Anti-racism author headlines leadership & diversity program
Author of several books and educator on issues of race, Tim Wise reminded listeners how “diversity” is not the same as “equity.”
Whenever Tim Wise hears from a white person that racism is no longer a problem, the first thing he’ll ask is: “How would you know?” He asks the same question whenever a man says that sexism is no longer an issue, or a straight person claims that homophobia has vanished.
For Wise, a critically acclaimed author on race and diversity, racism, sexism, homophobia and other issues related to social injustice are alive and well, but they aren’t apparent to members of what he calls “dominant groups.”
That will need to change as the number of minorities in the United States grows in the coming years while the number of white Americans declines. If it doesn’t, he said, the nation will experience dramatic social upheaval in the not-so-distant future.
Speaking on Saturday to an audience in Whitley Auditorium, Wise used stories, humor and sarcasm to argue that “diversity” should be less about numbers, and more about the majority of any group giving thought to how they may not even see social injustices that harm the minority.
In the United States, he said, that goes for whites, men, Christians, heterosexuals and those who live in relative economic comfort. Wise was quick to say that he isn’t criticizing members of these demographic groups. However, he added, the groups should realize that as a “dominant” culture, it’s hardest for them to understand how others can be easily repressed.
Wise argued that the people with the greatest difficulty coming to terms with inequality in society are often the “good people,” those who show optimism in life and tend to see the best in others. It’s because of this happiness and the discomfort that inequity creates that “especially good people” shy from examining diversity. “Sometimes good people become the biggest impediment to change,” Wise said.
So why do whites tend to view the United States in 2012 as a “post-racial” culture? Wise described friends who would say “you’re living in 2007,” implying that the election of President Barack Obama has ameliorated racial inequality. Yet educational opportunities remain disparate between whites and people of color, as does the criminal justice system and even employment opportunities.
“We have the privilege of remaining oblivious to the experiences of those who are different,” Wise said. “That’s what ‘privilege’ means from a racial sense.”
Wise visited Elon University as part of the 2012 INTERSECT: Diversity and Leadership Conference organized by the Multicultural Center and the Center for Leadership. The Feb. 24-25 conference featured multiple workshops for student participants to build leadership skills while learning ways to better include and appreciate all types of people in their organizations.
Among the most prominent anti-racist writers and educators in the United States, Wise has been called “one of the most brilliant, articulate and courageous critics of white privilege in the nation” by best-selling author and professor Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University.
He has spoken on more than 800 college and high school campuses, and to community groups across the nation. The graduate of Tulane University has also lectured internationally in Canada and Bermuda on issues of comparative racism, race and education, racism and religion, and racism in the labor market.
Wise is the author of six books, including his latest, Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority, which followed his critically acclaimed work White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son. He has contributed essays to 25 books, and is one of several persons featured in White Men Challenging Racism: Thirty-Five Personal Stories, from Duke University Press.
He received the 2001 British Diversity Award for best feature essay on race issues, and his writings have appeared in dozens of popular, professional and scholarly journals.