Tim Wise On White Privilege

It was funny finding in my email inbox the link to this piece on white privilege by Tim Wise.  The past couple of weeks, I’d been thinking the same kinds of things about Sarah Palin.  And I brought it up with a friend here and there.  But felt like it was really same s/t different day so….  But Mr. Wise, as usual, blesses us with his very entertaining and concise collection of facts and angling to show just how ridiculous, irrational and insane white supremacy is.  My only problem with his piece is the same problem with almost all pieces like the one he wrote as well as others he has written.  And other similiar pieces written by other anti-racist activists.

The problem is that I got his link forwarded to me by a white person.  By that, I don’t mean to say that people lacking melanin can’t appreciate a rational appeal for above board dealing in presidential elections.  Of course, many white folkcan and this electoral cycle, are trying to do just that.  The problem with pieces like this is that white folks don’t see themselves in this.  They see this as an indictment of the mass media.  And it surely is.  But the mass media is giving white people what they expect.  What they want.  And too many white liberals think themselves somehow apart from the white mass that demands, even if subconsciously, the tireless racial double standard that is but one small part of white supremacy.

I don’t mean to be critical in a biting way about this thought piece or the larger body of work produced by Tim Wise.  I’m just talking aloud, I guess.  Where is all this going?  White liberals read this stuff and they give Amens! to it but when they logout of email, close out Firefox and send their Macbooks into hibernation it’s like they flip a switch.  The closing of the Macbook also signals a switch that I and many Black folks that try to ally with these whites, have seen too many times.  It signals the switch from keyboard anti-racist to regular urban liberal white citizen.   Who rolls with an all-white crowd (or very close to all white), participates in white activities, speaks the white lingo and basically when away from the net where they have an anti-racist identity, lead a very white offline life.

I agree with your conclusion Mr. Wise.  The primary problem in this country is white privilege, white supremacy.  But if it is to be dismantled the folks that are going to have to make the serious changes are busy patting themselves on the back for reading and forwarding your articles to select friends (they never forward your articles to ALL their friends).  White supremacy won’t be taken apart with the election of a president endowed with melanin.  It won’t be destroyed by the election of any president.  Or the election of anyone.  Period.  I used to think that it would be defeated singularly by the emergence of autonomous, self-determining communities of color.  And I do still believe in that necessity.  But I’m convinced now that the permanence of racism and white supremacy in this society requires actual change on the part of the US’ problem people: our amalgamation of European descendents who think themselves to be white.  I challenge you, Mr. Wise to focus more on them and less on the highest folks in the society.  It isn’t the head of state but the everyday white person living in major US cities that needs to pull her/his head out of the sand.

11 Responses to “Tim Wise On White Privilege”

  1. I recently heard Tim Wise speak about white privilege in the independent school system, and at the end of his talk when he opened up the floor for questions, the audience began asking him about the article you just referenced. He commented about the fact that because children will grow up with the sights of a black man on TV as the president of our country for four, maybe eight years, this election is historic to starting to create some cracks in white privileged society. You’re right, Obama’s election won’t magically make everything better – racial tensions have been around since the founding of our country, and are not going away anytime soon. But long term exposure to a black man in office can start to chip away at the prejudices that non-black people may have. And while I agree with you that the article may been seen as an indictment of the media, Wise’s article has blown up all over the internet since he wrote it. The common people are reading it, and need to read it in order to start seeing themselves as part of the problem. While upon first exposure to the concept of “white privilege,” many white folks (I was one of them) distance themselves from the idea because they don’t understand what it means. I heard the term and had images of neo-Nazi skinheads run through my mind. I wasn’t one of them, so white privilege had nothing to do with me. But upon second, and third, and fourth exposure to the idea, someone showing my Peggy McIntosh’s piece about the Invisible Knapsack, I began to understand how I am a part of all of it. I think Tim Wise’s article gives the layperson some concrete examples of what WP is all about, in the context of a really important event on everyone’s minds – the election in less than two months. No one is going to change the world all at once, but some of us are trying to pick up the fight who are just beginning to understand the rules of the game, slow going as it may be.

  2. Wise words, Bethany. The kind of change we hope to see is a slow process and we are fortunate to have workers like Tim Wise and yourself continually stepping out. Optimism of the will is what I live by!

  3. Easy Bro…
    We are all Americans from another planet., in that I do not know the white, hispanic, asian, etc. experiance. That said I do not expect white people to cease being white when they close their computers. I mean, they are white and don’t understand our lifeview anymore than I understand waht it’s like being homeless, sick, pregnant (I’m a dude), or Korean. I will keep that card-the point you make- in my hand, and let some people pass go (monopoly). There are black people that i see everyday at work that I will never see when I’m off, the same with whites and everyone else. None of of had a choice of the skin we’re in (sounds like Cameo…i digress), who our parents are, where we would be bought up and how: it is what it is. That said everybody must do their best to be real about the issue at hand, white supremacy, and its effects on our society.

  4. Don’t you think that white, privileged people have to be the ones who dismantle the system from within? And do you truly have such little faith in “white liberals” without knowing all of them? I think you’re judging unfairly. Certainly a good number of people deserve your criticism, but not all of them.

  5. Ben Richards Says:

    “The primary problem in this country is white privilege, white supremacy.”

    If that is the case, why do East Asians outperform whites in academics? East Asians, on average, have the highest IQ scores and this is reflected in higher graduation rates than whites. This is the same in NZ and Australia. If the problem is solely white privilege, how do you explain the success of East Asians?

  6. Ben Richards Says:

    “But I’m convinced now that the permanence of racism and white supremacy in this society requires actual change on the part of the US’ problem people”

    Also, do you realise that outgroup/ingroup bias is common to all human societies? If anything, whites are less ethnocentric and more individualistic than most if not all races. See Larry Elder’s book – ‘ten things you can’t say in America’.

  7. Ben, you quote a sentence, “The primary problem in this country…” then you come right back arguing that the same sentence you quote a few lines above says that white supremacy is the ‘only’ problem.

    Whites are far more ethnocentric than any other group in the country. It’s really not close. The thing is that the country is so utterly dominated by white ethnocentrism that it becomes invisible and the ethnocentrism of other groups then stands out more, is more visible.

    Ask yourself why it is that a county centuries old has only had white men as its president. And why when the first half-white man is seen as having a legitimate shot at the presidency and Blacks disproportionately vote for this candidate, it is said that Blacks are voting along racial lines. The fact that dozens of white men have come before doesn’t enter the thinking.

    That hundreds of millions of whites have voted along their racial lines for the entire existence of the country is never pointed out. Just viewed as natural.

  8. Ben Richards Says:

    “Whites are far more ethnocentric than any other group in the country. It’s really not close. The thing is that the country is so utterly dominated by white ethnocentrism that it becomes invisible and the ethnocentrism of other groups then stands out more, is more visible.”

    “That hundreds of millions of whites have voted along their racial lines for the entire existence of the country is never pointed out. Just viewed as natural.”

    That’s the thing ethnocentrism is a natural impulse. However, I believe white’s are far more conscious of this & try to avoid it. However, in other groups it is actively encouraged to make race part of someone’s identity. For instance there are numerous non-white groups or associations. I realise that white’s are the majority, so you could they don’t need these groups. But even if whites were the minority can you imagine anyone accepting them setting up a race based group for whites?

    If you look at immigration policies white’s are clearly not the most ethnocentric group in a global sense. Look at Japan – it is 98% Japanese & are quite overt about this.

  9. Ben.

    I’ve never seen a single study, not one, that introduced any compelling evidence that ethnocentrism was natural. Nor have a I heard a strong argument. If you have something to add that I’ve never come across, I’d entertain it. Til then, I’d have to say that your premise rests on the same quicksand bed of excuses that has become standard for white liberals.

    Regarding your global perspective, I would challenge you to rethink your ideas about whiteness. You make the point that whites are for more conscious of ethnocentrism than others. I often hear whites discuss the ethnocentric tendency of the Black Panthers or say of having a station like BET (Black Entertainment Television) or having an Ebony magazine.

    Whites, liberal and conservative, have pointed out to me, and certainly other Black folk, the ethnocentricity of these institutions. What whites don’t see is that every institution in the US besides ones that overtly cater to US ethnic minorities, are white institutions. Here are some white institutions that don’t have the word ‘white’ in the name but are more dominated by whites than BET is dominated by Blacks:

    the Democratic Party of the United States of America
    Federal Govt generally
    the US Judicial system
    the US healthcare system
    the US education system (all levels)

    These are institutions that display high levels of white ethnocentrism. Most whites that observe or participate in these systems would probably find that notion outlandish. This is because what you assert is quite absurd. Whites are by a landslide, the least aware segment of the global population when it comes to ethnocentrism.

    Because white supremacy is global and white ideas and thinking have achieved a degree of global hegemony, it is difficult for a white person, socialized and enculturated by the system, to see this and be aware of it. Step back and actually examine who controls an institution and who determines what’s behaviors, what customs, what aesthetics are normal. And you’ll see white ethnocentrism everywhere.

  10. Ciekawy blog, tematyka podobna do mojego, zapraszam na moja strone, pozdrawiam

  11. Sorry to barge in with a late comment. I just thought you guys might be interested to know that Mr Ben Richards, aka “Ben R” and “Viewer” (on Amazon), actually shows up all over the Net proclaiming the superiority of white people– often in much stronger terms than here.

    Here’s just one example (scroll down):


    Can you say “agenda”?

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