Social justice advocate and anti-racist writer Tim Wise spoke to a large and diverse audience at Phoenix College Thursday evening about racial discrimination, inequality and the problems that arise from the white experience.
Author of numerous books on race issues, Wise has long been engaged in anti-racist work, the most recent of which is his new book “Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Jeopardizing the Future of America,” which will be released in September.
The event was sponsored in part by ASU’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. Matthew C. Whitaker, the founding member and former director of CSRD and who has been the center of recent plagiarism-related controversy, opened the talk.
In his introduction, Whitaker briefly addressed the fact that there is a new co-director at CSRD, saying that as the CSRD expanded, hiring new staff had been discussed, including a new co-director to “free (Whitaker) up” for other things.
Wise opened by proclaiming his gratitude to the activists doing day-to-day ground work to actively oppose racial discrimination, and urged the audience to support them as well.
“There is something fundamentally wrong with our culture when I am here speaking before you about these issues of racial inequity, structural racism, institutional white supremacy, and as I speak, Sandra Bland is dead," Wise said. "And the fact that no one. . . is prepared to utter her name. . .It tells us a lot about where we are and where we are not in our society.”
Wise went on to describe various other racial issues that have surfaced just in the recent past.
"We as a society have some reckoning to do, not only for Sandra Bland but for so many others," he said. "What society is it that tells black men and black women and those in between the gender spectrum that their lives are irrelevant?”
Wise further addressed the issue of police brutality and racial bias in law enforcement.
“Police are under the impression that they are above the law that they are asked to enforce,” he said. “Law enforcement officers see black people, black men and apparently black women as well, as a threat in a way that they do not when those individuals are white, regardless of their behavior. That is where we are as a country.”
Wise criticized figures like Donald Trump and Joe Arpaio for their promotion of white privilege and their sense of entitlement to this country, claiming it as theirs to govern.
Wise said that this sense of entitlement is unfounded, as America was stolen and plundered from the indigenous people, despite what is written in textbooks to “whitewash” the history of this country.
“From the very beginning, plunder of black and brown bodies, plunder of black and brown communities, plunder of black and brown labor and wealth and land has been the heritage of this country,” he said. “Now we can either deal with that and move forward as a people, or we can deny it and act like it isn’t true.”
Wise shamed the defense of the Confederacy as apart of Southern history, comparing the Confederate flag to a swastika and saying it had no place being displayed in the first place.
He also shamed politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley for their feigned surprise to the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that racial issues should be apparent to all.
He further criticized the voting system in this country as systematically making it difficult for minorities and young people to vote.
“They want more money and fewer voters,” Wise said. “They are fundamentally against democracy. So for those of us who are white, who believe that this assault on black and brown voting is a race issue, let us pay very close attention. This is an assault on democracy itself.”
Wise then discussed the racial issues revolving around education, saying that when people attack institutions that educate minorities like the La Raza studies that were banned in Tucson, what they are fundamentally saying is, “‘We don’t want these brown children to be educated.”
Wise described the system of inequality that sets up minorities to have lower success rates and consequently fill the positions in society that have been designed for them.
“Let’s recognize that these folks, brown folk, black folk, working class folk are getting screwed by this system,” he said.
Wise urged the audience to realize the delusion that white people have in believing that by supporting the white upper-class, they are protecting their own interests, when in fact they are promoting economic inequality that harms them too.
“Rich folk don’t care about you working class white folk," he said. "Rich folk don’t love you. Rich folk don’t give a damn about you.”
Wise said that wealthy right-wing politicians, Trump specifically, have no interest in helping the working class.
He further criticized these politicians for their false ideas about immigration rooted in the idea that those who live on this side of the border are inherently better than those seeking to immigrate here.
“(Politicians) are more than willing to let capitol move across borders," he said. "They’re more than willing to let goods move across borders. . .they like goods and money moving wherever rich people want to move them. They just want to chain labor to their country of origin. That’s an inherently biased and rigged game.”
Wise said that those who seek to immigrate to America have no desire to move, but because of an unjust global economic system, must do so out of necessity.
“The idea that people just pick up their s--t and move for no reason is ridiculous. . .The problem is that white folk have forgotten that their ancestors didn’t want to come here either,” he said. “Those of us who are white and got on the boat to come here are no different than those brown folk who want to come here today. This system was set up for some and not for others, and until we recognize ourselves in the other and the other in ourselves, we as a country can’t move forward.”
In closing, Wise expressed his hope in the American people to do better.
“The people who insist that inequality is normal, the people who insist that inequality is the best that we can do. . .I would suggest to you that they are the ones who hate this country,” he said. “They are the ones who jeopardize this country, they are the ones who render this country's promise of democracy a complete and utter fraud and it is up to us to decide we are worth more than that.”
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