My Red Room Hero---Tim Wise 3/21/12
I am really excited to be here at Red Room. I stumbled on this site while following a url to an article written by Tim Wise. I must admit, though, that all the bloggers who wrote about their favorite hero last week were right: I have so many...It's tough to choose just one: Maya Angelou, Amy Tan, so many others!
But, my current hero is Tim Wise, without a doubt! I only recently discovered his books and have been astounded by the wisdom and courage of this young man. I appreciate and admire his campaign to fight racism in such an innovative way. I have been sharing my copy of his book with all my friends who are developing an appreciation for Mr. Wise's work. Thank God we have people like him to help us maintain at least a semblance of our humanity.
Sometimes I come close to being just as bad as those racists he talks about in his book, "White Like Me," who tell him a tasteless joke about Black people and then, when he objects on the grounds that he is Black himself, they change their tune. Like he says, they know what they are doing is wrong, because when they thought Tim was Black, they apologized. The way I see myself as almost as guilty as racists is that in my everyday life, I experience more racism and bigotry than I ever would have believed this country would STILL have! And, sometimes, I find myself wanting to curse White people for thinking that I am dumb, dirty and worthless, just because of the color of my skin. But, I don't want to stereotype or over-generalize Whites just as I don't want them to do the same with Blacks. It is frustrating to be hypervigilant and aware of the attitudes of those around you, because they just might turn on you at any time.
For instance, I live in Arizona: you know about this state, right? We are the ones who voted well after all the other states in the Union to have a holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We also have a merry band of marauders, The Minute Men, who hang out at the border and shoot any Mexicans they find on the strip of land between the borders of the U.S. and Mexico to stop them from entering this country. We are also the home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Phoenix fame, with his band of deputies who are all experienced "racial profilers" and also friends of someone with power, or they would be out of business by now, based on the large number of complaints lodged by our sister city. In addition, we fluctuate between being the state with the worst school systems to being the second worst. We also have the most, or second most, number of teen girls who are pregnant at any given time. We are the home of the beloved, Gabriel Giffords, and we continue to send her and her family prayers of healing and comfort. And, believe it or not, we have a 3% Black population here in Tucson, so discrimination is rampant. Even institutional racism is at a peak in this state right now. Minorities are hired to a given facility in accordance with the law, and over the three months of probation, they are slowly eliminated for many reasons or for no reason at all: this is a "Right to Work" state, which means they can fire an employee with, or without, a reason. In addition, the Native People are struggling with so many frustrating issues perpetrated by our government, that they seem to have given up and gone into what I call "self-destruct mode." Just like the Blacks in the inner cities who can't see a way out of their impoverished circumstances, so they are killing each other and themselves. It breaks my heart.
But, something I am certain will come back to bite the very legislators who created it, is the bill prohibiting students from learning anything about history that didn't have to do with White people. Now, please don't get me wrong. Ours is a fascinating history. Unfortunately, this history is by those who exploited, imprisoned, tortured, raped and murdered our Native, immigrant or slave ancestors. Just like every other White person who looks at the white faces in their school textbooks and smiles as if recognizing a part of themselves, people of color want a chance to do the same thing. But, we are not fooled by the sleight of hand: our own people have passed on the stories of our ancestors. From our own people, we have already learned the truth about our treatment in the past and we'd much prefer an admission of guilt and an apology than this. Studying about the history of the various peoples represented in this country is not what causes people of color to "hate the American Government." It is the blatant omission of our collective history that makes us angry with America.
As a mental health professional, I have a master's degree in psychology, however, much of the information I've learned was gained at the hands of White researchers using White participants in their studies. As one author put it, "Even the rats were white." People from different backgrounds, whether it be race, culture, religion, gender, age, ability, sexual orientation, parts of the country, socio-economic status, or whatever, have different ways of dealing with life. To presume that children of all races, religions and orientations will get the same benefit from studying the history of people who do not look like them, is preposterous. I can personally attest to the fact that learning about Black people back in Africa BEFORE the advent of colonization by outsiders has been helping my self-esteem. I enjoy reading that despite the efforts of the "spin doctors," Black people had many amazing achievements long before they ever saw a White man or woman. They had peaceful, matrilinear societies; they had brave warrior-kings in patrilinear societies; they had universities of higher learning that people from all over the world visited; they had a life-style that was very spiritual and inclusive of all tribe members. Learning all these things is helping me see that Black people are far more than just former slaves and victims of atrocities. It's especially amazing that after all we've been through as a people, we are still here and making an impact on our world. Knowing how much our country prides itself in the history we've made, is it really so difficult to believe that people of color might want to learn what their cultural group's history was like before it encountered America? And, if there are embarrassing details that should be hidden---details that most of us know about anyway---is it best to sweep those errors under the rug and pretend they never happened?
I personally appreciate the stance of the female German leader who, a few years ago, acknowledged the mistakes in judgement made by the Third Reich and how deeply sorry she was about everything that happened to so many people. Or, the Canadian leaders who have admitted to exploiting and mistreating Natives in the north of this continent---they named the harm they caused and apologized for it. How dignified to just tell the truth and admit the wrong-doing, rather than hide from the truth and allow bitter, angry, mistreated people to develop a hatred for Whites. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if that horrible "uprising" that Whites have feared the Blacks would initiate, or that minorities together would initiate, would actually happen just because minority people weren't allowed to acknowledge their ancestors and their contributions to the world.
Now, I've strayed far away from my original comments about Mr. Wise. Living in Arizona makes me especially appreciate White people who "get it" and don't ignorantly suppose that slavery never happened and that racism doesn't exist. Mr. Wise talks about White privilege and how he recognizes that it exists. He knows that preferential treatment is often reserved for Whites and Blacks are denied those same privileges. He knows about the unspoken "rules" that apply to some, but not others. I have only read one of his books and read excerpts from one other, but I have every intention of reading every last book he writes. I'm just excited and grateful that he speaks the truth, and speaks it loudly. People like Mr. Wise help me realize that perhaps, one day, we might figure out a way to live and work together in an equitable and respectful fashion, just like the brothers and sisters I believe we were intended to be.
In the meantime, I'm saving up for my new Tim Wise Library.
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