Activist Tim Wise says ignoring race deepens racial divide

Timothy Sandoval

Tim Wise, prominent anti-racist activist, told a packed audience in the University Union Ballroom today that we must deal with the legacy of racism, “not because we are to blame for it being there, but because we are the only ones left.”

Wise’s lecture, “Colorblindness and Its Consequences: How Ignoring Race Deepens the Racial Divide,” discussed how the issue of race still live in contemporary culture and politics.

“We don’t have the luxury of ignoring it,” Wise said. “Life is not like a video game where you get to play, restart and replay because you don’t like the way it turned out the first time.”

When talking about inequality in income among races, Wise pointed to the economic crisis to show that intelligence cannot explain why white people earn more money than blacks.

“A handful of rich white dudes can lose a hell of a lot of money without any help from black people,” Wise said. “It would take half a millennia for black or brown folk to rob that much money from you. But we are still more afraid of the typical black or brown folk crossing the street in a hoodie.”

Wise said the reason “white folks” are in a superior position to minorities is mostly because of government intervention. The Homestead Act of 1862, which gave cheap landexclusivelyto white people, and early FHA and VA loan programs, which subsidized mostly white homebuyers, were examples government intervention on behalf of white people, Wise said.

“If we were to give 240 million acres of land to black or Latino folks we would call that welfare,” Wise said. “We do it for white folks, we call that nation building.”

Wise said that the election of President Barack Obama means that we have reached a “post-racial” nation. Wise pointed to the examples of the election of female prime ministers in Pakistan and India, where women have not reached equality with men.

“Individual accomplishment has nothing to do to with systemic reform,” Wise said.

Wise said that people are conditioned to think of races in the way that they do. He pointed to his 6-year-old daughter, who had said, “God had to be white.”

“My daughter picked it up somewhere,” Wise said. “She gets it in churches, she gets it in bookstores and in libraries. She gets it when she reads Christmas cards that would give the impression that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.”

Wise said it is reasons like this that we need to address racism in contemporary times. The lecture followed a panel discussion about affirmative action and other racial issues hosted by UNIQUE and the Council for Affirmative Action, as well as an array of academic departments and campus organizations.

Cecil Canton, professor of criminal justice who helped organize the lecture and panel discussion, said he thought the turnout was great.

“It was pretty full,” Canton said. “People are hungry to get real information and to get an opportunity to talk to people on a very genuine level.”

Jessie Gaston, history professor, said she thought the lecture was “wonderful.”

“I was happy to see so many people in the audience,” Gaston said. “Hearing from someone who is not a person of color may make it better received by some people.”

Timothy Sandoval can be reached at [email protected].