Tim Wise does not hate white people, he says. He does, however, take issue with the racism that remains entrenched in America, though it often goes undetected. He also said it is this generation’s responsibility, particularly those who benefit from what he labels “white privilege,” to fight it.
“We will clean up the mess, not because we created it but because we are the only ones left,” Wise said.
“Responsibility is what you take not because of what you did but because of who you are.”
Wise, a well-known anti-racist speaker and activist, spoke at a two-hour Chapel forum Tuesday night about the concept of white privilege and institutional racism. Wise has spoken in 48 states and on more than 400 college campuses and has also trained groups in the corporate, government and entertainment worlds about confronting the issue of racism. Wise said in a phone conversation Monday his expertise lies in 20 years of taking data collected by academic and government institutions and applying it in the real world.
During the forum, Wise specifically addressed the fear of many Americans to discuss the presence of racism in the present day. In the question-and-answer portion of the forum, he specified a solution – first, white Americans should reflect on the social conditioning to which they are subjected, and second, institutions must reflect a push for equity in order for racial reconciliation to move forward.
“To be the dominant is to have the privilege to be oblivious,” Wise said. “Ignorance is not denial, denial is an unwillingness to confront truth.”
The United by Faith Fellowship, a group of primarily ACU faculty, including Jeanene Reese and Dr. Jerry Taylor, assistant professors of Bible, missions and ministry, decided to partner with ACU administration to bring Wise to campus. The group has met monthly since 2004 to discuss ways Christians can fight racialization in schools, churches and society.
“The intention has never been to teach Tim Wise’ ideology,” said Reese. “We are using it as a springboard for great conversation.”
Wise’s message of white privilege and racism has not been accepted by everyone at ACU, however. Robert Huff, assistant professor of mathematics, started a blog to protest Wise’s visit.
“It was never my intention to prevent him from coming to campus,” Huff said. “My original desire was to have another speaker with another viewpoint invited to campus. After realizing this was not an option, I decided to start a blog.”
Huff has since posted eight blog entries, engaging several faculty and students in conversation about Wise’s beliefs.
“I could understand a lot of Wise’s arguments applied on a personal level,” Huff said. “Where I think the sharpest disagreement is, is when you take his ideas and you move them up to a level of policy.”
Huff said he believes we should be culturally aware on a personal level but should not let matters of race and culture affect hiring and admissions policies at institutions.
“Personally, I don’t want to hear him speak,” Huff said. “That’s very different from saying I want to prevent him from coming to campus.”
Wise addressed the controversy facing him on campus at the beginning and end of the forum.
“I wish I could tell you that this is the only place where my words have been controversial,” Wise said.
In a phone conversation Monday, Wise said he hoped Huff would come to his talks and he would be more than happy to give him the first question in the question and answer period.
Other complaints about Wise’s message center on a preoccupation with racial concerns.
Jane Carter, graduate student in psychology from Trinidad and Tobago, said while conversations about race are important in order to move toward reconciliation, she is worried about the effects of overly revisiting a negative thing.
“Yes, there is still racism, but at the same time, we all need to grow, heal, move forward and not feel so justified to feel indignant,” Carter said.
Trevor Cochlin, junior Biblical text major from Belton, disagreed with Wise about race as a pervasive disadvantage in some areas. Cochlin said with issues like health care, drugs and scholarships, discussing race does not solve the core issue.
“There are white people that are poor, and there are black people that are poor, and the issue isn’t their race, it’s that they are poor,” Cochlin said.
Those in favor of Wise’s visit argue his ideas, however controversial, are in keeping with the nature of an academic community and are important to take note of for educational and spiritual reasons.
“Bringing Tim Wise to campus gives us the opportunity as Christians to engage an important topic and listen to people outside of our community,” said Vic McCracken, associate professor of Bible. “I think that even people who disagree with Wise’s prescriptions can still agree with him that there is a history of segregation and racism.”