This past Wednesday night acclaimed author Tim Wise gave a thought provoking and insightful talk on the history and current nature of racism embedded in this country.
It is important to note that Tim Wise’s talk comes amidst a time of heated political and social discourse. Some of this tension can be found on campus, as just recently signs advertising the event have been vandalized by unknown individuals. Despite the broken signs, all remained calm Wednesday night as Wise gave his talk before a large audience in Campbell Hall, received only by cheers and applause.
Wise began by mentioning the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He talked about some of the collections that could be found in the museum, speaking passionately about an assortment of bricks that symbolized every slave Thomas Jefferson owned, and Jefferson’s own words speaking of freedom and liberty that could be found nearby. Wise culminated his description of the collection with a fiery declaration that “this nation is great because black folks believed in those words more than that man (Jefferson) did.”
Wise later touched on how race at the very beginning of this nation was still not a fully formed concept. He explained that the idea of race was brought into being by the rich as a means to maintain their status, stating “You divide and conquer color and working class people.”
Wise went further in depth over how race has long been used to manipulate working class whites to support the status quo. Going back to the Civil War, Wise cites how the rich white Southerners got poor whites to fight on their behalf on the grounds that freed blacks would take their livelihoods.
“Rich people don’t believe in fighting, they get poor people to do it,” Wise explained earlier in the talk.
Wise also dispelled some misconceptions that have risen since the election concerning illegal immigrants and the border wall. He pointed to the fact that 40 percent of illegal immigrants overstay their visas, refuting the notion that a border wall will completely halt illegal immigration.
He also claimed that a wall will not stop companies from outsourcing jobs, further eroding the belief that a wall can help spur job growth for U.S citizens. Wise proclaimed that the wall, in reality, is simply “rich white folks telling the poor their problems are brown.”
Another issue Wise addressed is whether Trump supporters are racist.
“Not all of Trump’s supporters are racist, [but] not all of Hillary’s supporters are not non-racist,” he said. Through this statement Wise tried to touch on the larger problem of generalizing an entire group of people based on their most prominent members. He also attempts to shed light on how society has conditioned people to be racist, sexist, and/or classist, stating “we’re all conditions of awful and great.”
One final contentious point Wise spoke on was the reasons why people voted for Trump. On discussing this debate, Wise began by acknowledging that the white working class was struck severely by the recession and desired a solution for their problems. As Wise explains, this is where Trump enters the picture with false promises of fixing the system in their favor.
Still, Wise admitted that support for Trump cannot be fully contributed to economic anxiety, citing that people of color are more likely to be unemployed than whites. Wise instead argued that whites who supported Trump bought into the false idea perpetuated by rich that hard work will lead to success no matter what, and those who fail—often people of color—fail due to their own shortcomings and not because of lack of economic opportunity.
Wise ultimately argued for understanding and accountability of those who might have supported Trump. Throughout his talk he also touched on the hardships endured and still faced by people of color. Finally, he noted the true oppressors of this country: the rich and powerful who seek division to maintain wealth. Despite his analysis on the state of the nation, not all is doomed. Wise assured the audience “people of color have been facing worse than Donald Trump.”