World Up on Race: TIM WISE’s Love Letter to White America

BY jlove, July 6, 2010

This is the third blog entry in ‘Til the White Day is Done, a project by author and activist JLove Calderon. JLove can be considered an authority on the presence of racism, white privilege and persistent white supremacy in our society, and we think sharing her expertise in this space will create a great dialogue among the World Up community. Please stay tuned and see what she has to say, as well as the gripping celebrity interviews and contributions she has gathered on her journey.

A Love Letter to White America…No, Seriously.
For Jlove’s Series Love, Race, and Liberation, by Tim Wise
Tim Wise is among the nation’s most prominent white antiracist educators, writers and activists. He is the
author of five books on race and racism, and lectures across the United States about institutional racism,
white privilege and the ongoing struggle for justice and equality.

Dear White America,
Forgive me for writing you one big letter, rather than taking the time to compose some
200 million separate ones, personalize ‘em and seal ‘em with a great big kiss. But I got
some stuff to do, and not a lot of time in which to do it, so for now, just consider this a
group hug.

Yeah, I know, a hug is not what you were expecting. Not from me anyway. I mean, I’m
one of you—a member of the club, so to speak—but still, sometimes I get the impression
that you think I don’t much like you. In fact, just the other day, one of our number wrote
me to ask why it was I hate white people so much.

Same stuff I hear on a regular: Tim Wise hates white people. Tim Wise hates himself.
Crazy stuff. And I just wanted to make sure we were straight, you and me, ‘cuz, ya’
know, I don’t want to be misunderstood. Besides, fact is, not only do I not hate you—
I mean, us—I actually love you, blemishes and all: hell, oozing sores and all, I still love
you. I don’t always feel so hot about what you—I mean, we—have done. Nor am I real
big on loving the unearned privileges and advantages we get just for lack of melanin. But
hating that is not the same as hating white people. That stuff is about whiteness, which
isn’t the same as you, in case you didn’t know that. Whiteness and white supremacy are
systemic things, but you’re just folks, caught up in the bullshit like everyone else. The
only difference is, some of y’all don’t know it yet.

Really it’s sorta funny, ya know? To be accused of hating white people just because you
speak out against white privilege and white racism. I mean, think it through with me:
if being against white racism makes a person “anti-white” then doesn’t that mean that
racism is like the essence of being white? Doesn’t it mean that being pro white racism is
somehow the only way to show your love for white people? Doesn’t it mean that white
people and racism are pretty much synonymous? Or at least like an old married couple?
Messed up, dontcha’ think? I mean, seriously, have you ever considered that? How ass-
backwards it is to basically decide that we are collectively so evil, you and me, that we
just can’t help ourselves, and that trying to break free from the conditioning we’ve been
exposed to is somehow to betray one another?

I may be wrong in this, but I think you’re better than that, that we are. I’m convinced
we have choices. I know we do, because I’ve seen people exercise them, and even made
some myself. I know that for every Andrew Jackson—land stealing, Indian killing
bastard that he was—there’s a Jeremiah Evarts standing up against him and saying
no. For every John Calhoun, defending the system of enslavement, there’s a John Fee,
challenging it, refusing to provide communion to parishioners in his church that owned
other human beings, and willing to be defrocked for his insolence. For every Bull Connor
there’s a Virginia Durr; for every George Wallace a Bob or Dottie Zellner. And yes, I
know that for most of you, these names I mention in praise, and in contrast to the others,
won’t even be recognizable. There’s a reason for that, and it’s one you ought to ask
yourself about from time to time.

Ask yourself why you know so well the names of those whose lives were defined by
the cruelty they meted out to others, why you know the names and maybe even the
biographies of the worst amongst us, but almost nothing about the best, almost nothing
about those in our little tribe who placed their humanity—ours—above the conceit of
skin alone. And trust me when I tell you, once you allow yourself to really think about
why you know the one but not the other, the answers that will come to you won’t be
the comforting kind. They’ll be answers you might wish you’d never known. The kind
that make you realize that somewhere, along the way, whiteness tricked you too. In this
case, it made you identify with the perpetration of injustice, and to jealously defend your
own reputation from critique, even as you had these other role models all along, right
there waiting for you to join them, to follow in their footsteps. And had you joined them,
your reputation wouldn’t be half as sullied as it is now by virtue of your silence, your
defensiveness, your denial.

So are you ready then? Are we ready to choose again, and this time, perhaps, get it right?
Ready to choose again and this time to live in this skin differently? Ready to relinquish
the bonds that we have placed around our own bodies and minds, thanks to white
supremacy? Ready to join the circle of humanity, but this time merely as equals, rather
than as lords and masters?

I mean, it’s your choice, and I’ll keep loving you no matter what you decide. We’re too
tightly bound for me to do otherwise. But time is tight, the clock is ticking and all the
world is dying, quite literally, for your answer. So think it over and get back to me soon.
We have some shit to do. And not a lot of time in which to do it.
With Love,
Tim Wise

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