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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