White Like Me

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.


About Daniel Roddick

Daniel has a B.A. in American History with minors in both Ethnic Studies and Sociology. He also has an M.Ed. in College Administration and Counseling. Daniel has worked in the financial aid industry for over a decade. He has presented all over the country on financial aid issues related to equity, inclusion, and access to education. He is also a writer of poetry, fiction, and this blog, all of which touch on identity.
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One Response to White Like Me

  1. Hi Daniel,

    I have read several posts of yours and through out your comments and analyses the concept of race seems to be of prominence. Just for clarification, could you please write about the definitions of race as a social construct and how is it different/similar to that of ethnicity? If there is any difference between the two, how important or insignificant is it to address this distinction when discussing the issue of one’s identity? To further clarify my questions, I am aware of the technical definitions, but as it turns out I do not have an extensive exposure to literature regarding issues of race/ethnicity and identity. So my questions are specifically addressed in context of the literary consensus, if there is one, on the use of either terms.

    With some background in psychology and that I am (as you know) a first generation immigrant, the issue of identity, especially as it relates to ethnicity, is of a great import to me. I enjoy reading your comments and analyses on various subjects and events as it relates to many of the same concepts that many people of my background struggle with.

    Keep up the good work!

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