Heatedfeets

March 25, 2008

Because I have this information…

Filed under: Tim Wise, White people — mgll @ 9:32 am

There’s a discussion at livejournal community debunkingwhite that raises some questions about the practice of white anti-racists like Tim Wise. I had an email conversation with Mr. Wise a few years ago (late 2004). The conversation didn’t start with the issues raised over there, but got into some of them anyway. I feel an inner push to put out into the intertubes what he wrote. So I made this blog. I’m pasting his comments below, with the context of the comments in italics. *Please note that all the dots/ellipses (…) are from his original comments, and do not represent any editing by me.*

Context: I only knew of Mr. Wise through reading some of his writings. I had written to him to thank him for a piece he wrote criticizing the claimed need for “safe space” for white people. We got into a discussion in which I told him I was struggling to figure out how to fight white supremacy. I was working with a people of color led organization but was feeling like I should maybe also be working in a more white context with other white people also. But, I said, I didn’t feel like I should do that from an facilitator/educator-type role.

Tim replied:

“well i think it is vital that whites who do this work, be involved with other whites. it is not enough to work with people of color…we have to also work with out own people, as difficult as that is, and as much more rewarding as it can be to work with people of color…white supremacy is such that only whites, at this point, can often reach other whites with an antiracist message, so i do think that has to be part of the work, as does the part about working with POC, which you are already doing. It’s both…Only you can decide how to challenge other whites though, and certainly the role you choose doesn’t have to be the classic facilitator/educator role, though if done correctly and with accountability to people of color, that isn’t necessarily a bad role to play…”

Context: I had also mentioned, in parentheses and without asking a question or seeking Tim’s commentary on this, that when I said “work” in this discussion I meant unpaid work, as I did not believe I should benefit materially or status-wise from fighting this system. I was only referring to myself in this parenthetical statement.

Tim replied:

“Well, I understand what you;’re saying here, though I think we have to be careful about the notion that by not getting paid for doing movement work that we’re somehow really doing something that is self sacrificing or noble. First, let me be honest. This is the work I do for a living and have done for 15 years. It is what I get paid to do. One can find that distasteful I suppose, but the alternative is that I do some other “straight” job to survive, receive white privilege in the doing of that job too (whatever it would be), and only get to do antiracism on the side, in my spare time, etc. Now, would that be better for the movement? I dunno…I doubt it. I would be getting paid in that case not to fight white supremacy but for doing a job that no doubt would likely further it (any regular job would do that of course), and the 20,000-30,000 people per year who currently hear me speak around the country wouldn’t, and the millions who read my articles wouldn’t. Now, if I really thought that by stepping back, al that work, money and attention would go to the deserving people of color out there, I would do it, but it wouldn’t. The places I am brought in to speak are mostly places where it is very clear, I am being used as the one who will come in and plant some seeds, hit white folks for the first time with a white antiracist message, and thereby make it possible for the institution in question to then bring in POC for follow up work, where the mesage can be furthered, deepened, etc. If I don’t come in, which I certainly couldn’t do if I wasn’t getting paid, then those institutions likely don’t do any events, speeches, trainings, etc., at all, which means not just less work for me, but less work for the amazing antiracist experts of color, who my work supports and whose work supports me.

Likewise, if other whites, yourself included, resolve not to get paid for fighting WS, does that mean you will live in voluntary poverty, or will you get some kind of job in the regular labor market? I’m guessing the latter of these, in which case, you’ll be doing some kind of job that either directly or indirectly furthers white supremacy, as any occupation I can think of does in some way, or you’ll perhaps work in some activist capacity but not on race issues (for fear that you’d be profiting off of the struggle), but in that case, by not addressing racism in whatever activist formation did pay you, you’d be perpetuating it there too…in other words, in this culture one can either get paid to perpetuate and collaborate with White supremacy or one can get paid to fight it, and of course, doiing the latter does–as with everything–perpetuate it as well to an extent, but at least we can then work full time on the monster. I don’t think this is for everyone, but I don’t think we can afford to take a complete hands off position on it either. I would think it best for folks to fight WS within whatever job they have, but at the same time, for some whites to also work full time on this issue, thereby reaching those whites in “regular” jobs with the analysis, information , etc which they just wouldn’t receive otherwise.

This of course could all be self interested on my part, but I know that with few exceptions, the people of color with whom I interact regularly on these matters are glad that there are some white folks whose full time work is fighting racism–as long as we;re quick to give credit to the POC to whom it’s due, and to make sure the people we reach are being exposed to POC ideas on racism, either thru writings, speeches, the arts, etc., and that the “wealth” so to speak (and there isn’t much of that) is being shared by turning folks on to the grassroots groups and activists who do this work every day on the ground and in communities…”

Note 1: I’m going to put some of my musings on all this in comments below this post.

Note 2 – update: my third comment led me to send Mr. Wise an email (to the address listed on his website). My email said:

“Hello Tim,

You and I had a discussion in late 2004 that I recently revisited. In response to a livejournal discussion last week (I am not on livejournal but it was a public discussion), I made a wordpress blog and posted parts of what you wrote, along with my comments/perspective on it. There is a link on that post to the LJ discussion as well.

I have been using the comments field as a space to keep thinking out loud, and my third comment-reflection led me back to contacting you. Hence this email.

The wordpress link is: https://heatedfeets.wordpress.com/2008/03/25/because-i-have-this-information/

The debunkingwhite discussion is linked there, as mentioned, and my comments are below the initial post.

If you or anyone else is willing to answer the questions I pose in my third comment down, use the comment function and I will post those on that site (comments are moderated).

Note 3 – update: Tim Wise responded via email and I posted about it in this comment here

Note 4 -update: My wrap-up reflections are in this comment here

Note 5 – update: Okay, if you would like to get a copy of the email Mr. Wise sent to me and don’t want to have to deal with emailing him directly, contact me at heatedfeets at gmail dot com and I will forward it. see Note 6.

Note 6 – update: I decided to post the full text of his email reply to me — it’s here.

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8 Comments

  1. My fragmented musings on all this (these comments, the debunking white discussion)

    ——————————————

    – Tim’s livelihood does seem to functionally depend on the existence of both institutionalized and individual white racism. If the institutions were to “allow” people of color in without him going in first, they would not need him and he would not be paid. If white individuals could attend well enough to people of color, they would not need him to speak and write so they could get the message.

    – Tim writes of his work as anti-racist by fundamental definition. He is “fighting racism” and he contrasts this work with other jobs in which a white person would “get paid to perpetuate and collaborate with White supremacy.”

    He writes that his choice perpetuates the system also “to an extent.” But given everything else he writes around it, that feels to me like a throwaway line, a form of acknowledging something in order to dismiss it.

    Because I notice his basic assumption that he can still name what he does by phrases like “getting paid to fight it [white supremacy]” and “fighting racism.”

    But: what he does is not actually described by those phrases. What he actually does is described by naming what he actually does, for example “write essays about racism and white supremacy and post them on the internet” or “give speeches about racism and white supremacy” or things like that. Those would be more like direct descriptions of what he actually does.

    In contrast, “fighting racism” is an interpretation of the effects of what he does. By confusing these two things (description and interpretation) he implicitly sets up categories in which certain ways of seeing the situation aren’t so visible — like the possibility that what he actually does (overall or in specific instances) primarily colludes with white supremacy.

    -It was really noticeable to me during this email conversation — and again now re-reading it — that Tim responded so vigorously and with such justification/defense of his choice to earn a living how he does. He was responding to a parenthetical clarifying comment I made about what meant by “work” in the discussion, and what I believed was right for myself to do. I didn’t ask him to justify his choices on this particular point and I didn’t ask him to comment on or assess mine. I don’t know what this means, exactly, but it struck me then and again now as significant somehow.

    Comment by mgll — March 25, 2008 @ 10:10 am

  2. I have some more thoughts to post as comments to what I posted above:

    I realize that this move of substituting “interpretation of effects” for description of actual action is pervasive in the cultural system.

    It is a mode of deception.

    That is why I care about this even four years after the discussion with Tim Wise.

    I feel what he is doing as fundamentally deceptive. I am not entirely sure the best descriptions for how it is deceptive. Not surprisingly there are no words in the dominant language, English, to speak about deception from a space that doesn’t take deception for granted as a mode of interaction.

    But my gut says: THERE IS DECEPTION HERE. At the core.

    There is something that appears one way through his extremely skillful use of words, but in reality is something else.

    It is not right for Tim to name what he does as “fighting racism” in the way he did in that discussion with me.

    Name what you DO in concrete descriptive terms and then take a good hard honest look over time at what is actually concretely going on in the relationship between what you do and the system of white supremacy.

    There is a lot of reality that gets swept under the rug in the substitution of interpretation (what I claim I am doing actually means) for actual description (what I am actually doing in as accurate and concrete way as possible).

    Actions translated into interpretations — it’s a deceptive glamor mode. It removes an obligation to constantly assess the relationship of the actions to what they interact with. It sets up a deceptive assurance that the actions are in some foundational way “right.”

    It relies on certain kinds of marketing-type associations that deceptively divert scrutiny.

    I look at Wise’s website — http://www.timwise.org — and see someone who is marketing himself pretty hard.

    There is something deceptive here at the core. I don’t believe it is specific to Mr. Wise.

    Comment by mgll — March 28, 2008 @ 10:05 pm

  3. And so it might just come full circle:

    On reading my reply to Mr. Wise about what I wrote re paid or not:

    I replied by first saying:

    What I said [about being paid for getting status for anti-racist work as white people] is centered in where I am at in my life in particular. It was not for me a blanket statement about all white people doing anti-racist work. I think we all have to look at the ways that what we are doing related to money might reproduce/support white supremacy. The system is intricate and requires a certain amount of engagement. As I see it, there are particular dangers to the route you have chosen, and there are particular dangers to other ways of material survival in this society, including but not limited to the one I am in right now. So how i see it is, we probably just need to help keep ourselves and each other honest.

    I then went on to give very specific and concrete details on how and where I was earning a wage and how my material survival needs were met.

    I also gave concrete detail, referencing actual experiences I have had, on why I felt the importance of myself not being paid for any “work against the system” I might do. {Note: I may be in a different place now than I was then, in that I am more critical now than I was then of other white people making a wage from anti-racist work}.

    I then wrote:

    The value I see in this conversation on this topic is that you and I have different locations in relation to the economic system. So, we may be able to see and/or not get freaked out about traps in each other’s choices because we don’t have a personal stake in them.

    If there are ways I can help you stay honest because I am not doing what you do, please let me know. And if there are traps you see in what I am doing, ways you can help me stay honest, and you want to tell me, please do.

    I went on from there some, saying that he had named in general terms some of the potential traps inherent in my choices, and — very very gently and indirectly and giving him all sorts of ways out, I see now — bringing up the possibility that his defense/justification might indicate something he feels as “off” in his approach that might be useful to explore (I would not be so gentle these days, but then these days I am not willing to engage so .. there you have it).

    If my email records and memory are fully accurate: TIM WISE NEVER RESPONDED. That was the end of the conversation.

    He was fine holding forth about what he had written, what he does and how he sees the struggle. He was very engaged in that. But when I asked him to engage with me on the basis of concrete detail and for the purpose of helping to keep each other honest, he let the conversation go, passively, just did not reply.

    I am tempted — Tempted to send him an email with a link to this page and ask him to engage here, publicly. I may do that. But if I do, I have serious problems/obstacles now that I did not have then:

    I no longer am willing to extend to him the benefit of the doubt about deception. I was then. I would not even have put it that way then. I am not now.

    Now, I actively feel what he is doing as deceptive at some level. I may have felt it then, too, but I was at a point in my life then where I often suppressed or second-guessed myself on that feeling and trusted despite what my gut told me.

    My feeling now says: If this person (Tim) were to engage with these questions, he would be doing it to manipulate (image management etc) rather than to honestly reflect. He would make the appearance of reflection but it would be a use of words for control/manipulation purposes.

    I don’t know how I could have a discussion based in keeping each other honest when I have no trust for the other person’s enacted commitment to honesty in such an exchange.

    This lack of trust would affect my side of the interaction in a couple of concrete ways that I am aware:

    -I would have to choose between calling out areas where I felt deception, or not calling them out. Each area of deception would have its own defenses, meaning that calling it out would likely lead to more deception and more and more. I have experienced this dynamic before with various people, and it actually physically hurts me to engage. I experience such interactions as violent in a real, body-sense kind of way. I don’t feel up to doing that.

    -I would have to choose between being open to his observations about my complicity with the system or not. Not being open would obstruct my initial goal of helping keep each other honest. But because I would most likely be dealing with someone who was feeling threatend by any “criticism” of his work, his observations about my life would most likely not come in good faith — they would again be about image-management for him and they would not be in a cooperative spirit at all (though this would be masked with the appearance of cooperation if he did engage). I am not willing to put myself out there in such a circumstance.

    At the same time, I feel like I am having this whole conversation about another person — a public figure — without his imput. Of course I feel his input would not come from a place of good faith, so … dammit.

    For my own clarity, I guess I have to formally rescind my offer to engage with him for the purpose of keeping each other honest. That is not something I am willing to do with him at this time.

    However, I am talking about him here. And there is a pull in me to come full circle. So I will send him this link.

    But the only questions I now have for Tim are:

    What, specifically (concrete details), are the relationships and processes currently in place for him that push him to be honest about the ways in which his work functions in actual practice as complicit with white supremacy? How do these relationships and processes work, specifically? What information have they yielded and what has he done about that information (all very concrete and specific with details).

    I would be interested in specific and concrete descriptions from him or people who work directly with him, that directly answer these questions. I am not interested in defenses of his work or praises for his work. There is enough of that already available on the web (some right on his website). I want information on the other side because of my experience of him dropping the conversation when it got to that point, and also because I have not seen it from him or his supporters (if this information/description is out there and I just don’t know about it, I would love to get the links and read it)

    For my contribution, I will be willing to ask questions to clarify and get more detail about what he or others describe, if such questions come to me. That is what I would be willing to do at this time, here in this space.

    Comment by mgll — March 29, 2008 @ 8:50 pm

  4. From mgll: I received a very long email from Mr. Wise in response to the email I posted in the main entry. He requested that I post his reply.

    However. His reply did not actually answer my actual specific questions. My careful construction of the questions I asked was deliberate: the questions were designed, to the best of my skill in doing so, to force attention to certain kinds of concrete details and areas for scrutiny that Mr. Wise has not, to my knowledge, publicly addressed.

    What I asked was: What, specifically (concrete details), are the relationships and processes currently in place for him that push him to be honest about the ways in which his work functions in actual practice as complicit with white supremacy? How do these relationships and processes work, specifically? What information have they yielded and what has he done about that information (all very concrete and specific with details).

    As he did not answer those questions, I am not going to post his reply here. Anyone interested in discussion with him (or in reading an actual copy of the email he sent to me which I assume he could forward) should email him directly. His email address is on his website: http://www.timewise.org.

    If you would like to get a copy of the email Mr. Wise sent to me and don’t want to have to deal with emailing him directly, contact me at heatedfeets at gmail dot com and I will forward it to you.

    Although I am not going to reproduce his reply here, I am posting my own description of what he wrote (with a few direct quotes) to give a sense of what he did in responding:

    ——————————————————————-

    -Defended himself on why he didn’t reply to my last email from the 2004 discussion.

    -Stated that addressing all of my concerns or those raised in the LJ discussion would be a “no-win situation.”

    -Stated that nonetheless he was going to reply to “a few things” because (this is a direct quote): “I want to at least signal that I do care about this discussion, and I’d like a permanent record of my feelings on this to be out there, for future reference when this stuff comes up, as it will, again and again, I feel certain.”

    -Provided some concrete details about funding — stated only positive “anti-racist” things about how he deals with making a living this way.

    -Wrote about the perspective that whites have to hear an antiracist message initially from other whites. Wrote that it is not something he should be criticized for.

    Wrote (this is a direct quote) “See, this notion is not something I came up with, and especially not as some convenient or “accomodationist” rationale for my own aggrandizement. Rather, it was the position of black folks in SNCC, like Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) and Rap Brown, when they expelled whites in 67 and told them to get their asses into white space and do the work, for precisely this reason. If anyone on this board wants to call out Kwame or Rap as some sell-out, punk-ass white accomodationists, go right ahead. But please note, your beef is not, then, with me.”

    -Fought with straw man argument that people who criticize/question his methods are about white people engaging in armed struggle and committing “revolutionary suicide.” Wrote also that even if white people were to do this, they would be critizicized for just doing it for the attention. Said white people would never join the struggle if it was about armed revolution anyway.

    -Explained what he means by “fighting racism”

    -Defended the value of his methods of “fighting racism.”

    -Explained and defended self as writer and speaker as opposed to roles like community organizer. Likened self (through work as writer) to James Baldwin then immediately added that he didn’t mean to compare himself with James Baldwin. Pointed out that there are many valuable roles in the movement.

    -Wrote that the logic of (what I assume is) the debunkingwhite initial post is “the worst example of fucked up logic I’ve seen in a while.”

    -Wrote that he does what he does for his own humanity, not for people of color. Wrote: “And I don’t need anyone’s permission–no damn body’s–to fight for my own humanity against the system of whiteness whose purpose is to destroy it, as it seeks to destroy people of color. This aint charity work. It’s self help.”

    -Ended by asserting (“reminding” people) every second spent critically questioning his work is a moment not spent doing much to further “the struggle.”

    —————————————————————

    Comment by and Tim Wise replied... — March 31, 2008 @ 3:47 am

  5. And so it does come full circle, for real:

    There are areas of reality that threaten the foundations people build for themselves. One of the ways to deal with these areas of reality is to make them “exogenous.”

    An economist friend of mine told me about this word: “exogenous.” As I understand it, exogenous refers to things that are real (exist) in actual reality, but are not real (do not exist) in whatever model the economist is using.

    The concept “making something exogenous” names something for me: the action of setting up and maintaining boundaries in such a way that some areas of actual reality simply cease to exist inside the model.

    I do not like it when people or groups do this. It is, to my perception, violent — a violation of something sacred to me. It offends me at my core.

    Four years ago, Mr. Wise’s initial evasion of my tentative efforts to open up discussion into areas exogenous to his model struck me as odd and significant, but I didn’t know exactly why. Why did he get so verbose in response to a parenthetical statement I made? Why then did he drop the conversation when I suggested that we might help keep each other honest about how our respective choices colluded with white supremacy?

    I know the answers better now after this current exchange:

    The area of reality in which his work colludes with white supremacy is exogenous to Tim Wise’s model of what is going on. Modes of interaction that critically question him in this area are exogenous to his definition of “the struggle.”

    He does not and likely cannot (for the sake of his credibility) say directly that it is off-limits to scrutinize how his work colludes with white supremacy. The action of making this area of reality exogenous operates through his manipulation of frames of perception — including the categories into which he interprets and then re-names concrete actions.

    This situation is not about Mr. Wise as an individual. It is about the set-up that he has chosen. This set-up has conditions attached that require him to paint himself into a corner that he then must defend. This reality is also exogenous in the model.

    Four years ago, when I contacted Mr. Wise, I was struggling with a question that I didn’t know how to articulate. Because the language was there, and there was significant overlap, I named it as a question about what role I should play given that I was feeling pulled to do something with other white people related to fighting white supremacy. But that naming wasn’t really accurate.

    I still don’t know how to articulate this question in English. But I did know and do know what it is for real — I know it in my body, in my first language.

    Mr. Wise was so busy defending his corner and maintaining the exogenous-ness of what his model cannot bear that he was of no direct help to me on this question when I raised it in our email discussion several years ago. But this interaction with him has given an answer to the question, an answer with multiple tones, like a musical chord. It isn’t new information for me, but answers are answers and there are lessons I find very difficult to take in the first eighty-five or so times around.

    Mr. Wise, for the sake of the foundation on which you stand, you are right to evade my questions and interacting with me on the terms I offer. There are some things your foundation can’t bear without risking its solidity.

    I won’t try to describe what I see when I look your way. You know it from the inside anyway. But I will say this: When scrutiny of areas of actual reality show up in your universe as an attack on you and your work, something is deeply and profoundly wrong with where you are standing.

    Comment by mgll — March 31, 2008 @ 12:07 pm

  6. More than two months later and I would prefer not to add this. I liked the last comment as a way to finish. And this one is chilling to write and will have to be a little cryptic.

    A couple of years ago, I had a sort of confrontation with an individual where I live who was all over the place with loud anti-immigrant demonstrations and actions. This situation was (like many others involving him) drama instigated by just this one white 50ish guy, a few hangers-on and a bullhorn. And his gun.

    I had the “opportunity” to walk past this man at one point and get into his space. He called me a slut [actually I now remember … the word was] “bimbo” and threatened to blow my head off. My girlfriend got all upset when I told her about this threat from an armed and apparently irrational person.

    But here’s the thing: Yes, this man was ranting and raving, seemingly agitated, full of apparent fury and hatred. Yes he was armed. And getting in the sights of an angry agitated armed white guy raving-upset about immigration should be physically threatening in some visceral way.

    But this was not. And here is why: he was an emotional dead zone. I came within less than a foot of him physically. He focused his attention on me. But he exuded no emotion. Just an emptiness where emotion should be. The apparent rage, agitation, fury hatred? It was a cold and calculated performance.

    This is a scary thing, for sure. But not in the way the situation appeared on the surface. I was only in danger if it would serve the performance for him to hurt me, and I knew it did not.

    I had had a particular focus on this individual for some time before this experience. He had been active in town for a while, and targeting people I worked with politically. He had orchestrated more than one drama in town and I observed him pulling strings of emotion with extraordinary precision and skill.

    My response to him for some time had been a sort of internal painful ears perking up, leading me to scrutiny and attention of what he was doing and how he was doing it.

    I felt all along that he was not what he appeared to be. We certainly have overtly nationalist anti-immigrant people in this city, but the others seemed so much more genuine in their fury and hatred than this person. I could feel the waves of emotion coming off of them, very ugly. Not this person.

    As I watched his actions when they were in front of me, I wondered if he was on a payroll and if so whose — thinking about COINTELPRO-like stuff but not sure how that would work in a situation like this one. I had also begun to read up on a thing called psy-ops because that seemed to be the closest thing I could find in writing to describe what I saw him doing. I never found out what the actual situation was and I don’t know if the answer had anything to do with any external ties he had. It might not have been that at all.

    And. I still remember that emotional dead zone feeling from when I was near him and he was focused on me and supposedly threatening me. It was creepy as hell, the contrast between his heated performance of irrational fury and the actual cold nothing-there that he put out. I have some language for this now, but I won’t go there.

    So now. I hate to say this but. The email reply I received a couple of months ago from Mr. Wise (paraphrased in a comment above) has a fair amount of apparent defensiveness and outrage in it. But as I tried to sort through the question of why I get so focused when Mr. Wise comes up (as he has on two different blogs I read in the last 2 days), I realized something: the actual feel of that response to me was a version of that dead zone. Performance.

    This is certainly not the same kind of situation. Certainly not as dramatic. But placing my gut responses and reflections to Mr. Wise into this lens yields a perspective that — that I would rather not think about but I am thinking about.

    This comment is a corrective to what I have written in this post and these comments previously; a piece that I was not adequately attending to.

    Comment by mgll — June 13, 2008 @ 6:16 am

  7. 8/8/08: I notice I’m getting some traffic to this site all of a sudden. I had closed the comments; I don’t have time to keep up with this as a blog and had no comments at all in answer to my questions for months and months.

    If you have concrete real information that directly/specifically answers my questions to Tim Wise (I can still hope someday I will get real answers), please send it to me in an email and I will add it as a comment here. Thanks. The email address is: heatedfeets at gmail dot com.

    As I wrote above my questions are:

    What, specifically (concrete details), are the relationships and processes currently in place for him that push him to be honest about the ways in which his work functions in actual practice as complicit with white supremacy? How do these relationships and processes work, specifically? What information have they yielded and what has he done about that information (all very concrete and specific with details).

    I would be interested in specific and concrete descriptions from him or people who work directly with him, that directly answer these questions. I am not interested in defenses of his work or praises for his work. There is enough of that already available on the web (some right on his website). I want information on the other side because of my experience of him dropping the conversation when it got to that point, and also because I have not seen it from him or his supporters (if this information/description is out there and I just don’t know about it, I would love to get the links and read it)

    Comment by mgll — August 9, 2008 @ 5:31 am

  8. 5/25/09 – changed my mind, here’s the full text of Mr. Wise’s email reply to my question:

    This will be all I have to say on the matter, but by all means, please post it. Thanks.

    Well, although I find it an almost hopeless task, responding to someone who says that any further response at this point will only be for the purpose of “image management” or whatever term you used, I will reply anyway. If for no other reason than to avoid being accused of “dropping the conversation” just when it was getting difficult or whatever. First of all, I do not recall the final email you sent me several years ago, in which you asked those questions. I’m not saying I didn’t receive it, just that unlike the previous one or two, I didn’t recall it. So my not responding was surely not because I was trying to duck your questions. The simple truth is–and I’m almost hesitant to say this because to some it will sound like self-promotion (but what can you expect from someone with a decent website, right?)–I receive about 250-300 e-mails per day. So sometimes I get buried by them and can’t catch up…once I get far enough behind, sometimes I just delete messages that are a couple of months old, because if Iddidn’t, I would never get to spend time with my kids and my wife.

    Now, I am not going to go through all of the concerns you raise at this point, or which others on the board raised, not because I think them unimportant, but because to do so would betray a defensiveness that amounts to a no-win situation. If I don’t respond, I’m an arrogant, unaccountable asshole. If I do respond, I’m a defensive, arrogant asshole, only pretending to be accountable. Folks who think there is something disingenous about my work will continue to do so; those who like it will continue to like it, and no purpose will be served by the discussion.

    I will respond to a few things though, because I want to at least signal that I do care about this discussion, and I’d like a permanent record of my feelings on this to be out there, for future reference when this stuff comes up, as it will, again and again, I feel certain.

    I have never received grant money from any funder or foundation, period. So I have never taken such money from people of color, who otherwise might have gotten it. On the other hand, I have steered funders in the direction of groups led by people of color over and over again when they have asked me about groups that need money. I don’t know if those efforts have paid dividends to the groups, but I have made the effort, and would never take foundation money for my own efforts, since that would definitely “crowd out” money available for others.

    Yes, I get paid for speeches, and when books sell. I also work with the places where I speak (colleges, high schools, wherever), to get them to bring in people of color for follow-up work, as I firmly agree with the notion that unless white folks learn to hear an antiracist message from people of color, nothing will change. Over the years I have been on the road doing speeches, workshops, trainings, etc., I have provided those instititions with the names of dozens of activists and authors of color, who they have gone on to contract with, bring in for further work, etc. probably several hundred times. Sometimes they also bring in people I didn’t specifically mention, but that’s fine too: I make it clear that they MUST bring in folks of color if they’re going to bring whites like myself in, and my policy as of several years ago is that I don’t return to an institution until they demonstrate that commitment by bringing folks of color in to do the work.

    As for the notion that whites sometimes have to hear an antiracist message, at least initially, from another white person…perhaps a little historical perspective would help this part of the discussion. See, this notion is not something I came up with, and especially not as some convenient or “accomodationist” rationale for my own aggrandizement. Rather, it was the position of black folks in SNCC, like Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) and Rap Brown, when they expelled whites in 67 and told them to get their asses into white space and do the work, for precisely this reason. If anyone on this board wants to call out Kwame or Rap as some sell-out, punk-ass white accomodationists, go right ahead. But please note, your beef is not, then, with me. As for the notion that the only option for whites who want to do the work is to pull a John Brown (as one poster said), this glamorization of revolutionary suicide is nonsensical. In fact, if white antiracists started taking such actions, I’m confident someone would start blogging about how we were just doing it for attention, and we were taking the spotlight off folks of color, trying to upstage them by getting our asses killed, etc. Plus, no white folks are going to join the struggle as allies if they think the only option they have is armed struggle, the outcome of which will be their death. No one wants to be a martyr, and that goes for everyone that tries to bust me out for what I do, or don’t do.

    As for the notion that I’m not really fighting racism, or that if I am, I need to be more specific about what that looks like:

    Look, I don’t know what one believes “fighting racism” is. If it means doing shit to get arrested, breaking shit, starting the revolution, I guess not. And neither is anyone on this board, so welcome to my club of non-fighters. If it means actively challenging racism in institutional settings, then I am. I work with institutions from schools, to community groups, on developing methods and policies and procedures that can begin to undo racism (institutionally and interpersonally) in their spaces. I don’t just give speeches, but also work on capacity building measures with such folks. Do they work? Well, not in a two or three year time frame: it takes longer than that. Or even ten years sometimes. But I know from those with whom I’ve worked that overwhelmingly, they feel as though the work has made a difference–especially when it is followed up by folks of color coming in as well. I’ve also worked as a consultant on civil rights lawsuits, helping plaintiffs who have been harmed by racism to seek and win compensation–and policy changes–in the instutitions that injured them.

    But here’s the main thing: I am first and foremost and writer…an essayist. And of course, a public speaker. Those are my two skills, for which I make no apologies. I was a community organizer for several years, and though I loved the work, I just wasn’t all that great at it. It takes a special set of talents to be really effective at that work, and there were just tons of people better at it than I was. So I went in the direction I went, and in whicih direction I am still pointed today. Is it activism? Not really, at least in the strictest, traditional sense. That’s why I don’t refer to myself as an activist all that much anymore, because real community-based strategizing and movement building only constitutes about 15-20 percent of my work nowadays. The rest is spoken and written word. Now, given that it isn’t really strict activism, in a community, at the grass roots, does that mean it isn’t antiracism work? Well, if that is the standard then James Baldwin didn’t do antiracism work (and no, I am not trying to compare my writing to Baldwin, so please, don’t misconstrue the point). He was “just” a writer and frequent speaker, who went to civil rights demos, but didn’t plan them as such. And ya know what? That was ok. Movements need people to do all kinds of things, inlcuding communicating ideas. If I am good at it, so be it. If I’m not, then I’m not. Everyone can decide for themselves. But let it be about the quality of the work. I am the first to admit that most everything I say has been said by people of color first. I say it explicitly in pretty much every speech I ever give, in fact. The exception to this, I suppose, is my book White Like Me. Since it is a memoir, and thus, my personal narrative around white privilege, I guess I actually did say a lot of things in there that others haven’t said, and which folks of color couldn’t have said explicitly because none of them lived my exact life. Whether that narrative is valuable in the struggle remains to be seen of course. But the notion that a) Tim Wise has been doing this for years, and b) white folks by and large still have their heads up their asses on race, so c) Tim Wise must be a failure who’s just in it to get paid, is the worst example of fucked up logic I’ve seen in a while.

    Cool though, because at the end of the day, I don’t do this for people of color. Hear that. People of color will ultimately liberate themselves from white supremacy. I fight racism because white supremacy compromises my humanity and that of my family. And I don’t need anyone’s permission–no damn body’s–to fight for my own humanity against the system of whiteness whose purpose is to destroy it, as it seeks to destroy people of color. This aint charity work. It’s self help.

    Take care, and keep in mind, that every second y’all spend debating my worth to the struggle is a moment you’re not doin much to further it either…just a thought.

    Tim

    Comment by mgll — May 25, 2009 @ 9:03 pm


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