On Tuesday night, Tim Wise, a well-known anti-racist speaker and activist, spoke in one of ACU’s most nontraditional forums to date. The forum, which lasted more than two hours, gave the audience a new perspective on white supremacy in society and our responsibility to change.
We are glad Wise came to speak, and we think he hit topics that we can and should implement as people and as Christians.
Wise began his lecture outlining guilt versus responsibility. After an anecdote involving an unwashed pot of gumbo and a house full of roommates, Wise said it didn’t matter that he didn’t create the mess; he was just tired of living in its nastiness. He has to clean up the mess because no one else will. Likewise, we may not be responsible for the mess of race relations, but we have a responsibility to clean it up.
The only way to act on our responsibility, however, is to learn the difference between ignorance and denial. Ignorance is not knowing, Wise said; denial is an unwillingness to confront the truth. “White privilege” is the privilege of being oblivious and ignoring other people’s lived reality. However, we can’t be oblivious; we’ve got to face these problems head on.
Wise said the race problem has no “quick fix,” but the solution begins with awareness of what is going on. We have to know what is going wrong in order to make a change. This idea of knowledge and awareness might seem frustrating to students because we want to hear one or two specific actions guaranteed to bring about change. However, the more important issue is acknowledging the problem and then finding ways along the way to change our culture’s subconscious prejudices.
The second part of Wise’s solution is to hold institutions accountable while understanding we will not see justice in our lifetime. First of all, we don’t even know what a just society looks like; second, it will take a long time to fully eradicate racism. Also, Wise says there isn’t really an end. Justice is a constant struggle, something with which we can identify as Christians. We live in an imperfect world, and perfection is unattainable. That doesn’t, however, give us a free pass to ignore the world’s problems. Institutions in which we participate must reflect a push toward equity.
Jesus presented this idea when he taught about taking care of the poor, orphans, widows and anyone else in our community who might need a hand. James said, “Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” As Christians, we are called to take Wise’s claims a step further – because it is not just his claim. It is God’s charge to us.
As students, we don’t have to agree with Wise, but we do have the responsibility to look at our own actions and biases and make an inward change. We can’t change the racial problems in history, but we can start working to change the future of race relations and, according to Wise, it all starts with acknowledgement of the problem.