The nation’s vehement rejection of identity politics made me recalibrate my own views about woke ideology.
It took me a moment to register the sound of scattered hissing at the Tocqueville Conversations—a two-day “taboo-free discussion” among public intellectuals about the crisis of Western democracies. More than 100 of us had gathered in a large tent set up beneath the window of Alexis de Tocqueville’s study, on the grounds of the 16th-century Château de Tocqueville, in coastal Normandy. I couldn’t remember hearing an audience react like this in such a forum.
The democratic crisis that the conference sought to address has many facets: the rise of the authoritarian right, metastasizing economic inequality, the pressures of climate change, and more. But the conference, held in September 2021, had mostly narrowed its focus to the American social-justice ideology that’s commonly referred to as “wokeness.” The person being hissed at that afternoon was Rokhaya Diallo, a French West African journalist, social-justice activist, and media personality in her mid-40s. (In America, she writes for The Washington Post.) Besides me, she was one of just a handful of nonwhite speakers and, to my knowledge, the sole practicing Muslim.