“White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son”October 22, 2008 at 3:51 pm | Posted in Nonfiction | Leave a comment
This is a book that’s interesting to carry around, because if someone happens to glance at it without reading the subtitle it’s easy to get the wrong idea. Even when they do read the subtitle, there’s a certain amount of confusion over why a white girl like me would be reading it. Okay, so whites are privileged… if you didn’t know that already, what are you getting out of reading the book?
Tim Wise writes about the experience of being a white anti-racism activist, about white privilege, and about why it’s important for whites to understand that it exists. I’d like to think I understand this much fairly well, because my family was one of the few to escape the slums where I grew up, and I think race was a major factor behind this. But Wise doesn’t pull any punches, and he is very clear that being personally against racism isn’t enough to end it.
One of the things I found helpful about this book is that Wise gives examples of anti-racism in action. I’ve found since I moved to California that I’ve been stuck in bigoted conversation on multiple occasions, and the best I could come up with was either to ask people not to use that kind of language around me or to confront their irrational statements with the force of logic. Wise says that isn’t a good strategy, because asking people not to use racist language or tell racist jokes only means that they’ll avoid you, not that they’ll actually change in their hearts. What’s important is to try to figure out why people feel that way, and address their concerns on a more emotional level. I feel a bit better equipped after reading this book.
Another exercise Wise recommends is to examine your own life in terms of where you would be if you were born into a different race. He gives examples of his own life, including several that are pretty unflattering. Doing this is definitely food for thought. Ultimately, that’s what we need: to use our heads, figure out why things still are the way they are, and try to come up with a way to fix them.