Thoughts on Tim Wise

This week, instead of holding class, we were asked to go to Tim Wise’s talk, “Dear White America.” As he predicted, some of it was hard to hear, but I agreed with much of what he had to say. It’s true that, as a white person, I can hear about the experiences of black people in this country, but I will never truly understand them, since I will never live them. It’s also true that I receive advantages that I rarely notice, simply because of my race. There is no question that, as a country, we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to race relations.

However, I would be interested to hear many of the statistics he was quoting broken down, not by race, but by the income level of the person’s parents (that is, the poverty level they lived in as children). In the area where I grew up (Rhode Island/Massachusetts), the majority of the lower-income families were white, of Portuguese, Irish, and Italian descent, mostly. Though I never studied it closely (mostly because I was a child), I believe that they faced some of the same disadvantages in terms of unemployment and access to education and healthcare as the black and Hispanic communities that Mr. Wise discussed. That is not to say that they did not also have some of the intrinsic advantages of being white, or that there were no race relation problems in the area. I just think that it would be interesting to compare those sets of statistics (by race and by poverty level) side by side and look for the correlations.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Tim Wise”

  1. Or areas like Appalachia too, which are overwhelmingly white but plagued by unemployment, lack of quality education, poverty, consistent abuse by the coal industry, drugs, etc. A WONDERFUL article I read a while back on the coal mining industry in WV by a journalist named Eric Waggoner made some points exactly along these lines that I think would resonate with a lot of people of color in underprivileged communities as well:

    “To hell with everyone who ever asked me how I could stand to live in a place like this, so dirty and unhealthy and uneducated. To hell with everyone who ever asked me why people don’t just leave, don’t just quit (and go to one of the other thousand jobs I suppose you imagine are widely available here), like it never occurred to us, like if only we dumb hilljacks would listen as you explained the safety hazards, we’d all suddenly recognize something that hadn’t been on our radar until now.

    To hell with the superior attitude one so often encounters in these conversations, and usually from people who have no idea about the complexity and the long history at work in it. To hell with the person I met during my PhD work who, within ten seconds of finding out I was from West Virginia, congratulated me on being able to read. (Stranger, wherever you are today, please know this: Standing in that room full of people, three feet away from you while you smiled at your joke, I very nearly lost control over every civil checkpoint in my body. And though civility was plainly not your native tongue, I did what we have done for generations where I come from, when faced with rude stupidity: I tamped down my first response, and I managed to restrain myself from behaving in a way that would have required a deep cleaning and medical sterilization of the carpet. I did not do any of the things I wanted to. But stranger, please know how badly I wanted to do them.)”


    I think privilege, while it of course has a huge racial component, also has many ties to socioeconomic status by itself.

  2. I really like that quote. People make so many assumptions based on what you look like, where you’re from, what you do for a living. To assume that people stay in a bad situation because they’re too stupid to know that there’s something better is as insulting as assuming someone is poor because they’re too lazy to work. As long as a lot of people have that attitude, we’ll never be able to have a useful dialogue about poverty.

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