Tim Wise’s book White Like Me succinctly and directly captures the reality of whiteness in America and probably much of the world. He makes the abstract concrete when it comes to how we have an advantage because of a dominant hegemony.
We need someone who is honest yet doesn’t point fingers. The way he explains how racism persists in today’s world provides insight none of us should ignore. He organizes the chapters based on the following progression of racial identity development: belonging, privilege, denial, resistance, collaboration, loss, and redemption.
Here is an example from his high school years showing white privilege and where he was able to change plays to suit his talents: “My ability to force script changes was not, itself, about race – at least not directly. But my ability to be in the position I was, and therefore to make that kind of demand, and to gain the director’s acquiescence, most assuredly was about race, at least in part…these were roles written, after all, for white actors.”
For denial he uses the example of people pointing out that racism doesn’t impact nonwhites anymore because people like Oprah are extremely rich. He points out that the first black female millionaire was CJ Walker back in 1911. (She started a cosmetic line for black women). Does that mean racism didn’t exist in 1911? The fact that a black woman can overcome society’s bias does not mean the bias does not exist. You can’t deny that things are better, but you also can’t deny that the work to fight bias is never complete.
The idea of a meritocracy in America is really more of a goal. It may not be obvious to those in the mainstream that the meritocracy isn’t fully realized because it really is true for them. Consequently they don’t even know that others don’t experience it equally, if at all. Racism, classism, sexism, otherism sometimes keeps the privileged blissfully ignorant. Remove the ignorance and you remove the bliss. This is one of the challenges to this process.
Tim Wise was anything but the model citizen by his own admission, but his book is no less useful because of it. In fact, his reckless youth is an example of just how racist society can be. He is brave enough to acknowledge his racial privilege despite being lower-middle class, part Jewish and having an alcoholic father in the home.
He places his privilege into context. We all have advantages and disadvantages in society. We most identify and acknowledge before we can work to ‘do no harm’, a tenet of psychologists, student affairs professionals, Christians, and most groups everywhere.