“Black Lives Matter,” white privilege, income inequality, campus unrest, unemployment rates, drug-related arrests and jail time, are but a few of the topics that guest speaker Tim Wise unfurled at the audience during this year’s CCSU “Bridging the Gap – A Dream Deferred.” The event was the culmination of this past semester where many CCSU communication classes focused on (among other things) the above-mentioned topics. Having continuity in the overall subject matter gave us students the opportunity to engage in critical thinking and prolific discussions all across campus.
Wise’s speech lasted over an hour and he then engaged in more than an hour of questions. The time flew by.
Wise began his speech with an admission that, even after his more than 25 years as an activist for racial equality, he, “shows up in these spaces in full recognition that my body fits this aesthetic of being a white, middle-aged male,” often speaking to an audience that is not. “It’s not lost on me that I’m the one standing here. But until we give weight and breathe to a black woman who can say what I am about to, with more validity than I can ever possibly have, we are not free.”
Somehow, stating the fact of his “whiteness” allowed us, the audience, to recognize and acknowledge that we also entered this event with our own biases. It seemed to allow us to settle in to his topics without assuming that he was focusing his rhetoric from the point of view of a white male but rather as a well-researched, long-term activist who articulates often difficult subjects nationwide.
Many of his topics revolved around privilege – specifically white privilege. By definition, white privilege is “a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.” “The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from being white.”
Speaking as a white female and a self-proclaimed anti-racism advocate, I found myself clapping and sometimes cheering as he poignantly wove his rhetoric into a memorable storyline. I took notes of quips that I wanted to look back upon as I continue my own quest of understanding what being “white in the room” means. But over the past few days, as I really started thinking about it, I can’t help but remember how he labeled us “a Snapchat nation, whereby our attention stays focused for about 10 seconds and then is completely forgotten.” That is how we deal with history. Nothing he said is new but, as a white person, I have the privilege to pay attention at will. My goal is to do better than that – for myself, for my children, and for my nation.