There is none so dangerous as the white American who waxes nostalgic about what he or she likes to call “the good old days.” Or, alternately, those “simpler” times, or the era of so-called “innocence” remembered from their childhoods, memorialized in a Norman Rockwell painting, or via televised re-runs of the Cleaver family, or Opie Taylor casting a line down at the ol’ fishin’ hole.
None so dangerous because such persons, through their lamentations about having lost the nation they so fondly remember, disregard as if they were a mere annoyance, unworthy of consideration, the lived experiences of millions of their fellow countrymen and women: peoples of color for whom so many of those days were anything but good, far from simple, and part of an era that can only be thought of as innocent by a people utterly inured to suffering, wholly incapable of even defining innocence, let alone identifying it, and unable, for reasons of their own racial narcissism, to stare truth in the face. In this case, the truth that their recollections are the very definition of selective memory. Perhaps worse, delusion itself.
Tim Wise and Don Lemon break down “white racial resentment / white racial paranoia” that is occurring at town hall meetings and the inflammatory rhetoric (e.g. comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler) spewing out of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchannan et al.
Jon Stewart and Larry Wilmore, from the Daily Show, satirize “white fear.”
Race is, and always has been, an explosive issue in the United States. In this timely new book, Tim Wise explores how Barack Obama’s emergence as a political force is taking the race debate to new levels. According to Wise, for many whites, Obama’s rise signifies the end of racism as a pervasive social force; they point to Obama as a validation of the American ideology that anyone can make it if they work hard, and an example of how institutional barriers against people of color have all but vanished. But is this true? And does a reinforced white belief in color-blind meritocracy potentially make it harder to address ongoing institutional racism? After all, in housing, employment, the justice system and education, the evidence is clear: white privilege and discrimination against people of color are still operative and actively thwarting opportunities, despite the success of individuals like Obama.
Tim Wise talked about his book Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama (City Lights Publishers; January 2009). He argued that the election of Barack Obama says very little about a reduction of racism in America. He said it reinforces the old negative views about the larger black community while carving out exceptions for blacks like President Obama. His election may therefore complicate progress against racism. Mr. Wise also acknowledged that day as the 41st anniversary of the death of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and talked about white perceptions of racism at that time. He also talked about a highly publicized mass killing the previous day in Binghampton, New York, by a Vietnamese man and how, like in other incidents, blame is assigned to an entire group, unless the perpetrator is white. He also talked about other types of discrimination, the pervasiveness of racism, and the personal responsibility to combat it.
For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for an easy-to-understand example of it, perhaps this list will help.
White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you, or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.
Tim Wise has written a new essay that critiques the racist rhetoric that’s being furiously spread around the interwebs in the wake of flooding in Iowa – “Adding Insult to Injury: Race, Disaster and the Calculus of Comparative Suffering.” It’s a deeper analysis that is very similar in context to my post on “Comparing Iowa to New Orleans.”
Disasters bring out the best and worst in people.
On the one hand, millions of folks respond to the suffering of their fellow human beings with compassion, concern, and even significant financial assistance when needed. Be it a hurricane, an earthquake, tornadoes or the recent massive flooding in the Midwestern United States, the hearts, minds, and often wallets of large numbers of the nation’s people are with those in need.
And on the other hand, there’s Rush Limbaugh, who has decided to use the flooding in Iowa not to demonstrate compassion, but as an opportunity to make derogatory statements about poor black folks: specifically those caught by the flooding in New Orleans after Katrina in 2005.
This week, as folks in Iowa, Indiana and parts of Illinois have watched flood waters rise ever higher, Limbaugh took to the air to contrast these supposedly good and decent people who have joined forces to help each other, with the presumably evil, lazy and violent folks of New Orleans, who we are told, did nothing but foment criminality and wait for the government to save them during flooding there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
I been reading a lot of quotes on the interwebs that are saying that Iowa is handling flooding better than New Orleans dealt with Katrina. A lot of the comments (some are more overt than others) imply that white folks in Iowa (of course these comments completely marginalize Iowans of color) are doing a better job of steadfastly standing up to floodwaters while folks of color in New Orleans were looting and relying on handouts. Is this rhetoric racist? Of course it is. It’s comparing two situations that are logically impossible to compare. A single urban area vs. acres of farmland dotted with small to medium sized towns does not present a landscape that is comparable. The rhetorically racist comparisons of flooded Iowa and Katrina-impacted New Orleans reminds me of this Tim Wise video that illustrates how racism has been used to facilitate division amongst working class white folks and working class folks of color.
via Michael Faris
I went to a talk by Tim Wise last night. He’s a white, ant-racist, social justice activist. It was the first time I ever heard a white guy talk about ending racism. I read Janet Helms model of White Identity and became very frustrated/confused. Tim Wise provided the (mostly white) audience with some great insight about what it means to be white and how white people can use their unearned privileges to end racism. I am reading White Like Me by Tim Wise and it is full of useful language and ideas for action.
I talked with some friends of color and they had a less than positive reaction to Tim Wise. I empathize with their anger. Why should a white guy have to tell other white people that they have to end racism when people of color have been saying the same thing for a long time. I think Tim Wise is valuable as a social justice educator. He got my attention. Isn’t that valuable? How many white folks were affected by Wise’s talk? I think we all have to work towards the elimination of all oppressions and if someone from an oppressor group gets the attention of other oppressors than so be it. IMHO