Getting’ Wise About Race

By India John

Last night, dozens of students, faculty and community members gathered in Wilson Theater to listen to a public lecture by Tim Wise. Prominent anti-racist writer and educator, Wise’s witty narrative took the listeners on a journey through racism in society – past, present and future. Combining detailed facts and anecdotes, Wise brought issues of racism, from slavery and the civil rights movement to today’s occupy movement, to the foreground of the greater issue at hand, that of privilege and the acknowledgement of privilege. The idea of privilege goes beyond racism to all other prejudices, be it about gender, sexuality, religion, disability or anything other than white, upper-class male.

“Privileged people have the psychological edge of having one less thing to sweat,” Wise said. Wise quickly explained that being privileged does not inherently make someone a bad person, but that “Good people who don’t have to think about these things are the problem…they don’t like to look at the ugly.” And looking at the ugly is exactly what Wise demands that our country begin to do.

“We must clean up the residual funk of others, not because we made the mess, but because the mess will not get clean unless we do it,” Wise concluded at the end of his opening anecdote concerning a three-day old pot of gumbo. His attitude towards racism doesn’t differ in the slightest.

Wise concluded his lecture by insisting that we begin having more open dialogue about issues of race that are still prevalent today.  He informed the audience that “It’s up to you what our future looks like. It’s either forward, or backward.”



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