Let’s talk about racism.
If you’re like most Americans, that headline by itself would probably make you shrug. That’s because we’re predisposed to avoid the uncomfortable topic. This was precisely Tim Wise’s point. He spoke at the University of Maryland at an event organized by Voices of Social Change. The 90-minute event was entitled “Between Barack and a Hard Place: Challenging Racism, Privilege, and Denial in the Age of Obama.” Over 200 people were in attendance at the Hoff Theater. Wise is a white wise guy (no pun intended) on the topic of racism in America. What’s made this speech profound is his passion for solving racial inequalities, and his energy resonated throughout the audience as he cited examples and explained the breaks in our society. From personal biases, to institutional failures to refrain from racism, Wise gave the students at the University of Maryland an in-depth introduction to black culture in a white supremacy type society.
Prior to going to Wise’s event, I did not know that lecturers on racism are hard to come by, or somehow rare. I knew of the topic, I knew it’s not the most exciting one, but I had no idea how much people really wanted to avoid it. Personally, I feel comfortable discussing it, because I feel like hiding my thoughts becomes evident from speaking to me. In that regard, I may come off as racist, which, if race becomes an issue, is what’s probably being suspected of me in the first place. Therefore, I think being honest with yourself and opening up to others about it shows moral strength and courage to face uncomfortable topics.
I also learned that Latinos and blacks are three times more likely to be stopped and searched on the street, but of all white people stopped and searched, the police has found illicit drugs or weapons four times as often. I thought that Wise’s most profound point was about the housing bubble. We learned that the mainstream opinion that blacks caused the sub prime mortgage crisis is an outrageous proposition: minorities accounted for a small percentage of those bad loans, and financial analysts saw this collapse from a mile away. The chance to use black people as a scapegoat was too good to pass up.
Listen to Wise’s thoughts on redlining:
Wise’s books include Colorblind: Barack Obama, Post-Racial Liberalism and the Retreat from Racial Equity, and Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections from an Angry White Male. He is also the author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son and Dear White America: Letters to a New Minority.
At the end of his speech, Wise opened up the floor for a Q&A. Watch a little bit of his speech:
This event was organized by Vo!ces for Social Change. The audience was a great mix of black and white students, which showed a tremendous amount of interest in this topic, or perhaps this speaker. I have never heard of Tim Wise until two days ago, and after looking him up on YouTube I decided to go see him live. Lucky folks with enough time after the presentation got to meet him and buy a signed book, Dear White America (ten bucks on Amazon), published just last month.
The reason I went to this event is because I’m interested in minoring in Leadership studies at the University of Maryland. I also like inspirational talks and motivational speeches. Going to things like this feels like you’re at a TED conference, except less formal. If it’s free, I’m all over it (there’s usually free food, too!)
What do you think about / of racism? Constructive comments only, please.
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