Tim Wise — The white perspective on racial discrimination

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Tim Wise UTEP

Antiracist activist Tim Wise. (©Borderzine.com) Photo credit: Luis Hernandez

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.

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5 Comments

  1. I believe in the death penalty. Once a person commits a murder or human trafficking that person should be given the death penalty. Reparations are not an issue. The movement the first white Amercian trafficked the first human into America, the country forfeited its right to exist as a white majority country just like a murdererer or human trafficker should forfeit his life.

  2. Dr. Frank G. Pérez on

    Ben, my interpretation of Tim’s comments is quite different and here is how I interpreted his message. Tim’s point is not that being White makes him better qualified to speak about racism. He stated he knows less than many minorities have forgotten about racism. The point he was making about his qualifications is that White people are more likely to listen to a White person on this topic than to a minority. Research by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and many other scholars would support this point.

    Tim’s comments about structural racism do not imply that only White people are responsible for the plight of people of color. However, one cannot deny that a structural system that benefited – and that continues to benefit Whites – affects minorities. For example, Mario T. Garcia (1981) and Monica Perales (2009) have convincingly shown in their individual research how a two-tiered socioeconomic system was implemented by El Paso’s leaders (and the KKK to some extend – see work by Lay, 1985) to ensure Mexicans were denied the same opportunities as Whites in our community in the early 1900s. Such institutional racism was used throughout the US. Linda Gordon’s “The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction” shows how such machinations were adopted throughout the Southwest and supported by the US Supreme Court.

    At a minimum, such actions gave Whites a 100-year head start over minorities, since Mexicans, African Americans, and other minorities were denied opportunities for educational, professional, and entrepreneurial training and support during this period.

    Yes, people are individually responsible but ethnicity is tied to social class in the US, even today. We have made progress but much more work remains to be done by ALL people in this nation. Tim’s speaking style is dramatic but his message is one we ignore at our own peril.

  3. Liwana Woolridge on

    This is a cliff edge subject, summarized with cliff edge reasoning. The article itself is well written and explicitly informative. The content seems thorough in revealing the intent Mr. Wise has for correcting a problem that has not been rectified; racism. Racist and antiracist, from one perspective of this article, run parallel to the same goal, and that is correcting a perceived problem. Yesterday has passed and tomorrow is not promised, so we should live in the present. This is a dialogue provoking article. Well done.

  4. Benjamin Woolridge on

    I certainly appreciate your comments, Dr. Perez and I respect you as a fellow minority with a shared history of oppression by White people in this country. However, I was not only reacting to Tim Wise’s lecture as a Black man who has lived in El Paso for most of his life, but as a student at UTEP who has sat in classrooms where the blame for all current inequalities (social, economical, political), seem to be placed solely at the feet of White people.
    To me, Wise’s lecture did not leave any room for accountability by people of color.

  5. The writer hits the mark dead center! These race-baiters such as Tim Wise, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson pretend to see racism at every turn, although they themselves have become wealthy in the society which the condemn.
    Tim Wise’s hustle is that HE is white, and, therefore, has much more credibility,
    as he would not attack the racist tendencies of his “own race” without just cause.
    He says, basically, that white people just can’t help themselves–that no matter how hard they try, their genetic tendency toward racism will win out over any feelings for racial justice. Is this why Tim Wise has a white wife, and two white daughters, and lives in a home valued at $639,000 in a suburb of Nashville that has only THREE non-white families, none of which are Black?
    History shows us that virtually all majorities in a countries have, at times, repressed their minorities. The Han Chinese have stomped upon Uighurs and others, the Bantu Zulu and Xhosa in South Africa stepped upon the indigenous Bushmen and Hottentot. In our own country, the Lakota Sioux extracted tribute from the Arikara, Manda, and Hidatsa, and chased the Kiowa from the Black Hills.
    In this country, American white people have fought and died for the abolition of racial injustice, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement. It was a 99.9% white Congress that passed the Civil Rights Act and a sense of fair play for all is sweeping the nation, much to the chagrin of Tim Wise and Al Sharpton.
    A look at Tim Wise’s resume reveals that he has done nothing but talk since 2003. Prior to that, he served on mostly now-defunct committees of a race-related nature.
    At least Chicago’s controversial Father Pfleger lives on the heavily Black South Side and he gets down-and-dirty in community projects to better his community. Wise, on the contrary, gets paid very well to go to college campuses and become the novelty of a white man bashing whitey.
    Reparations for slavery? Ben Woolridge hit the nail on the head there, too. The enslavement of Black Africans began with Black African chiefs seeing great profit in the sale of Black Africans captured in inter-tribal warfare. Besides, slavery was an almost universal institution until relatively recent years and was never an institution peculiar to the white man.
    To summarize, Tim Wise and his ilk is a fraud and UTEP spent a hefty sum to invite a charlatan who is more of a performer than an educator about racism. Most universities, though, hold dear to the lie that being liberal is equal to being educated and Tim Wise said it best: if you don’t agree with him, then you do not have the ability to reason.

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