‘White Like Me

‘White Like Me: Reflections on race from a privileged son’ by Tim Wise is a stimulating and an operative book on racism, whiteness and white privilege. The book is an anecdotal recall rather than an academic recount of his experiences of understanding how racial privilege influences racism and daily lives of white Americans in every sphere of life. The book makes one think about race, racism, whiteness and white privilege, but also adds a new layer on how systematic oppression and institutionalized racism works. The author focuses on how racism goes way beyond individual prejudice, it is all about socio-political factors like laws, rules, regulations and opportunities in favor of he dominant group, i.e., the whites. The author was inspired by John Howard Griffin’s ‘Black like me’
The first chapter ‘Born to belonging’ sets in motion the historical aspect of how racism prevailed in the US. As Wise, describes, whites are never questioned about where they come from, their existence in a particular country and moreover, whites are never questioned about their entitlement and privileges. As Tim Wise puts it ‘Once born, I inherited my family and all that I came with it. I also inherited my nation and all that it came with that; and I inherited my ‘race’ and all that came with that too. In all three cases, my inheritance was far from inconsequential.’ (Wise, 2011) This particularly resonated with me because, there are very few people like Wise who acknowledge what privilege is. From what I gathered, privilege is a concept that is hard to grasp for those who were born with all kind of access to resources and more importantly social power. The social construct of whiteness implicitly points out that irrespective of your economic status, it always has some kind of influence over another, i.e. browns or blacks. White privilege is described as “an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks” (McIntosh 2003). It is a way of life granted to people who are white (by skin color) and privileged (by class). It is a set of circumstances and characteristics given to you, as a white person of privilege, by society, as a result of centuries of racism and colonial domination. It puts you at the top of the power hierarchy in humanity.
I learnt the history behind slavery and how the blacks were marginalized. Up until 1964, the US had not made racial discrimination illegal, which emphasizes on the fact that all whites were placed above all persons of color with regards to social, economic, cultural and pollical hierarchies. The concept of ‘genealogy’ that Wise talks about, is privilege itself. To be able to link to your roots, to be able to talk about ‘born to belonging’ is nothing short of a special right. Most blacks do not have that privilege of getting that psychological comfort of knowing where they came from, and this had a huge impact on my perspective of viewing every race. One thing is and was certain: whites would never know what it feels like to be owned by other people, they will never know what it feels like to be ostracized. Most Americans think that they live in a post-racial society, especially after Obama’s presidency, but it seems to not be the case. The typical white American in a post racial era believes that racism is history and that everything is formally equal. They believe that the blacks should be grateful for what America has done for them, but, the blacks don’t seem very grateful. On one hand they fear that they will say something that will offend the blacks, but on the other hand advocates the thought that the blacks use racism for their failure. (Metzler, 2010). Ultimately, it’s the blacks who still face the wrath of institutionalized racism and racial profiling despite having a black president.
According to me, a positive outcome of this book would be the author’s controversial style of writing. He uses punches, sarcasm and satire in his writing which hits all the right notes. Meaning, it’s commendable that a white male has acknowledged racism and privilege. Not only this, but also accepting that the whites have been the oppressors for people of color and generating discourse around it makes it hopeful. Having said that, this book educates people, not just whites or people of color, but everyone in general about the nitty-gritties of social issues like racism and privilege. For example, it has also made me aware of my own standing with racism, my privilege in my society and more importantly how I view both black and white people. Another strength of the book according to me is he encourages white people to take stock og how their skin color has profited them or ‘whit awakening’ as Wise calls it.
According to me, throughout the book Wise spoke about white privilege and racism which was only addressing the ‘black males or white males.’ This, according to me could be a weakness, because addressing issues pertaining to just males, again is a privilege in itself. There is little o no discourse about how racism and privilege has influenced women of color.
The book has lot of material that feels like it’s common knowledge, but in hindsight proved to be a cultural shock. As someone belonging to a different race and ethnicity, which falls under minority, I experienced conflicted emotions while understanding how the country could elect a black president twice and yet have racist beliefs. For example, as Wise argues, ‘Obama’s victory was the evidence of white privilege, rather than a refutation to it.’ (Wise, 2011). This seems counterintuitive, but it makes me think about how privileged people advocate reverse racism. They never had to fight for freedom and they never faced discrimination.
The author talks about the difficulties faced by blacks in educational settings and being subjected to stereotypical thinking about their intelligence. The blacks were on the receiving end of substandard education, while the whites were provided top notch quality education. Education must not be contingent upon skin color, in my opinion, however, the whites did the very opposite. It makes the distinction known and well directed towards the blacks. This was astonishing because, today, the US is one of the most preferred countries for education.
I’ve always learnt racism as a social issue that victimizes the ‘have nots’ or the underprivileged and how it puts them at a disadvantage, but I’ve never been taught about racism being about white privilege and how they are at advantage. We often end up ignoring the social institutions that are our true perpetrators. One of my biggest beliefs that was challenged through this reading was to not look at just the blacks and victimizing them, rather it’s important to look at people who are not aware about their own privilege. It made me question my own beliefs about how I view black people and how oblivious I am to the injustice that stems from it.
Having been influenced by social media, I admit I have had stereotypical notions about white and black people, especially when it comes to crime rates. For example, studies have found that death sentences are far more likely when whites are killed by blacks. (Wise, 2011). According to Dixon and Linz (2000), Blacks and Latinos are more likely than Whites to be portrayed as preparators on television news. The studies confirmed a notion that I’ve always been exposed to: we should be suspicious of blacks. It seems ironic, because I come from a region that is also considered minority and yet one minor group is sending out messages to be wary of other minor groups. However, all this while I’ve been oblivious to the role played by white supremist in this scenario. Reading about Wise’s take on crimes made me realize the magnitude of this problem. It is so unfair to the people of color to be called criminals, to be suspicious of them because of their skin tone. This just reiterates the fact that institutional racism is very much prevalent. People of color know they are ‘other’ and are very much aware of the repercussions. What challenged my belief, was reading about how white people can choose to build a life without seeing people of color. In the book Wise mentions about lynching being openly advertised in the newspapers, however, the whites just turned a blind eye towards this heinous crime.
Similarly, I’ve always thought of ‘being colorblind’ as something on the lines of seeing people, not color. However, the book taught me how ‘being colorblind’ is also a form of racism. It conceals the issues revolving around oppression and marginalization. It takes the standpoint that ‘everyone belongs to the same color, also known as white.’ It surely challenged my belief system circling colorblindness.
To be honest, the book reiterated the fact that ‘I’m not white’ therefore, I am not privileged. It made me conscious of my own color and how it influences everything that has been familiar to me. However, in my opinion, being a non-member has made me more self-aware and at the same mindful about racism and privilege. Towards in the end of the book Wise says, ‘But fighting the battle is what people of color have always done and will continue to do, no matter the outcome’ (Wise, 2011). This is exactly what I feel. On one hand, I’m proud of my race and culture and the fact that we are still battling consistently against injustice. But, on the other hand, it makes me question the very existence of the battle, there shouldn’t be a battle in the first place because of a concept called ‘equality’
Being white gives a person a sense of entitlement and privilege and often are preferred over minorities. According to color group studies conducted by Sue et al. (2007), racial microaggressions trigger racial talks in the form of implicit behavior directed towards the people of color by ‘well-intentioned’ whites who are oblivious to their color and privilege. The microaggressive behavior was especially in terms of education and crime. The kind of opportunities a dominant group has makes the inequality more distinct. In my opinion, it’s important to bridge this gap in order to feel somewhat equal.
I was honestly slightly intimated by the power whites hold over all the races. While this makes me a little skeptical about the whites, I would most certainly not generalize it to the entire population. I have massive respect for people of color trying to fight this battle for themselves every day, living in a polarized world. Living in a country being exposed to only one race did not give me a lot of insights towards different races and culture. But, being in a different country and reading this book on white privilege, provides me a better understanding of the functionalities of different races.
Race is the most fundamental aspect of a person’s identity that influences our social interactions. My biggest takeaway is that in order for me to understand race, it’s important to view the person in a more holistic and diverse way rather that placing my judgement solely based on one aspect- race. It is definitely going to take a while to be able to live in a racism-free society, however it is not impossible. To make an environment racism free, privileged people will have identify their privileges and the marginalized communities will have to still fight for their rights. Today, I am in a better position to understand multiple races, in their frame of references. This knowledge will be beneficial in my future practice in counseling. It also makes me more self-aware of where I stand in the society and how my race influences the society.
Wise, T.J. (2011). White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son. Berkeley, CA.: Soft Skull Press.
Wise, T.J. (2011). Born to belonging, (pp. 1-25). White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son. Berkeley, CA.: Soft Skull Press.
McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In S. Plous (Ed.), Understanding prejudice and discrimination (pp. 191-196). New York, NY, US: McGraw-Hill.
Mezler C.J. (2010). Barack Obama’s fustian bargain and fight for America’s racial soul. Journal of Black Studies. 40,3, 395-410. 10.1177/0021934709352080.
Wise, T.J. (2011). Middle Passage, (pp. 53-86). White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son. Berkeley, CA.: Soft Skull Press.
Dixon, T. L., ; Linz, D. (2000). Race and interpretation on victimization on local television and news. Journal of Communication, 27, 547. 10.1177/009365000027005001
Wise, T.J. (2011). Redemption, (pp. 267-271). White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son. Berkeley, CA.: Soft Skull Press.
Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., ; Esquilin, M. E. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62, 271–286. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.62.4.271

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