Tim Wise and my concerns about his “activism.”

I’m well aware that I am in a delicate position when it comes to talking about racism and sexism given that I have White privilege and cis-Male privilege. The purpose of this blog is to discuss concerns I and others have regarding the ways in which Tim Wise, the popular anti-racism speaker, discusses issues of racism and privilege. 

Wise’s homepage can be found here. He has published several books and has given hundreds of speeches. While we need more and more conversations about systems of oppression, Wise has an approach that immediately alienated me and left me wondering what else was going on when I first learned about him years ago.

bell hooks says everything is about love and everything must be rooted in love. Otherwise, she has said in countless books and speeches, nothing positive will result. Additionally, hooks discusses how we are all guilty of oppression, that we are all guilty of perpetuating forces that only cause harm because we are born into them. Fighting for equality and decolonizing the self is more than can be done in an entire life time. Wise’s efforts do not realize or internalize these lessons.

I have not heard or read nearly all of Wise’s work (he has a lot!); but I have read and heard a good amount, and I have read articles about his work.

Problems with how Wise goes about fighting for freedom include frequent name-calling, so-called four letter words, and very aggressive, loud words. When such “sage-on-the-stage” rhetoric is used, already-resistant audiences only become more resistant. (I think Jane Elliott‘s work does far more harm than good for very similar reasons.)

For example, take this recent post on his Facebook page

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Is Wise actually for justice and an end to oppression given his tactics?

Additionally, while the core of Wise’s history is correct, it misses the wonderful nuances of the past. When fighting for justice, the small details are especially important.

For example, not all women and those racialized as Black were property.

All forms of Christianity and its followers can’t be automatically homogenized and demonized.  

And intersectionality is important, too – most Black women didn’t legally have husbands for most of this country’s history.

What about their agency, too? What about what these minority groups did to fight for freedom?

What about Native Americans and Asian Americans? What about recognizing the comparatively recent rise of there being notions of LGBT people?

Sure, not all of this can be recognized in a short Facebook posting, but there are ways. 

Further, I can’t think of anyone who would find this post persuasive enough or kind enough to learn and to be persuaded. The “your-country-is-over” rhetoric makes people opposed to equality even further opposed to equality and really (and almost legitimately, per se) fear for their place in society. And can you blame them? Regardless of who you are, you are going to feel a bit threatened if you are told your way of life is dead. 

I am also bothered by the word “sweetheart.” Typically, culturally speaking, sweetheart is directed at women – sometimes in positive ways, sometimes in negative ways. “Sweetheart” is for sure sexist language, outside a loving, consensual relationship. Wise’s use of “sweetheart” is meant as an insult, perhaps to “feminize” those opposed to equality. 

Tim Wise doesn’t seem to recognize that people are products of their society. He focuses too much on individuals. Be sure to check out Jay Smooth’s excellent video on systemic racism. 

We must also consider biological studies that show people who are “liberal” and people who are “conservative” have different types of brain structures.

All of this brings me to another troubling point and impression I have: Wise overly and excessively uses his privilege(S) to have the voice he does. Calling people “sweetheart” is an insult and is act of cis-male privilege and White privilege in itself. 

Even his comment–“…You will either learn to be one among many—not special, not privileged, not superior—or you will be politically routed…”–ignores the reality of privilege, the privilege he claims to want to end. 

While the above is mostly an analysis of one Facebook posts, these thoughts are informed by reading a lot about him and his work, and they are duplicated throughout his work, especially in social media.

Tim Wise also does not create conditions that welcome conversation, as noted by this remark on this website: 

If you want your post to be visible here, make a friggin’ argument. If you are unclear as to what this means, know this: saying that I am a “Jew bastard,” or “commie,” or whatever, will get you deleted. Your freedom of speech does not obligate me to indulge asshole-ness. And I won’t. Start your own Goddamned website. Or go play with the folks at Stormfront and leave me alone. I don’t have time to deal with Nazis.

Consider how different his comment policy is to mine.

It is really important for those committed to social justice to not just be a “missionary” to or for people or to feel as if “x group of people” need said privileged person to be their advocate.

More importantly, privileged scholars and speakers must read and reference the ideas of scholars and non-scholars, especially those who are non-White, non-cis-Male and who are Queer and who are from very different backgrounds.


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Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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4 replies

  1. I like Tim Wise’s style. He’s bold and angry. I say get angry and stay angry. I also like Carl Dix. He’s also angry. Carl Dix says there is no use in forgiving your oppressor.

    On the flip side I love Dr. Cornel West, but West disagree’s with Dix on the forgiveness part. West says forgive, but still fight for justice.

    PS – I also like these people @angryasianman @angryblackwomen @Angry_Blk_Man @AngryChicana @angryhijabi

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I find your perspective on Wise’s work really very interesting.
    For the record i haven’t read his books nor website. I’ve just recently watched what i believe is his latest documentary/speech(?)
    I didn’t think it was overly aggressive or unwelcoming to white ppl, i thought it was boring & repetitive.

    I noticed wise on Twitter a few years ago when he advocated for TrayvonMartin & followed him so my opinion on him is based mostly on his tweets & memes.

    As far as his Facebook post, i can’t find a single thing i disagree with. Its more aggressive & demeaning to bigots than his documentary, but i love it! But It doesn’t seem to me that he’s addressing those who are actively trying to eradicate inequality. I mean isn’t that the entire point of anti racism; to shutdown that kind of ideology?
    Identify it & squash it.
    I’m just as dismissive of insecure bigots’ feelings. In fact I’m probably even less tolerant than he is since i don’t believe “education” or “social/cultural sensitivity training” is as effective as basic ‘home training’ is.
    I just think ppl raised in a relatively moral environment are taught what’s right & wrong. But even if one is raised in a family that’s a full of ‘bottom feeding racists’ i think most intelligent ppl will eventually recognize how detrimental its been to an entire innocent segment of society & either choose to reject that ideology or embrace it for their own benefit.

    I truly have zero compassion for anyone who feels superior to black ppl or Spanish or Jewish ppl. There’s no justifying ones purposeful participation in subjugation of others. Especially once they’ve been made aware of the pain & suffering of others.

    The idea of coddling or being ‘sensitive’ to the feelings of white ppl who ignore or dismiss or actively participate in racism is senseless. Doing so wastes more intellectual & emotional energy on keeping the white person comfortable, when in fact that comfort is based on the historical discomfort of another-(black person/oppressed woman etc)

    And I’ve got to ask what exactly is so fantastic about our “traditional America” anyway? What are the great traditions you feel are being threatened?
    Because If i look at it in the most objective way, i acknowledge apple pie & hamburgers are a positive, but the most inclusive (involving the most Americans thus the MOST AMERICAN) historical events that stand out are wars and scientific advancements, or medical advancements like polio vaccine.
    When i think of America i think of America as a collective of different ppl from all over the country or all different colors, not my personal cultural experiences. Maybe because I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe with friends & family i think of myself as a global citizen as opposed to a southerner from Miami Florida.
    And i know that once i became aware, when i witnessed the vapid racism towards Trayvon Martin, that my American reality can be and is sometimes drastically different than the reality of another American, my perspective of America changed. And much of it was not for the better.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The thing is, the style of coddling and giving racists a platform is literally proven to increase racism. Because people feel there are no consequences and there are other racists out there. Unfortunately, eradicating racists is going to have to make you all uncomfortable.
    It’s intriguing that of anything to post about this man (who I will admit to knowing about only in passing) is not that he centers himself in Black issues, makes money off of racism and Black stories despite not being Black, or that he’s even had a really awful FB post in which he admonished Black people for not trying hard enough to get where he is in the anti-racism fight. He has actually been problematic, but your issue with him just not being “nice enough” to white people is in my opinion absurd. It’s proven you all shut down at the sight of conflict, but sadly the rest of us don’t have time to walk you through the delusion you refer to as white supremacy. And like I said it is proven that not giving racists a platform as well as shaming the behavior DOES work. And really, racist behavior DOES need to be shamed.



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