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Race Is Not a Card: White Privilege, Racism, and the Culture of Denial

Who: Tim Wise (lecturer)
What: Race Is Not a Card: White Privilege, Racism, and the Culture of Denial (on-campus lecture)
When: Friday, April 27th 2007 from 7-9pm
Where: Walter Mondale Law Center
Sponsor: Sponsored by the College of Education and Human Development, the School of Social Work, The Social Justice Minor, the Cultural Competency Advisory Board, The Office of the Vice President and Vice Provost for Equity and Diversity, The Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice, and SW-Act!
Web Link: ww.timwise.org

I went to see the anti-racist activist Tim Wise last Thursday, and by the time the two hour lecture and Q&A had finished, I left the auditorium feeling quite pensive and somewhat encouraged to continue the fight against racism. I say “somewhat,� because I can’t really afford to be burned out and I don’t have the luxury of taking some time off to have a vacation from fighting for social justice. Wise talked about the use of “the N word� in hip hop and of (White) critics who say that hip hop is to fault for it’s prevalence in present day society. In response to those critics, Wise talked about the numerous underground hip hop artists who attack the use of the N word in mainstream media, but considering that a majority of Caucasians are not exposed to underground artists that fight against derogatory terms, I am not surprised that hardly anyone considers that fact.
Wise also spoke of the term “stereotyping threat� or “stereotyping vulnerability,� it is when a targeted identity (People of Color) become so anxious of disproving the stereotype that the agent identity (White people) has of them, that the very stereotype they work had to disprove is evidenced. For example, students of color, who become anxious of testing against the majority of White students, will do worse on a standardized test of intelligence, thereby their anxiety actually affecting their score. He also spoke about results of a test that pitted a Black American basketball team against a White basketball team in a test of “natural talent,� where the outcome was that the Black American team beat the White team in a huge win.

Wise also talked about the fact that when anything bad happens in the news involving a Person of Color, national organizations of People of Color have to come out publicly denouncing that individual, because they do not want to seem affiliated with that person. It is interesting to see how when a White person, a Christian, a heterosexual, or a man is involved in a local or even a national tragedy, that these identities do not have to come forward to denounce others like them in order to distance themselves from the incident. In class we briefly talked about privilege and I thought it was interesting to hear Wise’s perspective on privilege, considering his entire lecture covered different privileges White people have that People of Color are unable to have access too.
Wise talked about the irony of the term “underprivileged� and how it is often used incorrectly and most passively in regards to “minorities.� He made the argument that if there is an underprivileged identity, then indeed there must be an overprivileged identity, but all too often the underprivileged are recognized as not having taken the appropriate actions to get themselves out of the hole of being underprivileged; not that the overprivileged have done nothing to be privileged. This also brings up another class topic to my mind, one of affirmative action in the workplace and our discussions of how it affects us as students.
Wise talked extensively on affirmative action and how it is often that People of Color are seen as less qualified or cashing in “the race card� to get into college or to get that job over a White person. It is interesting to note that, the reverse of this situation is hardly ever noticed by White people who are always gaining access to higher education and jobs than People of Color because they are White, but I guess it is a privilege to be ambivalent to one’s privilege.
Wise also discussed the idea of race being a card that People of Color can just cash in whenever we feel like in order to get more access to jobs and higher education; when is race ever a fun card to play? And if we do “play� it, will it always work? It seems to me, that I am not one to pull the race card in tough situations, because I know that whatever I do as a Woman of Color will reflect to others (aka White people) as a behavior that all People of Color do. I recognize that White folks in America do not have to worry about speaking or acting on behalf of their entire race, but I do not have that luxury. Wise used a metaphor to describe privilege and how those who are privileged react to affirmative action: A person is driving in a shopping center looking for a parking space and all that is left is a few spaces reserved for handicapped drivers, the driver is then annoyed that the only spaces left are handicap spaces. While, this metaphor suggests a correlation between People of Color and physically handicapped people, which I am not a fan of, I see the irony of the driver yelling in frustration about not being able to park closer to the shopping center because the space is reserved for those who are not has privileged to be physically able.
Several days after the lecture I am still pensive, but much more energetic about my fight for social justice. I have learned so much about privilege and the more I learn, the more I realize that I have a lot more to learn. I am continuing to explore where I fit in this world and the systems of power that affect my everyday life, while being fully aware that it is entrusted onto me and my generation to clean up the mess, of social injustice, that the ones before us made.