on social media and be done with the matter.
But don’t expect the Washington Post to demand that Amazon start paying taxes anytime soon.
There is a sort of cliche online about corporate wokeness: “get woke, go broke.” But the Quilette did some research into this and found it to not be true: In fact, all metrics point toward wokeness having absolutely no impact on the company’s bottom line either way. So why do they do it?
We’ve hinted at the reason for woke capitalism throughout this article. It is a form of misdirection whereby huge companies can avoid dealing with thorny labor relations issues by throwing a bone to leftist cultural interests. Remember that the left and the Democratic Party are formerly fixated on issues of economics and class rather than social issues and race. The former is a much more expensive position for large corporations than the latter.
But we should also mention that there are potentially toxic unintended consequences of woke capitalism. It’s not our contention that whites in America are an oppressed class, but it’s clear that anti-white racism is socially acceptable: You’re not going to get banned from Twitter for tweeting out “I hate white people.” What’s more, whites believe that they are increasingly the target of racism.
Whether or not this is true is entirely besides the point. The perception is far more important than the reality when discussing this topic. Inflaming racial animosity between whites and everyone else will have dire consequences for the nation as a whole, especially during a time of declining wages, increased political instability and eroding social solidarity. The end result of goading the American public into viewing their problems as largely stemming from race, rather than economics, might well have profoundly dire consequences for both the social fabric and for the individuals that constitute it.
Finally, it’s worth noting that woke capitalism is very much the free market in action. There is a benefit to the erosion of certain social values that have maintained Western civilization for hundreds of years. Woke capitalism is an attack on the nuclear family and Western civilization while providing nothing in its place. After all, who makes for better consumers than childless atoms whose only values are the prevailing cultural diktats of the day?