Tim Wise is a self-described “antiracist essayist” whose career is devoted to condemning the “white racism” and “white privilege” which, in his view, infest America. He also serves as a Board of Advisors member for Grassroots International.
Wise was born in Nashville, Tennessee in October 1968. He attended Tulane University, where he served as a leader of the campus’ anti-apartheid movement, pressuring the school to divest its assets from U.S. companies that conducted any business with the South African government. When Tulane failed to comply, Wise in 1988 persuaded Archbishop Desmond Tutu to turn down an honorary degree which the university was planning to award him. Wise graduated in 1990 with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Latin American Studies.
In the early 1990s, Wise received training as an antiracist activist from the New Orleans-based People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISB). Challenging its trainees “to analyze the structures of power and privilege that hinder social equity,” PISB contends that racism “is the single most critical barrier to building effective coalitions for social change.”
Wise’s first job in the field came as the youth coordinator for the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, which was originally founded to help defeat the political ambitions of Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, David Duke. From 1999 to 2003, Wise served as an advisor to the Fisk University Race Relations Institute.
In January 2002, Wise endorsed War Times, an anti-Iraq War newspaper produced by a group of San Francisco leftists, most of whom were affiliated with the radical organizations STORM and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS). At a CCDS national convention six months later, Wise spoke on the topic, “Racism in the Present Era.”
Though he held no graduate degree of any kind, in 2005 Wise served as an adjunct faculty member at the Smith College School for Social Work, where he co-taught a Master’s-level class on racism in the United States.
Wise is the founder and director of the Association for White Anti-Racist Education (AWARE). Based in Brentwood, Tennessee, AWARE’s mission is “to educate white Americans about ongoing institutional racism in society; to raise awareness among whites to the harmful effects racism has on people of color and themselves; and to provide the tools for whites to support equity and justice.”
Wise has parlayed his racial angst into a speaking career that has included stops at more than 350 college campuses across the United States, where he lectures about the need to “combat institutional racism, gender bias, and the growing gap between rich and poor in the U.S.” Viewing America as a nation overrun by white racists ever-eager to ambush blacks and other minorities, Wise defines the American experience as an exercise in white privilege which can be countered only by an enlightened vanguard of antiracist whites such as himself.
Regularly posting his columns and opinion pieces on Z-Mag, Wise claims that the ever-increasing prosperity of the black middle class since the 1980s is essentially a meaningless statistical trick, and that blacks should receive preferential treatment in employment and academia.
Wise charges that U.S. troops in Iraq are in violation of Article 54 of the Geneva Convention, by which “[i]t is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population,” such as food, water, or livestock.
Wise has made evident his rabid anti-Catholicism, manifest in sardonic criticisms of the pope, of the Church’s position on abortion, and of the pedophilia scandal that rocked the Church.
Wise has compared America’s founding fathers to the Mujahadeen of Afghanistan
Wise is an incessant critic of Israel, which he views as a racist colonizer of Palestine; he alleges that Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons should be considered no more acceptable than the potential acquisition of such an arsenal by the mullahs of Iran.
Wise loathes capitalism; he finds the U.S. prison system racist; he urges a complete overhaul of the criminal-justice system; and he advocates reparations not only to the descendants of slaves, but to all “people of color.”
Preceding the 2004 presidential election, Wise was a signatory to “Bush Can Be Stopped: A Letter to the Left,” which aimed to prevent the re-election of George W. Bush. The letter also appealed for public support for such organizations as MoveOn, U.S. Labor Against War, United for Peace and Justice, and Win Without War. Wise’s fellow signers included Leslie Cagan, Noam Chomsky, Carl Davidson, Angela Davis, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Manning Marable, Robert Meeropol, Michael Ratner, and Pete Seeger.
Wise characterized the American government’s allegedly slow response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the heavily black city of New Orleans in 2005, as follows:
“…[I]n the wake of Hurricane Katrina, government at all levels and across party lines has engaged in ethnic cleansing in New Orleans, failing to provide rental assistance to the mostly black tenant base for over a year, plotting to tear down 5,000 perfectly usable units of public housing, failing to restart the city’s public health care infrastructure, and even ordering the Red Cross not to provide relief in the first few days after the city flooded in September 2005, so as to force evacuation and empty out the city …”
In 2008, Wise maintained that the nomination of Senator Barack Obama as the Democrat presidential candidate could not be interpreted as evidence that America had become a land of opportunity for blacks as well as whites. Rather, pointing to the fact that Obama had largely avoided focusing on race-related issues in his campaign, Wise concluded that racism was in fact more prevalent than ever. In a March 2008 essay titled “Uh-Obama: Racism, White Voters and the Myth of Color-Blindness,” Wise wrote:
“Surely, that Obama is constrained in his ability to focus any real attention on these matters, suggests that whatever his success may say about America and race, one thing it utterly fails to say is that we have conquered the racial demons that have so long bedeviled us. And to the extent he must remain relatively silent about these issues, lest he find his political ascent headed in a decidedly different direction, it is true, however ironic, that his success actually confirms the salience of white power. If, in order to be elected, a man of color has to pander to white folks, in ways that no white politician would ever have to do to people who were black or brown, then white privilege and white power remain operative realities … His success, far from disproving white power and privilege, confirms it with a vengeance.”
In an October 11, 2008 blog entry, Wise warned that an age of fascism would arise if Republican candidate John McCain were to be elected President in the upcoming election. Wrote Wise:
“If fascism comes, it will spring from the soil of middle America, from people known as values voters but whose values are toxic, from simple folk whose simplicity, far from being admirable, is better labeled ignorance, from ‘all-American’ types whose patriotism is a dagger pointed at the very heart of the national interest … If fascism comes, it will be ushered in by tailgaters at the big football game, by Joe Six Pack … If fascism comes it will dress like a hockey mom, or a NASCAR dad … If fascism comes it will have a pajama party at Ann Coulter’s house, pop pills with Rush Limbaugh, and go gay-bashing with Michael Savage, all in the same weekend.”
Wise is the author of three books: White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son (2005); Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White (2005); and Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections From an Angry White Male (2008). He has also contributed to an anthology titled White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism (2001).
Wise received the 2001 British Diversity Award and the 2002 National Youth Advocacy Coalition’s Social Justice Impact Award. Michael Eric Dyson has called him “one of the most brilliant, articulate and courageous critics of white privilege in the nation.”