According to Tim Wise, an antiracism activist, anything that happens in one generation will affect the next — until we do something about it.
Wise explained that as a country, we like to live in the past when convenient. We celebrate the Fourth of July with parades and fireworks, he said, but we don’t want to be held accountable for the negative issues of the past, such as discrimination and inequality.
Since the election of a black president, Americans tend to believe they live in a post-racial society, Wise said. He went on to demonstrate cases since then where that hasn’t been true.
He cited specifically a study by the justice department that showed that black and Latino individuals are two to three times more likely to have their cars stopped and searched for drugs than white individuals, even though white individuals are four times more likely to actually be found with drugs.
“[The] war on drugs is not about drugs. If it were, we would go where the drugs are,” Wise said.
Wise added that this discrimination was not just by white cops but by cops of color as well. He explained this by saying that people are subliminally conditioned. Wise said that not only do 75 percent of white Americans have implicit biases against black and Latino people but one out of three black people have these biases against black people.
“Advertising works,” he said. “We need to understand our own complicity. We display racism even though we try to be good people.”
However he also admitted that studies have shown that if people are willing to challenge this conditioning and regularly remind themselves not to fall prey to this conditioning, they can change their behavior and counter-condition their minds.
Wise stated that six out of 10 people in surveys admit to holding racial stereotypes. Wise argued that just because the public is willing to carve out an exception for certain individuals, that’s not the conquering of racism.
“To be blind to color is to be blind to the consequences of color. Mainly the consequences of being the wrong color,” he said.
Kindra Montgomery-Block from the UC Davis School of Education supported Wise’s claims.
“He is exactly what this university needs, especially coming from a person of color who is on the staff,” she said. “We talk about this stuff daily amongst the staff. Especially in the age of Obama, that a white man can affirm what we know is to be true, that’s important.”
Wise admitted that people of color have brought up these issues before but have not been taken as seriously. He said that what was most critical was having connections to the people he works with, not the people he works for.
“People of color will free themselves from white supremacy,” he said. “I’m not clear who’s going to liberate white folks from white supremacy.”
Wise, a prominent anti-racism activist, has spoken in 48 states on over 700 college and high school campuses. He has provided anti-racism training for a variety of government and corporate institutions, and was brought to UC Davis by the Cross Cultural Center and Peer Education And Community Empowerment (P.E.A.C.E.) co-coordinator Anreeka Patel.
Patel, a senior international relations and comparative literature double major, explained her reasons for bringing Wise.
“I’ve always been interested in his work,” she said. “When I requested him, it was around the time when there were a lot of hate crimes. We needed someone on campus who can speak about privilege.”
A video podcast of Wise’s speech is available on the Cross Cultural Center’s website, ccc.ucdavis.edu.
AKSHAYA RAMANUJAM can be reached at email@example.com.