Wise, indeed.

17 08 2009

Tim Wise defends his view that racism is “driving force behind the outpouring of anger” that we’ve been seeing this summer in town halls in this essay entitled, “Racism, Right-Wing Rage and the Politics of White Nostalgia“.

My favourite is this bit:

This second writer sought to explain herself further however, just so as not to be misunderstood. When people like her claim they want to return to “what our forefathers started,” she continued, they simply mean the part about being dependent on God, rather than government.

Of course, last time I checked God wasn’t offering to pick up the tab for chemo treatments, organ transplants, or any other medical procedure for that matter. Oh, and not to put too fine a point on it, but the founders actually did foster quite a lot of government dependence: enshrining slavery was about government protecting white people from the competition of free black labor, and white folks becoming quite dependent on that protection. Stealing native land and then redistributing it to white people was about dependence on government-imposed violence. And later, yet still in the supposedly “good old days,” government dependence was at the heart of segregation–which artificially subsidized white people in the job, school and housing markets–and was at the heart of the FHA and VA loans that white families used (and from which black families were all but completely blocked) in the 40s and 50s, which literally built the white middle class.

But I’m guessing that when she uses a phrase like “dependence on government” she isn’t thinking about the white folks who were given 270 million acres of essentially free land under the Homestead Act. Or the 15 million or so white families who got those racially preferential home loans, with government underwriting and guarantees, thanks to programs implemented by liberals and thanks to pressure from the left. I’m thinking she isn’t talking about the white soldiers (but typically not the black ones) who were able to return from World War II and make use of the GI Bill to go to college, or get job training. And the fact that she likely doesn’t think of those kinds of things and those kinds of people as being dependent on government is, of course, precisely the problem, and the point I was trying to make.

Indeed several of the e-mails made this same argument about opposing “government dependence,” all the while oblivious, it appears, to the way in which that concept has become so color-coded in the white imagination over the past several decades. In fact, this is a point I had made on the program: that according to a significant body of social science research (among the most prominent, Martin Gilens’s brilliant book, Why Americans Hate Welfare), most whites perceive social program spending aimed at helping the have-nots (be they income have-nots, housing have-nots, or health care-have nots) as being about giving something to those people, who are, of course, conceived of in black and brown terms, and taking from “hard-working” white folks in order to do it. So if the notion of government dependence itself has been racialized–and the evidence says it has been–to say that it is only this dependence you oppose, and that racism has nothing to do with it is to either lie or engage in self-deception of a most unfortunate and unbecoming variety.

He really gets into it and I really appreciate that he does.  Please give it a look-see. 

That Tim Wise, he certainly lives up to his name.

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2 responses

17 08 2009
Justine Larbalestier

Thanks so much for this. That article is brilliant. I’ve learned so much today that I can down tools for the rest of the week. Excellent.

18 08 2009
Baby Power Dyke

@ Justine
I felt so refreshed after I read it. He clearly articulated so much of what has been ping-ponging around inside my head.

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