Depending on what sources you choose, racism in America is either a thing of the past, has been steadily declining, it is on the rise again, or is stronger than ever. While both the first and the last ones are evidently too radical to be taken seriously, the other two points have strong support of popular media and scholars alike.
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A book White Like Me by Tim Wise is closest to the third variety. Wise challenges the popular idea that white supremacy has been eradicated from society and shows how the current policy of ignoring the racial issues, defined by him as “color-blindness”, aggravate the rift between black and white population. He also suggests several solutions for the issue, which primarily focus on changing the predominant perception and working towards conscious decisions instead of being led by social prejudice.
The central theme of White Like Me is the erroneous notion that today’s society is totally devoid of racial problems and is, according to the popular concept, “post-racial.” (Wise vi) Wise argues that this is largely incorrect, mainly because of the well-established system of white supremacy that is so old and deep-rooted, that it has become unseen to an average observer. However, unseen does not mean lacking influence: the presupposed dominance of the white population is what still drives many aspects of Americans’ lives.
From education to employment to success in business affairs to personal attitude – Americans either consciously or subconsciously support the underlying notion that whites are somehow superior. Of course, this is not easily detected, so Tim Wise provides compelling evidence to support his claims by presenting the data that shows a direct correlation between race and treatment of different groups and reviews controversial results in favor of the initial assumptions he is trying to denounce (Wise 228).
Wise goes as far as to suggest that the election of the black president, widely regarded as the final argument for the victory over racism, is actually more of an exception that proves the rule, as the voters who chose him, may have treated him as a good representative of the generally bad group, who is worth of having the highest office in the land, and thus adhere to the same racial stereotypes, just find the strength to overcome them in a certain situation (Wise vi).
This leads us to his central point on race in America: its society is still subconsciously prejudicial of the black population regardless of their desire: it is simply inherent. That does not mean that every white person is a supremacist – but everyone certainly has a capacity for it. As summed up by Wise on his website, “we can be racist by conditioning, antiracist by choice.” (“Frequently Asked Questions” par. 3) So ignoring the issue (being “color-blind”, as he defines it) is not an option – in fact, it can make matters worse and trigger public unrest (Wise 67). Furthermore, color-blindness contributes to class issues when they are viewed in separation from racial issues (Wise 144).
So while Wise never explicitly proclaims a well-defined solution to the problem, he emphasizes throughout his book that the change in viewing the problem as current and important as opposed to being eradicated in the past will benefit the society. Besides, consciously challenging our misconceptions and biases on the issue, like the attribution of individual flaws to the whole race (Wise 124), will probably make Americans closer to “post-racist” status, which they erroneously attribute to themselves for some time already.
To sum up, Wise’s book suggests no new ideas or ways to battle inequity – it shows us that our old struggle is not over and that the current effort we dedicate to the issue is not enough. “We should try harder” is the message of White Like Me.
Wise, Tim. White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, Berkeley, California: Soft Skull Press, 2013. Print.