A student at a graduation party tells you she thinks you're "woke," and you say thank you and you're not sure you know what that means. "It's no small thing," she continues, "for an old white guy like you." And so you think further about it the next day. Try to process the idea. Obvious that you can talk the talk. Invoke the system and the market, inequality and abuse, neoliberalism and privilege. That you don't offend. After three classes with you the student probably means mainly that. You don't offend. Willing to talk politics when teaching your courses. Not averse to assigning books sure to provoke unrest. Michel Houellebecq and Claudia Rankine. Susan Sontag and Slavoj Žižek. Zadie Smith and Philip Roth. And yet no prospect, you think, that you'll spontaneously utter something that will lead decent people to walk out or turn their backs. Decent people. The kinds who sign up for your classes, attend your lectures, read your articles, and occasionally send you email letters to express their encouragement or disappointment. Even your kids, who are given to noting your deficiencies, assure you that you've written nothing to embarrass them - not yet, though they are wary of your insistence on coming out with things uncomfortable or contrarian. Your habit of criticism. Your tendency to quarrel with people in your own left-liberal cohort. The pleasure you take in saying no to things many of your friends embrace. Maybe too reluctant to let people know you're with them. Pissed off about always needing to show your papers and confirm you're on board.
- From The Tyranny of Virtue: Identity, the Academy, and the Hunt for Political Heresies by Robert Boyers