Whiteness, White Privilege, + Racism in the age of Obama. Tim Wise lays it downBY Eric Z. Camins, February 27, 2009
“To be White in America, is to never at any point, to have to have known what People of Color experience…. When your stuff is the stuff that’s considered the norm against which everybody else’s stuff is compared (and usually found to be lacking) you don’t have to give it a racial designation, you don’t have to call it “White Literature,” you can just call it Literature, you don’t have to call it “White Poetry,” its just Poetry… this is why we don’t have White History Month….” – Tim Wise
For the end of Black History Month, I am going to draw attention to whiteness. Yes, I am going to write about white folks for Black History Month.
(Audio and video after the jump…)
The social construction, yet harsh reality and deeply routed history, of Race and Racism have never been an easy conversation. But, and this question is especially aimed at white Americans who seem to avoid race talks at all costs, why should it be a simple thing to digest? Ironically, it is these white Americans who miss the point entirely. The concept of privilege escapes them, the way society works doesn’t quite register. This has more to due with how deeply racism is embedded in our society, then the ill will of any individuals.
Scholars, journalists, politicos and the rest of us are scrambling to try to change the discourse on race in America post Barack Obama’s election. Unfortunately some have gotten confused and there is a lingering belief that since a Black man has become president, now discrimination and White Privilege disappear. That economic inequality will cease to exist. That with the election of Barack Obama, our flawed educational system will no longer be so, and a substantial curriculum on racism, white privilege, and its history in our country, that has been all but absent, will suddenly appear. This could not be further from the truth.
Yesterday Ebenezer and I caught a lecture from author Tim Wise on WBAI’s show Talk Back. Tim Wise is a prominent Jewish-American author and activist on racism in America. His latest book is titled Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama. Author Michael Eric Dyson says, “[Tim Wise's] writing and thinking constitute a bulwark of common sense, and uncommon wisdom, on the subject of race, politics and culture. He is a national treasure.”
We were grateful for the clarity with which Wise laid it down. His explanation of how deeply embedded both white privilege and racism are, in US history and nearly all institutions therein, is straightforward and makes the facts undeniable. He states some shocking facts, including my “favorite,” that more white Americans believe that Elvis is still alive than believe that people of color face discrimination (He cites Gallup polls). Tim Wise keeps the listener engaged and their heads nodding (or shaking in disbelief). He reaffirms the need to push for conversation and action on these issues, and all but gives us flashcards on what to say. While we are happy that President Obama is in office, and recognize what that represents, there is still an incredible amount of work that needs to be done. The dialogue needs to continue, if not START.
Please check out an excerpt from that lecture here:
Also check out some video of Tim Wise here:
Please, please, please also share your thoughts.