Tim Wise: ‘Diversity doesn’t create equity’

“Life is the thing that allows us to struggle for justice,” prominent antiracist activist and educator Tim Wise told a room of several hundred General Assembly attendees Thursday afternoon. “[It] allows us to seek out for ourselves and for others a measure of our own humanity, a humanity that is actively in the process of being crushed every day within a social order that has long relied on the opression of others and long relied on inequality. There is redemption in the struggle that is made possible by life.”

Wise, the author of several books, including Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity, lead a workshop called “Roadmap to Racial Equity: Allies in Today’s World,” sponsored by UU Allies for Racial Equity with assistance from the GA Planning Committee.

In an impassioned, rapid-fire, and often hilarious speech that had the audience in turns laughing and cheering, Wise spoke about the challenges of the larger political and social cultural moment America finds itself in. He cautioned that we are in a time of transition that is both “dangerous and incredibly portentious.” Wise described the four-pillared “perfect storm for white anxiety” the country is experiencing, which poses significant challenges to racial equity work: the election of a man of color as president, the economic meltdown, increased multiculturalism in popular culture, and America’s demographic shift.

Wise said he emphasises racial equity rather than diversity because America has always been a diverse place, but “diversity doesn’t create equity.” “Diversity is fine, but unless we have equity it doesn’t really amount to much.”

Wise concluded his talk with a story about one of his young daughters telling the other that God is white, an idea he couldn’t pinpoint the exact origin of, and he warned the audience that “if it can happen to my children in my home, a deliberately antiracist ally home, I assure you it can happen in any of our homes.”

“This is not an abstract struggle for social justice economically, socially, or culturally,” he continued. “It is a struggle for the very soul—however you define that term—of every single one of us in this room.” The audience gave him a standing ovation.

During the question and answer period following his talk, Wise told the audience, “Good people doing good things sometimes forget that when we’re fighting a system of oppression that we’re not the direct targets of . . . we run the risk of inadvertently hijacking that work in a way that makes sense to us but which actually might disempower communities of color.”

“[Being an ally] doesn’t mean I don’t have a major role to play—I do,” Wise said, “but it’s a role that is collaborative and solidaristic rather than sort of running the show.”

(A video of the workshop is available.)

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