EL PASO — My curiosity as to what an antiracist activist was compelled me to attend an open lecture given by writer and scholar Tim Wise. I sat patiently among faculty and fellow students with the expectation that my curiosity would be satisfied.
I was not disappointed.
Wise appeared confident as he made his way to the lectern after a very charitable introduction and quickly launched into the evening’s volatile subject matter—racism. According to Wise, people of color fear talking about racism in front of white people, which was a revelation I found surprising given the existence of rap music. But I digress.
With a BA in Political Science that he received from Tulane University in 1990 and antiracism training from the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond in New Orleans, Wise went forth into the world to fight against racism. His early involvement in the Coalition Against Racism and Nazism helped to narrowly defeat the political candidacy of known white supremacist, David Duke.
It had already been established, according to the speaker, that as a white person he was better qualified to talk to white people about racism. In other words, we had the privilege of listening to him use his white privilege to speak out against white privilege.
However, I did learn that as a person of color I may have actually been a victim of white privilege.
“About 500 white people in this country have the same collective net worth as all 41 million African-Americans combined,” Wise revealed after explaining that people of color have been conditioned to believe through our educational system and various forms of media that whites are basically superior.
If that is the case then white supremacy is the sole cause for all social and economic inequalities in this country. Since people of color are disproportionately at the bottom of the income totem pole and whites possess the greatest amount of wealth then there can be only one reason why, according to Wise.
He also suggested that only someone who is “incapable of rational thought” would believe otherwise.
At that moment, I felt that Wise had summarized exactly what an antiracist activist is—a person who exclusively holds white people accountable for all the inequalities suffered by people of color. This works to his advantage because he is a white man who is taking an imaginary risk to tell blacks that 500 white people are responsible for their lower class existence. And to think critically about what he says means to lack basic reasoning skills.
I agree with Wise that narrowly defining a problem misses the bigger picture. However, white people have not cornered the market on racism (Black Theology, Jeremiah Wright, Louis Farrakhan, and the New Black Panther Party). I also agree that racism is a serious problem in America, but there has been progress. It is possible to legislate equal opportunities but not equal results.
I believe people of color need to honestly address issues within their respective communities that have contributed to their lack of success in this country. If racism is taught as the only cause for inequalities among people of color then reverse racism could be seen as the logical solution.
Yet, Wise offers no realistic solutions other than creating a dialogue that perpetually blames whites rather than encouraging accountability for one’s actions. He also mentioned systemic reparations in his Q&A; session but did not mention where these reparations would come from. If reparations are to be paid to blacks in America then the bill should be sent to Africa —a continent very much involved in the global business of slave trading.
Tim Wise seems more like an opportunist who is cut from the same cloth as race hustlers Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. He seems to have simply chosen a venue where his one man show of “blame whitey” would play well. For me, it was an opportunity for some much needed extra credit.