Friday, January 7, 2011

Quotes from Tim Wise's Lecture "The Pathology of Privilege: Racism, White Denial and the Costs of Inequality"

Below you will find some of the more important quotes from Tim Wise's Lecture on white racism and white privilege.  Please read them over and feel free to quote from his lecture, with proper citation, for the exam.

On an American Journal of Public Health article published in 2004, which had looked at ten years of excess mortality data for African Americans:
“This study found that between 1991 and 2000, there were almost one million black people in this country who died who would not have died had they merely been white and had the average health care quality and access of the typical white person in this country, had they been living in neighborhoods, like white neighborhoods, in which the levels of exposure to toxicity had been as low as it is in the typical white neighborhood, as opposed to excess exposure to toxics, pollutants, etc. in black and brown spaces. Almost one million excess dead people, in this case black folks, who wouldnt have died had the system of health care access and exposure to toxins been equal between white folks and black folks. How is a million dead black people not news? You see, if James Bird gets dragged to death behind a truck in Jasper, Texas, you will hear about that and well you should. If one individual is the victim of a vicious hate crime, you will hear about that and well you should. But if nearly one million people die, not because of bigotry, not because of hatred, not because of some white supremacy organization, but because of systemic and institutionalized injustice, you will not hear anything.”

On the economic advantages that adhere to living with white privilege in America:
“How is it not an issue that the typical white family in America, thanks to this history, this legacy of institutionalized oppression for some and advantage and privilege for others, how is it not news that the average white family in America, not the average rich white family, the average white family has 12 times the accumulated net worth of the average African American family, 8 times the accumulated net worth of the average Latino family, and in large measure because those white average families had parents or grandparents who even if they didnt have much, even if they were not rich none the less were bale to procure a little house, with a little property, maybe with a F.H.A. or a V.A. loan. In the middle of the 20th century, loans that were all but off limits to people of color, as they gave hundreds of billions of dollars worth of assets and equity to those who were white. So that even white working class families, on average, even white families with less than fifteen thousand a year in annual income, which depending on family size, that is technically the poverty limit, and yet the average family with low
income, less than fifteen thousand, has the same average net worth as a typical black family with a sixty thousand or more in annual income. So that even in those African American families that are professionals – good jobs, occupation status, good educations, etc. and pretty good incomes – are still in worse shape in terms of wealth and assets, material goods, which are really what matter in the long run, your income, if youre dependent on that you are one paycheck away from nothing. If you dont have assets, if you dont have wealth, if you dont have something accumulated, your income means very little in the case of an economic downturn. And these working class white families who are struggling, make no mistake about it, nonetheless are going to be better off than those black families who make four times as much annual pay. How can that not be an issue? I am suggesting to you that the failure to talk about race, the failure to talk about racism and inequality on the basis of color, feeds the denial that is already far too prevalent among the white community. And having been white all of my
life, I have been surrounded by that denial for a very long time.”

On how privilege and oppression is not only about those on the bottom, but also those on the top who have unearned advantages:
“…we dont have white history month because we have several. They go by the names of May, June, July, August, September, pretty much any month that we have not designated as someone elses month, thats white history month. But we take it for granted, because we dont have to know other folksreality. Thats a privilege. Thats an advantage. Thats a head start, and its one we must think about. See, thats the other piece of this, right? Because its one thing for white folks to acknowledge racism, see?  Because you know white liberals will, god bless them, white liberals will acknowledge racism is real. “Oh my goodness, we should do something about that. Yes, yes, we should. Its terrible that racial profiling, that housing discrimination. My goodness, its awful. Yes it is.” But just because we acknowledge racism and discrimination, doesnt mean well acknowledge the flip side of that. It doesnt mean that we will acknowledge that for everyone who is targeted by that discrimination that exists that we are willing to admit exists. There is somebody else not being targeted, guess whom? And that those
individuals that are elevated by definition and receive an advantage, receive a subsidy, receive a privilege in the process, you see? We like to talk about those who are down as if there is no up. We like to use language that obscures the interrelationship of down and up. Now down has no meaning without an up. It is a relative term. But we talk about those at the bottom of the hierarchy, not paying attention to the fact that for anyone who is down, someone is above them and they are above them because they are down.”

 On how white people are unburdened by race and often oblivious to race:
“That is what it means to be white. Its never having to worry that you are going to trigger a series of negative stereotypes about your group and if you are not able to over come them, your opportunities will be limited. Yes, white women will face that on a gender level, but on a racial level, those who are white will never have to worry that their missteps, that our missteps, will be attributed to our racial defect of some sort.  The research is very clear, that that privilege, having one less thing to worry about, having one less thing to sweat in the classroom, trying to get that loan at the bank, at that job or whatever that case might be, that that has significant dividends because to have one less thing to sweat in a competitive society is the thing that separates often times success from failure or big success from medium success from smaller success.”

On the dangers of white privilege to white people:
“Privilege: Not having to worry about it. But let me suggest to you something, because the title of this talk after all is The Pathology of Privilege. I want to be very clear, that that privilege of not having to think about it, that privilege of not having to know someone elses reality, that privilege of being able to ignore it, and that privilege of benefiting from the inequality, having a certain leg up actually is very dangerous. And not just for those who dont have it, that there is actually a down side for those who do, and this is important, right? Because in a country like ours, which encourages us to take advantage of our advantages, if I tell you that you have a privilege, your first inclination is not to get rid of that. Thats not the culture in which we live. But I want to suggest to you there are reasons for even those of us who benefit, in relative terms, from racism and institutional white supremacy, should care about this. Not out of some altruistic – I want to help other people impulse – but because it is actually dangerous for us as well.”

On the pathology created and sustained for white folks due to being privileged: 
“ [White Privilege] also creates an intense anxiety, like a mental dysfunction, an emotional anxiety, and distress. If you are privileged after all, if you are the top dog, if you have all the advantage, you are constantly afraid of whos gaining on you. Youre constantly afraid of whos coming to take what you have. Youve got to close the border. Theyre coming to take our stuff.  Weve got to worry about terrorists. Theyre coming to take our stuff. We got to get them before they get us; preventative war. Weve got to stop them. Thats what privilege will do for you because those who have it are constantly anxious. A study in June of 2004, in the journal of the American Medical Association, which received very little attention, found that in the United States the rates of anxiety disorder, depression, and substance abuse related mental disorders are twice the global average, five times the rate in Nigeria. How is it that the most powerful and privileged people on earth can have so much more anxiety than people who live in war torn areas, civil war, political corruption, amazing problems, often famine, all kinds of hardships, that for the most part, we dont see at least in the same abundance, lets say, in the United States? And yet, it is here that the greatest level of anxiety exists. I would suggest that the reason that happens is because its the privilege that generates the anxiety. Its that constant fear of keeping up and staying ahead, that generates the anxiety, the mentality of entitlement, the mentality that says, this is our world, and we get to make the rules in this world.”

On the need to eschew guilt and take responsibility for making change: 
“I want you to know that this has nothing to do with guilt. I realize that none of the people in this room and none of the people in any of the rooms to which I speak every single week in this country somewhere are the ones who themselves, individually or even collectively, are responsible for the creation of this system of inequality, of privilege, of oppression, of marginalization. And that is not the point. I know we didnt create it, but we are here now, and we inherit the legacy of that which has come before… When we get tired of living in the funk, in the residue of that which has been given to us by others, with no regard for the impact and the damage that they would do to us and to our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, if and when we are lucky enough to have them. When we get tired of living in that residue, in that funk, and saying enough, then well get busy cleaning it, not because we created it, but because we are the only ones left to do the job. And if we dont, well be back or our children, grandchildren, and our great grandchildren will be back in rooms just like this one in generations to come. But I assure you, if they inherit this legacy, as we have inherited, the stakes will be far greater. The risk will be far greater. And the odds of success and victory at creating justice and opportunity for all will be far more remote. And so if we dont want to see that day come, it is up to us to get busy. It is up to us to take responsibility, not because we are guilty but because we are here.”

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