There are some things that Tim Wise would like to put on the table right now. Our success is not determined solely by our individual will and determination. When we are born, we all inherit the past. And for most people in this country, the past alone can dictate whether you rise to the top or fall to the bottom. In the introduction to the revised edition of his book White Like Me, Wise urges readers to join him on a journey. Fair warning: if you accept, it will be a long, tough road ahead. After all, the fight for justice has never been easy. But Tim Wise believes it’s worth it. This is a journey with a single but complex purpose: an attempt to answer the question, “What does it mean to be white?”
I do not think that many white people spend a considerable amount of time thinking about their whiteness. As white people, they don’t have to. Have you ever noticed that it’s mostly white people who proclaim they want to live in a colorblind society? Wise would argue that is mostly because white people are the only people who can be colorblind. Non-white people don’t have that privilege. And Tim Wise would like to have an honest conversation about the privilege of being white.
To many people, Wise may seem to be overthinking things. After all, there’s no forced segregation anymore. All people are equal now! Can’t everyone just get over it already? But it is precisely this overthinking we must all commit to if we want to change the systems of injustice that pervert and pollute our world. So put on your overthinking caps. The journey is about to begin.
But first, a note. Your leader on this journey is not a mild-mannered character. He uses forceful language when necessary and he does not pull any punches. But don’t be threatened. His rhetorical flair is more about passion than aggression. In fact, I would highly recommend watching some clips of him on the Internet before you begin. (Wise is primarily a lecturer and educator who speaks all over the country.) His tone and wit are better captured in person and act as the necessary spoonful of sugar to help the proverbial medicine go down. Okay, now we’re ready.
After opening with an enlightening background on his personal history of white belonging, the rest of Wise’s book reads somewhat like a twelve-step program that makes you want to stand up, raise your right hand, and say, “hello, my name is [insert name here] and I have a privilege problem.”