Tuesday, September 14, 2010

the class prejudice and unexamined privilege of Tim Wise, by Rose

Rose left the following comment on the previous post, but it deserves to be its own post, so I'm copying it here. —Will

an observation by Rose

Wise says "White working class folks are just as racist as other white folks." In my experience this often isn't true. All the close relationships with POC in my family take place among my poor and working class relatives. The more well to do ones exist in a totally white sphere. My kin that SWPL types would dismiss as rednecks and probable racists are the ones having relationships and children with POC, and they don't make a big show about how enlightened they are, either.

Although Wise claims to have grown up relatively poor, things I've read by him convey a greater contempt for working class whites than other whites. He sounds like the white yuppies Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about in Fear of Falling, who project all their own racism onto working class whites.

I'm reading White Like Me right now. Though I haven't finished it yet, it reinforces some suspicions I've had about Wise. Wise claims to have grown up in a small apartment in a rundown building that happened to be in a posh, yuppie Nashville neighborhood called Green Hills. Wise says they sometimes received financial help from relatives. Tim's grandfather owned a chain of liquor stores and it isn't clear what happened to his business or money after his death. I get the feeling Wise is leaving some things out. He doesn't seem to know a thing about working class white people, or how their lives or culture differ from that of affluent whites.

As of 2006, Wise was getting at least $4000 plus expenses per speech. Considering how his star has risen since then, he probably makes more now. He lives in a large house in an affluent Nashville neighborhood. My guess is that his hostility (and that of folks like Robert Jensen and Peggy McIntosh) toward discussion of class and capitalism is in part an attempt to keep his immense class privilege off-limits. Wise likes to be the one doing the interrogating. He'd deny working class people the right to interrogate his privilege.

Also, the way Wise always lashes out at Marxists and leftists seems like a betrayal of the pioneers of Wise's movement. WEB DuBois, Angela Davis, CLR James, Theodore White and many other predecessors of modern anti-racist work were Marxists. Their discussion of race was grounded in solid Marxist class analysis. Why do many modern anti-racists have such contempt for the socialism of their proclaimed influences?

Wise's main goal seems to be a more racially proportionate version of our current economic pyramid. If only black people could make up 13% of the tiny elite who own everything, Wise could be free of white guilt and enjoy his wealth in peace. It's a ridiculous goal, because since the top 20% have 84% of the wealth, there isn't much for those of us in the bottom 80% to fight over. If the top 20% were 13% black, most black people would still be SOL.

I've read Wise say that class-based struggle is pointless until white people have dealt with their racism. How do they do this detached from class struggle? An endless series of Tim Wise workshops? Wise seems to think that working class white people have no right to discuss their class interests until they are completely free of the reptile brain stuff Wise's ilk describe as aversive racism! As the economic collapse immiserates the working class, this is galling coming from a rich man like Wise.

The backlash from some anti-racist bloggers doesn't surprise me, considering how defensive Wise is with POC in the comments on his website. I was really surprised at how snippy he was with some of them. He is hotheaded and doesn't deal well with criticism.