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Opinion

Obama’s presidency does not signal an end to racism, bigotry

Tracey Pollock

April 2, 2009

Tim Wise spoke to a large crowd Tuesday night in North Hall auditorium. The theme of his speech was white privilege, with an emphasis on how the recent election of Barack Obama does not mean we live in a post racist society.

“Tim Wise is among the most respected antiracist writers and educators in the U.S., having spoken in 48 states and on over 400 college campuses. He has trained teachers, as well as corporate, government, media and law enforcement officials for uprooting institutional racism,” according to his Web site www.timwise.org. He has written four books including “White Like Me” and the most recent “Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama.”

Wise started his presentation by saying how he has been speaking for 15 years, but now that Barack Obama had been elected he doesn’t have anything to talk about, but thanked everyone for coming to see him speak anyways. This facetious statement was followed by the reality that it is absurd for people to think that racism does not still exist on an individual and institutional level.

He then discussed how poverty still disproportionately affects people of color, especially in the black and Hispanic populations, among several other examples. He made clear that the election of Obama does show some progress, but should not be taken for granted.  The results of this election still do not show white America what the average person of color has to go through on a daily basis. Wise said that claiming the election of Obama was the end of racism in the U.S. was the latest form of denial.

Wise made the point that denial of racism among white people has been the norm for hundreds of years. He discussed how white people were surprised when their slaves left plantations after the Emancipation Proclamation, because the slave owners thought they treated their slaves like family. Then, the results of a Gallop Pole in 1963 showed that white people thought that blacks were treated equally, and in 1962, 87 percent of white people thought that their children and black children were being treated equally in the public school system. If these dates and statistics seem obscure to you, look up the Civil Rights movement. After five minutes of research, you should be able to understand how crazy this attitude of denial is.

Wise discussed the problem is not white people, but the attitude of “whiteness.” White culture is the dominant culture in the U.S. and has been for a very long time, which has afforded white people the privilege of not having to understand what people of color go through. He defined privilege as having one less thing to worry about in your daily life.  This term is not exclusive to race, but also gender, sexual orientation and able-bodiedness among other identities that people have.

The point he very obviously made in this speech was that white people should understand that racism is still a very real problem, and that they can and should be allies in fighting it.

He ended the speech by saying “you can’t afford to have hope without truth.”

 

 

Tracey Pollock is an alumna of UW-River Falls.