ST. PETERSBURG – Fox Hall at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S., had to open up a partition as eager crowds from all over the bay area came out to be educated on the reality of racism.
“I think that says a lot about our community,” said YWCA Tampa Bay President and CEO Lenice Emanuel.
Each year the YWCA holds a Stand Against Racism conference as part of their national mission to build community among those who work for racial justice and to raise awareness about the negative impact of institutional and structural racism.
This year the packed house was attributed to the highly entertaining and equally passionate visionary Tim Wise, a world-renowned lecturer and author on institutional racism.
Venus Jones, assistant coordinator of Multicultural Affairs brought greetings from Eckerd College, and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin was on hand to present Wise with the key to the city.
Described as “the white guy who gets it,” Wise is well known for his regular appearances on CNN and MSNBC discussing issues of race. He also has lectured at over 800 colleges and high school campuses on race in education, religion and the labor market.
“I’m not above using my privilege for the sake of addressing the system and trying to change it,” said Wise recognizing that as a white male he is part of the demographic consistently seeming to get a leg up in the world.
Whether you love him, hate him or are indifferent to his message, Wise makes a valid point when he states the real evidence of racism being stamped out in a community will be when a woman, or more so a “woman of color,” is able to convey the same type of message he is selling and be taken as serious as the world takes him.
“I appreciate everyone who is willing and excited to come hear this white guy talk about race and racism,” he said, “but until that moment we are not free and we continue to have work to do.”
In order to embark on a true stand against racism, Wise believes first racism itself needs to be defined and agreed upon. For him, the concept is relatively easy and he believes the phrase standing against racism is one that few people are going to outwardly disagree on. But what he questions is if everyone is truly speaking the same language when dealing with issues of race.
“Are we really talking about the same thing,” he asked revealing that a few things have to be done in order for true racial discussions to have any affect.
“You might think we all are on the same page as to what racism is, that’s not true,” Wise said. “If I ask a thousand people, I’m going to get quite a few different answers.”
So Wise, a six time author of anti-racism books such as “White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son and Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority,” broke down the topic in three definable ways.
To start he proposed that racism is principally structural, systemic and institutional, not individual and interpersonal, stating that at times activists talk of fighting and challenging racism with the expectation of acknowledgment or applause for standing up against bigotry.
“It doesn’t’ take any guts to say the Klan or the Nazi’s are wrong,” Wise said explaining that virtually everyone is willing to acknowledge how wrong that is. Instead he argues that structural and institutional racism has a much bigger impact on the life choices and viewpoints of others.
For instance, he referred to a New York Times article a few years back speaking on the post-recession economy calling attention to the fact that some socioeconomic groups, a large proportion of them African American, are still suffering now and were suffering long before it hit the white suburbs.
“Communities of color have been at a recession level virtually year in and year out, decade in and decade out,” said Wise, “and nobody called for a job or stimulus bill to deal with their recession until it hit white dudes, then all of a sudden we had an economic crisis.”
Institutional racism, according to Wise, can also be found in half the new jobs being filled today. Again quoting the New York Times, Wise stated that although qualified applicants exist, jobs are being given away all according to who you know. Although networking has existed for centuries and is not addressed in any civil rights laws, Wise contends that this practice fills the best jobs, “overwhelmingly with those who are white, male, affluent and who went to the right colleges.”
He went on to talk about his views on the inequalities in education between the poor, who he states are disproportionately black compared to their white counterparts. The American practice of unstandardized curriculum, teacher training and resources differing from school to school, county to county, state to state doesn’t make much sense to Wise if all students in the nation are compared on a standardized test.
As far as policing, Wise suggested in lieu of focusing on a handful of officers, racism in America could be dealt with systematically to strengthen law enforcement and how officers and the communities they serve perceive each other.
“If all we do is deal with the individual officers that have a problem with racism, we will never solve this,” said Wise who aims to break the cycle of law enforcement viewing entire communities as their enemy.
Next, Wise proposed that institutional inequality does indeed have an impact on individual perceptions, rewriting the old saying— you need to be taught how to hate—and instead suggesting the system itself affects every racial group in America and that as individuals we feed back into the system of hate and distrust forming a never ending circle of racial tension.
“The one thing that we’ve all been taught is that in this country they can make it if they are just willing to try hard enough,” said Wise who admits to giving his own children the cold, hard facts about how the system really works and not just a glorified outlook on how he wants it to actually be.
“They can see the inequality that is all around them,” he continued stating that children are well aware at a young age just through observation that some sections are disproportionately black or white, rich or poor. “They default to conclusions that are fundamentally racist, sexist and classes. They default to an idea that the folks on the bottom must have something fundamentally wrong with them.”
Wise’s final step in combating racism is in all races acknowledging the leg ups they have received whether it is due to their color, gender or the family they were born into.
“The reason you are listening to me tonight has everything to do with unearned help that I have received along the way,” said Wise as he went into a lengthy list of circumstances that led him into attending a highly regarded school and meeting the right people who would later help him launch a successful career.
“This is conditioned in all of us and until we decide that we’re going to liberate ourselves, none of us at all will be free,” he finished to applause.
Wise closed out the evening by answering questions from the audience along with moderator Gwen Reese, which you can view by subscribing to our YouTube channel, The Weekly Challenger News.
You can also follow Tim Wise on Facebook or check out his new book titled “Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich, and Jeopardizing the Future of America.”