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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Wise says racism is everyone’s responsibility in ‘Between Barack and a Hard Place’ speech

Published: October 16, 2009
Section: News

Wise ADDRESS: Author Tim Wise spoke Tuesday night about the importance of combating racism, even in an Obama era.<br /><i>PHOTO BY Robbie Hammer/The Hoot</i>

Wise ADDRESS: Author Tim Wise spoke Tuesday night about the importance of combating racism, even in an Obama era.
PHOTO BY Robbie Hammer/The Hoot

Tim Wise, a prominent anti-racism scholar and author, spoke about racism in the context of Obama’s presidency during a lecture on campus Tuesday night.

Wise, who recently published his book, “Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama,” spoke to a full crowd in the Faculty Club, at an event sponsored by the Louis Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice.

Explaining the disadvantages racial minorities face in the economy, healthcare system and job market, Wise explained that all of society’s underlying racist assumptions are still present in our nation today.

Th election of Barack Obama as president does not mark an end to racism or even demonstrate significant progress in promoting equal rights of minorities, Wise said.

“We must take responsibilities for the legacies we inherit,” he said.

Wise said the problem of racism is “one for which we must take responsibility not because we are guilty but because we are here.”

Wise, maintaining a sense of humor throughout his talk, began the evening by admitting that in a similar event held at Bentley College recently, the student body strongly opposed his speech.

This week, however, the Brandeis crowd often applauded his comments, and many members of the audience thanked Wise for taking the time to talk at Brandeis.

The average white family possesses 11 times the net worth of an African-American family and eight times the net worth of a Latino family, Wise said.

Wise explained that many white people do not realize why they are so successful while many minorities are live in poverty.

“The wealth of the white middle class and above was largely built on state intervention,” he said.

Commenting on Obama’s presidency, Wise said it does not represent progress in the fight against racism.

Referring to the racial prejudice in our country, Wise said “none of that was undone because of the election of Barack Obama.”

He explained that one individual does not represent a trend or attitude of an entire nation.

People would not admit that nations such as Pakistan and India no longer had to deal with sexism just because their head of state was a woman, he explained.

Wise believes that Obama has had to make sure he did not mention race when discussing issues such as universal health care, and current events such as the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, for even when he did not, he was accused by many of using the “race card.”

Speaking on a smaller scale, Wise insisted that even at Brandeis, a university founded on the concept of social justice, we need to ensure that all members of the institution agree on a common mission of true equality for all.

“If we’re going to create equity at Brandeis, understand that one of the biggest problems is the unwillingness of good people to realize that we are deeply implicated in this thing,” Wise said.