Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Treason to Whiteness is Loyalty to Humanity: Tim Wise and the "Open Letter to the White Right" Controversy

Tim Wise, a white brother who is "down like John Brown," has stepped once more into the cross-hairs of the New Right and the tea bagger GOP crowd. Like a ronin, he has decided to run headlong into the horde--all the while effortlessly taking heads like a zatoichi or samurai executioner.

For the uninitiated, Tim Wise (noted anti-racist activist and speaker) penned a sharp rebuttal to the politics of white racial resentment and the red tide that was the 2010 elections. His piece, "An Open Letter to the White Right," was damning and sharp. As it spread across these Internets, Tim's piece was predictably greeted with shouts of "dirty pool" and the perennially lazy charge of anti-white bigotry.

We often talk about the Black Freedom Struggle and the role of fellow travelers and white allies in that long journey. In those remembrances, it sometimes goes uncommented upon that alliances are reciprocal relationships. Not here.

I stand united in our small part of the universe with Tim Wise: his analysis of the White Soul, the politics of white racial grievance, and the reactionary nativism that is the Tea Party Republican Party's drug of choice is spot on. No qualifiers ought (or need) to be offered.

The long-term impact of the Tea Party populist infused GOP remains to be seen. Was last week's rout of the Democrats a realigning election or just a deviation? Is America moving even more to the right or does she remain center-left as signaled to by Obama's (now exhausted) electoral mandate? At present, answers to these questions remain unclear.

However, one fact is clear. The election of Barack Obama has unleashed a torrent of white rage and anger. As Tim Wise signaled to in his essay, the Tea Party GOP is up against a generational wall: their base is older, whiter, and more conservative than America as a whole. With changing demographics, this cohort with its repellent, dated, reactionary conservative ideology is on the wrong side of history.

While some analysts term this "the challenge of generational replacement," I choose to be more blunt: their base is dying. The leadership of the New Right can either mine this bitterness and yearning for a return to "real America" in exchange for short-term electoral gains--a hit of that white racial resentment crack rock--or they can look to the future.

Ultimately, the election of Barack Obama was truly groundbreaking for how it shattered one more semi-permanent glass ceiling in this country. His election was also cathartic and purifying as it further exposed the always bubbling beneath the surface white victimology and temper tantrum politics of the New Right, the Tea Party GOP, and contemporary Conservatism.

But here is my question: Why do some White folks want to kill the messenger? Is there a special amount of rage reserved for whites who dare to tell the truth about Whiteness? Who expose that the emperor has no clothes?

To some--
the sickest, those most in denial about their addiction to Whiteness--Tim Wise is a "race traitor". Ironically, in many circles to be a race traitor--here being a a traitor to Whiteness--is an act of loyalty to humanity.

As fuel for the struggle against Whiteness, once more the wise words of historian Noel Ignatiev provide comfort, solace, and wisdom.


Various commentators have stated that their aim is to identify and preserve a positive white identity. Abolitionists deny the existence of a positive white identity. We at Race Traitor, the journal with which I am associated, have asked some of those who think whiteness contains positive elements to indicate what they are. We are still waiting for an answer. Until we get one, we will take our stand with David Roediger, who has insisted that whiteness is not merely oppressive and false, it is nothing but oppressive and false. As James Baldwin said, "So long as you think you are white, there is no hope for you."

Whiteness is not a culture. There is Irish culture and Italian culture and American culture - the latter, as Albert Murray pointed out, a mixture of the Yankee, the Indian, and the Negro (with a pinch of ethnic salt); there is youth culture and drug culture and queer culture; but there is no such thing as white culture. Whiteness has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with social position. It is nothing but a reflection of privilege, and exists for no reason other than to defend it. Without the privileges attached to it, the white race would not exist, and the white skin would have no more social significance than big feet.

Before the advocates of positive whiteness remind us of the oppression of the white poor, let me say that we have never denied it. The United States, like every capitalist society, is composed of masters and slaves. The problem is that many of the slaves think they are part of the master class because they partake of the privileges of the white skin. We cannot say it too often: whiteness does not exempt people from exploitation, it reconciles them to it. It is for those who have nothing else...

What would the determined minority have to do? They would have to break the laws of whiteness so flagrantly as to destroy the myth of white unanimity. What would it mean to break the rules of whiteness? It would mean responding to every manifestation of white supremacy as if it were directed against them. On the individual level, it would mean, for instance, responding to an anti-black remark by asking, What makes you think I'm white? On the collective level, it would mean confronting the institutions that reproduce race...

A traitor to the white race is someone who is nominally classified as white but who defies white rules so strenuously as to jeopardize his or her ability to draw upon the privileges of whiteness. The abolitionists recognize that no "white" can individually escape from the privileges of whiteness. The white club does not like to surrender a single member, so that even those who step out of it in one situation can hardly avoid stepping back in later, if for no other reason than the assumptions of others - unless, like John Brown, they have the good fortune to be hanged before that can happen.

But they also understand that when there comes into being a critical mass of people who look white but do not act white - people who might be called "reverse oreos" - the white race will undergo fission, and former whites, born again, will be able to take part, together with others, in building a new human community.


Cobb said...

There are two simple problems with Race Traitor, and I say this as one who had been taken with the idea.

1. He calls for the destruction of a race.

2. You must construct race according to a very strict definition in order to moderate your interactions with people who appear to be white.

chaunceydevega said...

That is a common willful misreading offered by stormfront reactionary conservative types. No where does Ignatiev call for the destruction of the White race. Whites as a race are a fiction to begin with--a recent idea, a social construction. H

e and others--myself included--seek the destruction of "whiteness" both out of self-interest, but also out of legitimate concern for how whiteness has stunted white people's humanity.

Constructive Feedback said...

My dear friend Chauncey DeVega:

I have several indices by which I appraise the consciousness of a "Responsible Negro".

One's viewpoint on Black Inferiorist Tim Wise is one of them.

Let me cut to the chase as I leave the justification of my stance against him as a "Black Inferiorist" by asking you ONE QUESTION:

Can you articulate any points of Mr Wise's message that articulates how BLACK PEOPLE NEED TO CHANGE so that we as a community can receive the promises and prosperity that we (and he appears to) want?

Do you see Chauncey - Mr Wise can easily pen a "Letter To White America".

I am more interested in the content of his LETTER TO BLACK AMERICA. I think that if this letter was ever penned it would represent the archetype for Black Inferiority as so little of his view of what it would take to bring SALVATION to Black America actually has Black people as the primary agents of our salvation.

SURELY this must disturb you Mr DeVega

Joanna said...

I do not like Tim Wise. To me, he profits a lot more from the perpetuation of racism than to the dismantling of the racist system. He is way too invested in his white privilege to really fight against white supremacy. He was asked on a radio show if he would be willing to give up some of his speaking fees and profits from his books in order to equalize income between Blacks and whites. Of course, he said no. He said it would make his children into "victims". He was also asked to provide investments tips on a radio show about white supremacy. He claimed he has no investments or assets. Who the hell is as famous and wealthy as him and has not investments? He simply did not want to share any knowledge that would actually uplift non white people.

Instead, he wants to speak of white privilege and how white people listen to other white people, and claim that is why it is necessary for him to speak out against racism. He wants to advocate for segregation even within the movement towards racial justice (he claims it is because white people are a burden to POC in the movement because they try to take over.... so why not STOP TRYING TO TAKE OVER!!!?? Why separate into white only groups rather than give up the leadership role to a POC? He has not answered that question to my knowledge.)

The worst thing about Tim Wise is not even about Tim Wise. It is the fact that he has this cult like following of white folks who think that they are experts on race/racism because they read his books. They then run out and tell everyone who fights for justice in a way that is different than Tim Wise that they are wrong, that they are clueless, and that they need to either bow down and do things the Tim Wise way or just stay out of the struggle.

He says that POC are the true experts on racism, but then publicly dismisses the work of Dr. Frances Cress Welsing as "pseudo scientific bullshit" It is one thing to disagree, quite another to disrespect.

Um, a question for Constructive Feedback.... you say that Tim Wise letter to white America does not make Black people the agents of change for their own lives. How would a Letter to Black America, with him telling Black people what to do, allow Black people agency??? It would still be a white person telling Black people what to do. It doesn't make a difference whether he is classified as anti-racist or not, it is not the place of any white person to tell POC how to conduct their own struggle, is it?

I disagree with him when he says whites need to form their own groups, because I think that whites should learn to work under the leadership of POC. He seems to believe that whites should not cede power to POC, but should instead lead segregated organizations.

But, if he were to direct POC what to do to fight for their own liberation, that is totally removing their agency, is it not?

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote]To me, he profits a lot more from the perpetuation of racism than to the dismantling of the racist system. He is way too invested in his white privilege to really fight against white supremacy.[/quote]


I assure you that there is an equal portion of Blacks who would be oppose to DISMANTLING the present system as there are WHITE FOLKS. The most effective means of fighting WHITE SUPREMACY is the dual force of "Enforcing Constitutionally Compliant Laws" and having BLACK PEOPLE develop the organic competencies within the key local institutions where we live so that, in aggregate, we can participate in EQUAL EXCHANGE of goods and services and talents in the market place. PERIOD.

[quote]publicly dismisses the work of Dr. Frances Cress Welsing as "pseudo scientific bullshit"[/quote]

While I don't admit to agreeing with everything that Dr Welsing has published the key point is that Dr Welsing has the spirit of an "UNBOUGHT/ UNSOLD BLACK". This is a THREAT to Tim Wise and other Snarling Fox White Progressives. He does better with Blacks who are so appreciative that a WHITE MAN who has been an "insider' is now telling "the Blacks" how White folks talk about them when they are not in earshot.

This is GOSPEL to the Blacks who spend more time focusing on EXTERNAL BATTLES than they express any particular acumen in managing the human resources within our communities. Insuring their development.

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote]you say that Tim Wise letter to white America does not make Black people the agents of change for their own lives. How would a Letter to Black America, with him telling Black people what to do, allow Black people agency??? It would still be a white person telling Black people what to do. It doesn't make a difference whether he is classified as anti-racist or not, it is not the place of any white person to tell POC how to conduct their own struggle, is it?[/quote]

TELLING people of color is less of an IMPOSITION than is:

* FUNDING the STANDARD OF LIVING of POC because their own leadership has failed to use the control over the local institutions to build up ORGANIC COMPETENCIES

* Needing a NATIONALIZED education system so that the "Negro Can Learn", this after having taken over the SCHOOLS after decades of struggle and STILL the promised quality has not been delivered

* Telling the masses how much UNINSURED BLACK PEOPLE will benefit from Government Health Care, thus the ONLY act to receive it has been their VOTE. Not:

*** The use of the said schools above to produce more Black medical professionals who matriculate onward and upward, returning to their communities as Medical Professionals

*** Connecting the consciousness of the $1T in Black wealth with the need for health care and thus developing funding sources HERE where there is abundance that can be pruned and then grafted in other areas of the Diaspora.

INSTEAD we have accepted a system that is not economically feasible HERE and damned sure could not be hoisted in Haiti, the Congo or Madagascar because they have even less of a sound economic baseline to make it happen.

Tim Wise's SALIENT words to the BLACK MAN would be accepted by ME - because I accept TRUTH regardless of the race of the writer.

Black people have been far more damaged by people who look like US and not Tim Wise. Those who viewed their SKIN COLOR as the primary evidence of their CREDIBILITY, failing to do other evaluations, soon found themselves off course in their journey, yet being told to "Struggle Harder".