NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Listen to Tim Wise and the dangers of liberal America’s love affair with the concept of “post-racial color blindness” become imminently clear.
“Color blindness allows us to rationalize disparity,” Wise, a prominent author and speaker on racism told participants meeting here at the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in Higher Education. “Color blindness can make racism worse by allowing us to rationalize the inequities of society.”
Talk of “post-racial” society also strips the historical context from the conversation of racism that Americans should be having with their children, he said, noting that today’s headlines still are replete with examples of efforts to either keep non-white Americans out of the country or retain a powerful white narrative of America’s history even as we move toward becoming a “majority-minority” country in the next four decades. He pointed to Arizona’s new law requiring all immigrants, legal or not, to carry identify papers as an example of the first and Texas’ efforts to rewrite school history textbooks as an example of the other.
Wise noted that some Americans point to the election of Barack Obama as proof that we are entering an era where racism no longer exists and racial differences are no longer noticeable to a new generation. But, he said, polling has shown that anywhere from 60 and 75 percent of white Americans have answered questions in ways that suggest they believe some of the negative stereotypes of brown and black Americans to be true.
In voting for Obama, Wise suggested, some Americans were saying, “We’ll carve out an exception for that one because he’s different (from other blacks)….. That’s not an end to racism.”
Wise said that people of all races have to continue working to understand and confront the personal stereotypes and biases they hold, noting that only by acknowledging and confronting the social and cultural lens through which we were brought up to see the world can we begin to rectify its inequities. He noted the irony of white, male Republican senators criticizing Sonia Sotomayor lack of “objectivity” for remarks that became a lightning rod of her hearing as a Supreme Court justice.
In a speech as an appeals court judge in 2001, Sotomayor said the ethnicity and sex of a judge “may and will make a difference in our judging,”The New York Times reported. Questioning the notion, expressed by other justices, that a wise old woman and wise old man would agree in deciding a case, she further said that, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
The critics, noted Wise, never questioned whether they might be seeing and defining the world through the lens of white males because their culture is so dominant in this country’s halls of power.
Wise, a white southerner who helped defeat racist David Duke when he sought to be elected senator and then governor of Louisiana in the early 1990s, gave one of the keynotes at a week-long conference that covered hundreds of topics.