This past week, I had the privilege of watching Tim Wise speak at FSU’s Ruby Diamond Hall. Tim Wise, a well known anti-racist activist, author, father, and influential speaker gave great insight on dealing with racism and preventing it. He addressed these issues in a manner that everyone could understand, using his own personal experiences and observations from his day-to-day life. These are some of the most interesting and important takeaways I gained from listening to his speech.
America- not always the land of the free
In one part of his speech, Tim Wise brings to the forefront the reality of our society- it is racist, sexist and unequal among other things. He mentioned that we are taught from a young age that America is “the land of the free” and that we can accomplish anything we want. This is somewhat untrue though because there is a large inequality among people of different genders and ethnicities. Despite how much we call our country “the land of the free” there is still the unfair treatment of people of color, and women and men are not making equal wages. We do not see as many black people or women in the same positions as white men. Women are not treated with equal respect in the workplace. These are known facts, but the image of America engrained in our heads leads us to conclude that this is not because of discrimination, but rather because the people at the top have worked harder. If we do not choose to recognize the inequality in our society, then we can not help to correct it. Tim Wise emphasized the importance of questioning our country’s ideology, we can not always rely on that the system is always perfect.
Racism is alive and real
In one instance, Tim Wise describes a time where he was pulled over by a state trooper. This would not have been a big deal if, his friend in the passenger seat had not had a briefcase filled with various narcotics. He mentions that his friend was carrying enough drugs to be arrested for a felony with the intent to sell them. Tim, already nervous, was unable to find his driver’s license and acting very frantically. Struggling to find it, the officer offered to let him look in the cop car, where there is better lighting. Tim proceeded to enter the cop car and continue searching through his wallet. Being under 21 at the time, the cop noticed a fake ID in his wallet. In an instance, Wise found his real ID and was let off with a speeding ticket. Tim Wise points out that this situation would not have been as easy if he were a person of color. If a young black man were acting nervous and frantic when being pulled over, the cops would likely be more inclined to search the car. Besides finding the briefcase full of drugs, the cops likely would not have ignored seeing a fake driver’s license in Tim’s wallet. Wise tells this story to explain that racism is alive and real. He points out that this instance only went so well because of the culture we have created and encouraged. Again, he mentions that if we can not recognize racism, then we can not help to stop it.
Be receptive to others’ experiences
An interesting but very wise point that Tim made was the importance of being willing to understand. When a person of color mentions a racist or uncomfortable experience, we must be ready to listen and try to understand. Many people will ignorantly become defensive, but we must understand that it isn’t personal, but rather business. When a woman or a person of color explain a discriminatory experience, we should listen to this so that we can prevent these same mistakes and also to understand the reality of our country. Wise emphasizes that if we are not willing to understand and recognize the racism in our country, then we can not possibly be a part of the solution.
We must understand our history
America- the land of the free- founded by what Tim calls the “losers” from England. He points out that if they were “winning” they would not have left to start their own country. Wise also points out that we are so quick to criticize immigrants and prevent immigration when we came to this country for the same reasons they are. He also emphasizes the problematic phrase, “Make America Great Again.” Wise mentions that this phrase is ignorant because America has never been great. We must remember about slavery, when the LGBTQ+ community was forced to stay inside the closet, when women did not have basic rights, etc. Although America is improving, we can not say it has ever been “great” because that implies that we are wanting to go backward. We must understand the horrible historic events in our country, the extreme that racism existed at, and other mistreatments of people in order to move forward. We can not forget our country’s mistakes or revert back to them if we want to make America “great.”
Combatting cultural appropriation and racist behavior
With Halloween coming up, Tim points out the importance of choosing your costumes wisely. It is critical not to appropriate real people’s culture because this is a form of mocking and reduces them to a joking costume or silly mask. He mentions one college which held a racist, Mexican themed costume party. This party included students dressing up in silly outfits with sombreros, mustaches, and Mexican food and drinks. While this may seem harmless, it is ignorant and disrespectful. Their defense was that their Hispanic friends were “ok with it.” Wise’s response to this was “yes, but were they really ok with it?” Many times we make racist jokes or appropriate a person’s culture, but they may not mention that they are uncomfortable or feel disrespected. Racist jokes are never ok, and no one will ever be ok with them- whether they speak up or not. Halloween is just around the corner, a good time to choose costumes that do not disrespect a culture or to call out your friends who are planning to do so. It is critical that we do not encourage this behavior and recognize that it is contributing to an already large issue in our society.