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Activist: Race still a problem

Megan Hemler | Wednesday, January 27, 2010

America remains a society plagued by the problems of white supremacy, despite the election of Barack Obama in 2008, said renowned anti-racism activist and author Tim Wise Tuesday night.

Held in the Carey Auditorium of Hesburgh Library, Wise gave a lecture entitled “Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama.” 
 
Wise said that even though many pundits had declared America a “post-racial society,” in the weeks following that historic Nov. 4 election, there remains a significant amount of systemic racism throughout our country.
 
“Individual success does not translate into systemic transformation,” Wise said. “Those who proclaim we’re a post-racial society offer no evidence, no data.” 
 
Wise said that this post-racial rhetoric was akin to saying Pakistan had moved past sexism because Benazir Bhutto had been elected twice. 
 
“The reality is that we all inherit the legacies of those that came before us,” Wise said. “But this legacy is one that we’re not supposed to talk about.”
 
Wise cited examples from the Department of Justice reports in 2004 that stated African-Americans with the same credentials as white workers were twice as likely to be out of work as their white counterparts, with Latinos two-thirds as likely to be out of work. Wise also said the average white family has 11 times the net worth of African-American families, and eight times the worth of Latino families. 
 
“In a 2004 study, job applications with white sounding names had a 50 percent greater chance of getting a call back than those with black sounding names,” Wise said. “None of this has changed because of the election.”
 
Wise emphasized the importance of being aware of this racial legacy, an awareness that isn’t easily found among the dominant population group simply because it’s not necessary.
 
“There’s a difference between denial and ignorance,” Wise said. “Regardless of how good of a person you are, you can be implicated in injustice just because you don’t have to be made aware of what it’s like to be part of a non-dominant group. It’s a privilege, a psychological edge, to not have to think about these things.”
 
“It’s important to know the difference between guilt and responsibility,” Wise said. “It doesn’t matter that you didn’t make the mess but only that you’re tired of living in the filth of other’s residue.”
 
This is not a functional system, Wise said, and the costs of not attempting to fix it now are only going to escalate for future generations. 
 
“We ought to be afraid of this for us, not somebody else,” Wise said. “This is not about charity, it’s about responsibility.”