Author of book: Tim Wise

WOW!  This is a killer book on white privilege.  I've always known that you'd have to be a class 'A' fool to "think" there is no such thing as white privilege.  In fact, you'd have to be some sort of Jim-Jones-Kool-Aid-drinkin'-disciple nut bag to deny its existence.  Crazy.  REALLY!

Wise starts with a story about his grandfather, Jacob, who had to immigrate to the United States twice, over a nine year period.  His first attempt was to escape Russian Czarist oppression in 1901.  Unfortunately, for Jacob, he arrived on America's shore a few hours late--REALLY!  He happened to float into the harbor on the same day as an "American of Eastern European descent--Leon Czolgosz--had made the fatal decision to assassinate President William McKinley."  After a few hours of waiting, Jacob came to realize that his timing blew.  "So back he went, along with the rest of his boat, turned away in the shadow of Lady Liberty by a wave of jingoistic panic, of anti-immigrant nativism of hysteria born of bigotry and a well-nurtured, carefully cultivated skill at scapegoating those who differed from the Anglo-Saxon norm."  The ALL AMERICAN norm.  Czolgosz was hideously executed, of course!  America killsreal good!  On top of that, "tens of thousands of Eastern European and other 'undesirable' ethnics would be viciously oppressed in the coming years."  WE'RE #1!  WE'RE #1!  WE'RE #1!  Go for the gold, and YOLO!

Sometime life deals you a bad hand, and sometimes it snaps your neck like a pile driver.  I can't even imagine the disappointment and mega-frustration Wise's grandfather went through.  After weeks of backbreaking travel, only to be sent back to the oppressive existence he was so desperately trying to escape.  Bummer.  But he didn't give up.  He saved up his pennies for nine years, and made the trip again--this time with family in tow, and for keeps.  When he finally arrived, he toiled and sacrificed to the extent that most people can't even imagine.  Wise fully acknowledges the obstacles that had to be overcome and Jacob's incredible work ethic.  And then Wise shows us all the ways Jacob benefitted by his white privilege--from beginning to end.  Wise continues:

"Jacob was able to move south, and even as a religious minority in the buckle of the Bible Belt, find opportunity that was off limits to anyone of color. He may have been a Jew, but his skin was the right shade, and he was from Europe, and so all suspicions and religious and cultural biases aside, he had only to wait and keep his nose clean a while, and then eventually he and his family would become white.  Assimilation was not merely a national project; for Jacob Wise, and for millions of other Jews, Italians, and Irish, it was an implicitly racial one as well.

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Even before assimilation, in fact, he had been able to access jobs and opportunities that were off limits to African Americans; and of course, the very arrival in the U.S.--as tortuous and circuitous as he had been forced to take in order to achieve it--was nonetheless made possible by immigration policies that at that moment (and for most of our nation's history) have favored those from Europe over those from anywhere else.  During the period of both of Jacob's journeys--the one that was aborted and the one that finally delivered him to his new home--there had been quite draconian limits on, for example, Asian immigration.  These restrictions would remain in place until 1965: the year his grandson, my father would graduate from high school.
If that's not white privilege--if that's not affirmative action of a most profound and lasting kind--then I dare say neither concept has much meaning any longer.  And if that isn't relevant to my own racialization, seeing as how it is the history into which I was born, then the notion of inheritance has lost all meaning as well."

This reminds me of a section in Howard Zinn's, "A Peoples History of United States," covering the labor movement and the beginnings of worker's unions--which prominently displayed signs stating--NO COLOREDS ALLOWED.  Fine.  REAL FINE.

When Tim Wise started joining groups that fought racism, he realized that he was taught history completely from the vantage point of white privilege.  And beyond that--RICH white male privilege.  Wise says: "I had learned nothing of these people among whom I now stood, whose contribution to human freedom had been so dramatic: far more so than Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, or Andrew Jackson, for example--whom I had learned plenty about in the same class."

This reminds me of what the economist, Richard Wolff, said: "I received my undergraduate, masters, and doctorate degrees--all from Ivy League schools--and I was not ONCE asked to read even so much as a footnote of Karl Marx!"  What a fine, A#1 education system we've got here in these Ewe-Knighted-States-o-'Merica.  REAL FINE.  Yee-ha!  Again: WE'RE #1!  WE'RE #1!  WE'RE #1!  Go for the gold, and YOLO!

Wise points out that it is definitely not "easy" to stand up against racism, especially on a daily basis.  Also, keep in mind that a crap load of racists are skilled at "hiding" their racism.  However, there are some extremely accurate ways to spot a fake anti-racist.  For one thing, anyone who says they're definitely NOT a racist, or say, "I don't have a racist bone in my body," are lying to you and themselves.  The proper answer is: "I'm trying very hard not to be a racist in any way."  People who say they're absolutely NOT a racist, "think" they can deny centuries of systemic and imbedded social, environmental racism, with a dumb Nancy Reagan "Just say no," simpleton gesture, are just lazy bums in denial.

"The perverse thing about growing up amidst racism is that no matter your own views, no matter your own commitment to resisting it, you inhale it anyway; you ingest it, inhale just as surely as you inhale any other environmental pollutant."

When Wise's grandmother was on her last leg, she went through some sort of dementia phase and started calling the black nurses "niggers."  During her life, she was not a racist, per se.  She never used the N-word before.  But there it was--in that lizard part of the brain--breaking on through, stoked from a lifetime of living in environmental racism--as surely as a miner coughs from black lung.  SHIVER.  

"I've already spoken about my parents' racial liberalism, have already made clear that I was fortunate to be raised in a home where, for all its flaws (and there were many), racism was resisted, detested, and unacceptable. But what you must also realize is that even my parents, without whose influence I would not feel the way I feel about race, were not above stepping into the sludge pit of that thing against which they had taught me to rebel."

Wise tells us of his dad using the word "shvartze" freely--which is a Yiddish derogatory word for blacks.  

"That's not all.  Once when I was a junior high school, I recall my father coming back from a job interview and insisting that he wouldn't be getting the position--which had something to do with working cameras or lights or a soundboard or something at a television station--because, and of this he was certain, they were being forced to hire a black guy, even though he (my father, that is) had been more qualified."

His dad made a living as a comedian--so that reasoning was, of course, complete donkey droppings.  Also, being that Wise's father was an alcoholic, when he got drunk, he said even more shameful, racist crap.  Wise's mother had a similar episode when she was drunk once.  We breathe the racism.  

Other examples of racism are not so stark.  For two reasons, in my opinion:

1. People are actually less racist.

2. People can hide/camouflage their racism, not from being detected, but from being criticized.

There are a variety of ways racism can be hidden.  If you don't believe in lynching blacks, then you're not a racist.  And at the same time you can be all for unfairly incarcerating blacks at an alarming rate--which is just a slower form of lynching--again, in my opinion.  Or, you could be a liberal that has a very positive record when it comes to battling racism.  And then during your life you take a stance that isn't as stark as lynching, but still possibly racist at a more subtle level, and think yourself beyond reproach for past good deeds.  No one.  NO ONE is beyond racism.

I've been thinking about racism for a long time now.  Enough to know that I'll never be free of my white privilege.  This book was a GIGANTIC step in the right direction, for me.

(PS: There are a few tidbits of humor in the book as well.  A rich college classmate of Wise couldn't figure out why her bank account was overdrawn, because she still had blank checks in her checkbook.  Oh, man.)