My appearance on WGN (Chicago’s) Morning News program, September 2, 2016, to discuss Colin Kaepernick, the National Anthem, and his ongoing protest against police violence. For some reason, the chyron at one point says Tim Wise: “Dear White People,” (the name of an excellent movie that I had nothing to do with), rather than “Dear White America,” the name of my book that they mentioned. They finally fix it in the last few minutes.
So just in case you were wondering, when a white man bellows that America is no longer great, and in fact is akin to a “third world” country, and that many other countries are better than we are at all kinds of things — and this is why we should elect him, so he can “make America great again,” because right now, we’re sorta suckin’ wind — that is the height of patriotism. The kind of talk we need! The kind of nationalistic endorsement around which all Americans should be willing to rally.
And when this same man says black people aren’t safe from other black people, and they can’t even walk down the street without getting shot by other black people, and that’s why they specifically should vote for him, so he can make their communities safe, that too is to be understood as a laudable commentary, even an ecumenical “outreach” to African Americans. Because black folks naturally love it when white men tell them how utterly degenerate is their daily existence, having spent exactly zero time in actual black communities so as to know what the hell they’re talking about.
However — and here’s where things get tricky — if a black man like 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refuses to stand for the national anthem because he feels the country hasn’t done right by black folks, and especially with regard to the unpunished killing of far too many by law enforcement, that is to be understood as treasonous, as grounds for his dismissal from his team, and as a justification to insist that he take his exit from the nation he apparently “hates.” Because after all, who would condemn conditions in America except for one who by definition hated it? (And as you ponder that query feel free to ignore the first two paragraphs above, as the maintenance of cognitive dissonance is incredibly valuable at times like this).
In short, white men (at least those on the right) can issue all manner of calumny against the United States. They can condemn its economics and its immigration policies; they can paint a picture of culturally defective black people as some underclass contagion within it; they can condemn it for not being sufficiently Christian, sufficiently militaristic, or sufficiently harsh on refugees. They can suggest that other countries are better at everything from infrastructure investment to trade negotiations, and still be viewed as fundamentally committed to the well-being of the country—indeed as presidential material, by millions.
But black folks cannot so much as open their mouths in criticism without the wrath of white America descending upon their shoulders. When they criticize — and especially if the criticism is about racism and inequality — they must be painted as hateful and petty. They must be told to leave because “there are millions who would gladly take their place,” and they must be made pariahs, symbolic of the lack of gratitude black people have for the country that has “given them” so much.
It is increasingly apparent that white Americans hate the Constitution.
Not all white people and not the entire Constitution of course; but certainly a frightening lot of us and some of the most important parts. We love the Second Amendment — at least in so far as it protects our right to bear arms, even as we aren’t nearly so supportive of black folks trying to exercise theirs — but as for the quaint notions of due process or equal protection? Those are but trifles, orange cones on the highway of law and order, to which we are expected to pay some minor attention, but ultimately forget about in the name of the greater good.
And by greater good, I mean the apparent desire to rationalize virtually anything done to a black body by a blue-uniformed member of the nation’s law enforcement apparatus, usually by making note of the less-than-angelic history of the decedent before the bullets ripped flesh. Because to much of white America, only angels can be true victims and only saints deserve eulogy; and surely no lesser beings are deserving of the Constitutional guarantees referenced above, at least when the dead are black or brown. And so, in the most recent cases of Korryn Gaines and Paul O’Neal, we are instructed not to mourn them, and surely not to make them poster children for the black lives that we insist matter. After all, Gaines pointed a gun at officers and O’Neal stole a car, after which felony he proceeded to lead police on a chase. That both ended up dead is entirely their own fault, we are assured. To think otherwise is to make victims of criminals who brought their demise upon themselves. Surely we will soon hear this refrain again in the wake of yesterday’s shooting of an armed black man by Milwaukee police, which shooting touched off a night of violence in that city.
Theywerenoangels. Theywerenoangels. Theywerenoangels.
Say it three times in a mirror while spinning around on one leg, and then perhaps the ghost of Antonin Scalia or Andrew Breitbart will visit you and reassure you that all is right with the world. The scary black people are dead and we have to support our police and they do a dangerous job and you don’t want to do it and if your house was being robbed who would you call…a protester?
Of course there are fact patterns even amid this cacophony. And though they won’t matter to most of those who repeat the above formulations as if they were sacred omkara, perhaps it would do us well to remember them.
Possibly the only thing worse than racism itself is the pseudo-intellectual way in which some seek to justify it. For instance, consider the standard conservative response to those of us who argue that the criminal justice system is the site of significant racialized unfairness. Whether the subject is racial profiling, stop-and-frisk rates, arrest rates, rates of incarceration, or the rates at which blacks are shot by police, those on the right are quick to dismiss disparities in these areas by claiming that because rates of criminal offending are higher in black communities, disparities in enforcement of the law are only to be expected.
This line of reasoning has been the default position, for instance, of conservative scholar Heather MacDonald, whose new book, The War On Cops, is but the latest in her years-long attempt to rationalize away any and all disparities in the justice system. According to MacDonald — who previously made this case so as to defend the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies, and who now uses the same logic to justify disproportionate use of force against blacks by police — if rates of arrest, incarceration, and the rates at which blacks experience police force are consistent with rates of criminal offending, there is no evidence of racism.
But there are several problems, both theoretical and concrete, with these arguments.
For so many reasons, I really didn’t want to have to write this. But here we go again.
Twenty-six years after his first run for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana, lifelong white supremacist, Neo-Nazi and former Klansman David Duke has once again thrown his hat in the ring for the job.
As tempting as it would be to write him off, and to conclude that this was yet another of his many schemes for attention and money, it would be terribly naive to believe he was incapable of winning this position in November. First, because with only a couple of months to go, Duke will be able to call upon a legion of hardcore fans to boost his profile (many of the same folks who voted for him in 1990 and 1991, when he got 60 and 55 percent of the white vote, respectively). And second, and more importantly, because with the rise of Donald Trump, and the infusion of blatant white anxiety and resentment into the 2016 presidential race, Duke could easily ride the wave of white backlash politics to victory.
Indeed, in many ways, Duke has come full circle. In 1990 it was he who pulled the Republican establishment further to the right, pushing racial themes like so-called welfare abuse, resentment over affirmative action and immigration, and fears about black crime into the forefront. Yes, others had played this tune before — most notably George Wallace, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — but none with as much focus and determination as Duke. By the time Duke ran for President in 1992, he had already made enough of an impact on conservative politics so as to catapult Pat Buchanan (who sounded much like Duke, but without the Klan robes) into the position of a serious contender for several months. Buchanan at the time advised the GOP to steal from Duke’s “winning playbook” of ideas, so as to use white anger to win political office. And they did.
Today, after two decades of overt appeals to racial resentment — a strategy perfected in many ways by Duke — a candidate like Donald Trump can find himself the Republican nominee, riding a wave of white anger over immigration, over eight years of the Obama presidency, and over the supposed threat of brown-skinned Muslims seeking to bring terrorism and Sharia law to our shores. As such, Duke now sees an opening to pull the party even further to the right, filling in the blanks left unfilled by Trump: namely, placing the blame where Duke has always thought it belonged—on Jews.
Here is the Twitter storm I released on David Duke yesterday, after he announced he was running for the U.S. Senate again, in Louisiana. As most of you know, I got my start doing antiracism work in the fight against Duke in 1990 and 1991. This is just a brief and incomplete timeline of Duke’s Neo-Nazi extremism over the years, from the late 1960s until the early 2000s. Since then he has continued in the same vein, on his internet radio show and in writing on his website.
One correction: because these are tweet embeds below, and you can’t edit tweets after they’re published (for some reason), I was unable to fix the spelling on the island nation of Dominica, which I originally misspelled as Domenica. I mention it below, because in 1980, David Duke helped a band of Neo-Nazis raise money and procure a boat for an attempted invasion of that nation. They were hoping to set up a cocaine processing plant to fund white supremacist activity. Duke avoided indictment in the plot, though his friends did not. Anyway, I wanted to correct the spelling, because as it was listed originally, I had basically accused Duke of helping to launch a coup attempt on one of New Orleans’ better restaurants, rather than a small Caribbean island. Wanted to set the record straight.
Here ya go…
Facts about #DavidDuke (now that he’s announced for U.S. Senate) (1) Duke has been a Nazi for nearly a half century. While in college…
— Tim Wise (@timjacobwise) July 22, 2016
Although there was no such thing as polling back then, I suspect that if you had asked a representative sample of Londoners in the early 1770s whether or not the American colonists were getting a fair shake from King George, most would have said yes. It is doubtful they would have thought much about any supposed grievances that were at that very moment fueling the rise of a revolutionary movement, soon to burst onto the scene. Loyal to the system of which they were a part, and believing that system fair, they might well have wondered what all the fuss was about.
Whenever we benefit from a system as it is, taking that system for granted becomes second nature. We don’t see what others who are harmed by that system see, because we don’t have to. There’s no mystery here and very little that is controversial, at least in theory; as such, it should be apparent that most Brits in the mid-18th century would have found the likes of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to be foolish upstarts and trouble-makers. And no doubt, looking back at what would have been the dominant British view at that time, most Americans would probably feel smug in asserting the absurdity of such a perspective in retrospect. Even most Brits would likely acknowledge the fatuousness of their ancestors’ denials and unwillingness to see the colonists’ point. It’s always easier to admit one was wrong many generations after the error has occurred.
So too, in what became the United States, most slaveowners never questioned the legitimacy of their system, and most whites — including those who didn’t own slaves — neither joined the abolitionist movement nor supported it. Indeed, most whites have been implacably aligned with white supremacy for the entirety of our nation’s history, only condemning even its most blatant iterations (like slavery and indigenous genocide) many generations after the formal manifestations of those had ended, and when doing so took no more courage than crossing the street.
That may sound harsh. It may be difficult to hear. But just because truth isn’t pleasing to one’s ears doesn’t mean it’s any less accurate. And the fact is — and it is at the heart of our current troubles — most white Americans have never believed that it was necessary for blacks to agitate for their rights and liberties (or their lives)—at least not at the time that particular agitation was happening. Just as Londoners wouldn’t have seen the unfairness directed at the American colonists (and let’s be clear, what King George did to white colonists was nothing compared to what those white colonists did to Africans and indigenous persons), so too, most whites have never been able to see the unfairness of the system vis-a-vis black people in the moment. Oh sure, fifty years later, we can look back and view Dr. King as a secular saint and talk about how great the civil rights movement was, and then we can contrast it with that “horrible, awful” Black Lives Matter movement, as Bill O’Reilly recently did. But when Dr. King and the movement were actually doing the things for which we remember them, most white folks stood in firm opposition, saw no need for their actions, and believed they were more “divisive” than unifying.
These are several short clips from Tim Wise’s recent appearance with Dolewite on 101.1 The Beat (Nashville), to discuss recent police shootings and their relationship to racial inequality in America.
In this first clip, Wise responds to common white deflections about racism, and explores the selective way in which white Americans choose to remember (or forget) certain aspects of our history.
In this clip, Wise explains the importance of saying “Black lives matter,” and responds to the absurd claims by some that BLM and the movement for police reform and accountability is “waging a war on cops.”
In this clip, Wise discusses the proven racial disproportionality of police misconduct in communities of color and responds to those who claim there is no such disparity or that such disparities are justified by crime rates in black and brown spaces
In this clip, Wise responds to the common argument that black folks should spend less time worrying about police brutality and more time addressing “black on black crime.”
In this clip, Wise explores the reasons why so many white Americans seem unwilling to listen to people of color when it comes to their experiences with racism and discrimination.
In this clip, Wise examines the history of the notion of whiteness and how it has been used to divide and conquer working class people for hundreds of years.
Tim Wise discussion with Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner (MomsRising.org), re: white antiracism and allyship
At the risk of sounding preposterously trite, I love my daughters. I love them the same way my parents loved me, I suspect, and their parents loved them: unconditionally and forever.
That said, I also see their flaws and shortcomings. They are teenagers after all and human beings, and their membership in both clubs provides ample opportunities for imperfection. But those frailties also provide opportunities for growth, for betterment, for improvement; and those occasions in turn produce some of the most exciting and rewarding moments for parents and kids alike: the ability to see a child move from one place to a better place with some support, and some constructive (if yet critical) feedback.
Importantly, when we admonish our children for true wrongdoing in the hopes of helping them to do better, to be better, no one would accuse us of hating our kids. Indeed a parent who was satisfied that their teenager had reached the pinnacle of moral and behavioral development — such that they shouldn’t be criticized when they make horribly wrong and even destructive choices as they sometimes do — wouldn’t be much of a parent at all. If anything, it would be they who demonstrated a kind of contempt for children; the kind that views them as incapable of better, as if they were too damaged or stunted to grow and to change. Like I said, I love my daughters. They are amazing 15 and (almost) 13-year olds. But if, at 25 and 23 (or even 16 and 14) they are the same people they are right now, then something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
The same is true (and should be recognized as such) when we criticize our country, or (since the nation’s attention is focused on issues of police misconduct vis-a-vis people of color), law enforcement. To criticize one’s nation or police, even harshly, for wrongdoing, is not to hate that country or its cops. Indeed, such rebuke implies a kind of love, truth be told; a love built on the belief that both can do better; that they can be better. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t bother. We would just give up. And while some, like Dallas shooter, Micah Johnson, may have decided all cops are the enemy (or at least the white ones are) — and that they are incapable of responsible interactions in black communities — almost by definition the activists in the Black Lives Matter movement who have been in the streets demanding police accountability and reform, are not among those people. They are demanding change because their lives depend on it, and because they believe in the potentiality of a different society—a society built on justice, however hard it may be to bring that place into existence.
Even those within the movement — and I would be one of them — who believe in the need for substantial de-policing, and the creation of alternative forms of dispute resolution, still insist that whatever law enforcement remains, even in such a society as we desire, can be better than what we have now. We are not the cynical ones here. Cynicism is the voice of Rudy Giuliani. It is the voice of police unions that tell black people they can’t expect better from cops until and unless black communities eradicate all vestiges of their own dysfunction, and that to demand otherwise from one’s law enforcers is to desire those law enforcers dead. Which makes no more sense than to suggest calling out doctors for malpractice is but the first step towards assassinating surgeons, so blinded by a hatred of physicians must one be to demand that they do their jobs the right way.
To confuse criticism with hatred is to exalt silence and complicity and call it love. It is to counsel nonchalance in the face of incalculable pain, all for the sake of blind patriotism or hero worship. It is to make of citizenship a cult, within which no dissent can be allowed, even when that dissent is itself vital to the functioning of the society in which the citizen resides. It is to ignore the tumor even as it grows and to believe that our casual dismissal of its metastasis will render it benign. It is to believe that deference to authority is a secular sacrament, and that people of color should adopt amnesia as a positive cultural value, taking no notice of the long history within which authority has been precisely the source of their marginalization, their injury, and their death.
I have little regard for patriotism, so readily does it spill over to hyper-nationalism. But if there is any such thing as a positive version of it, then surely it must be the kind that says America can do better than to be a place where unarmed black men are seven times as likely to be killed by police as unarmed white men. If that’s the best we can hope for then one is forced to wonder as to whether we deserve a country at all. And if that’s the best we can hope for then it remains a very open question as to whether our children — the ones we claim to love so dearly — will return our positive regard once they become adults and inherit the mess we have left for them. One thing is for certain: even if we somehow manage to still deserve their love, we will have done very little to earn their respect. They will curse our memories, and we will have most certainly merited their disdain