Thinking Citizen Blog — “Harvard, Herschel Walker, and Tokenism” (John McWhorter)

Thinking Citizen Blog — Saturday is Justice, Freedom, Law, and Values Day

Today’s Topic: “Harvard, Herschel Walker, and Tokenism” (John McWhorter)

This week, New York Times columnist John McWhorter argued that “tokenism” is on trial, “both in terms of the Supreme Court’s consideration of affirmative action in higher education and in terms of the candidacy of the former running back and political airhead Herschel Walker, who will become a US Senator from Georgia if he wins his runoff against Senator Raphael Warnock next Tuesday.” Is McWhorter right? Today, a few excerpts from his article. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

PS: McWhorter (below) is also a professor of linguistics at Columbia.


1. “Remember how common the term “token Black” once was?”

2. “Back in the day — the phrase really took off in the 1960s — tokenism was considered a prime example of racism.”

3. “The hipper television shows would offer story lines in which Black people were put into jobs for which they were transparently unqualified just so the the company could show a little color.”

NB: “The term has a whiff of the ’70s about it, and it went out of fashion because, frankly, today’s left cherishes a form of tokenism.”


1. “Our theoretically enlightened idea these days is that using skin color as a major, and often decisive, factor in job hiring and school admissions is to be on the side of the angels.”

2. “We euphemize this as being about the value of diverseness and people’s life experiences.”

3. “This happened when we — by which I mean specifically but not exclusively Black people — shifted from demanding that we be allowed to show our best to demanding that the standards be changed for us.”


1. “When the Supreme Court outlaws affirmative action in higher education admissions, as it almost certainly will, it will eliminate a decades-long program of tokenism.”

2. “I’ve written that I support socioeconomic preferences and that I understand why racial ones were necessary for a generation or so.”

3. “But for those who have a hard time getting past the idea that it’s eternally unfair to subject nonwhite students to equal competition unless they are from Asia, I suggest a mental exercise: Whenever you think or talk about racial preferences, substitute “racial tokenism.”

NB: Are “socioeconomic preferences” really any more justifiable than racial ones?


1. “At the same time, Republicans, despite generally deriding affirmative action and tokenism as leftist sins, are reveling in tokenism in supporting Walker’s run for Senate and are actually pretending to take him seriously.”

2. “But to revile lowering standards on the basis of race requires reviling Walker’s very candidacy; to have an instinctive revulsion against tokenism requires the same.”

3. “White Republicans have elevated a Black man to a position for which he is cartoonishly unfit. They have done so in spite of, rather than because of the content not only of his character but also of his mind.”

NB: Is McWhorter’s assessment of Walker’s character and mind fair?

Opinion | Harvard, Herschel Walker and ‘Tokenism’

John McWhorter — Wikipedia

Herschel Walker — Wikipedia


“You’ve got to continue to grow, or you’re just like last night’s corn bread — stale and dry.” - Loretta Lynn

For the last four years of posts organized by theme:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive

Two special attachments below:

#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20


Please share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to justice, freedom, the law or basic values. Or the coolest, most important thing you learned in your life related to justice, freedom, the law, or basic values. Or just some random justice-related fact that blew you away.

This is your chance to make some one’s day. Or to cement in your mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply about something dear to your heart.



Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.

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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.