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Anti-Racism Activist Tim Wise Brings Lessons of White Privilege to Mission College

A prolific writer and forceful speaker of renown, Tim Wise, a native son of Tennessee, brought his talk about historically-rooted, white privilege to Mission College, 3000 Mission College Blvd., Santa Clara, on April 19. The Anti-racism activist, whose appearance was sponsored by the Office of Student Equity and Success, spoke to a receptive and diverse audience of students, faculty and administrators.

“These kinds of talks are powerful ways to frame issues. They encourage us to think differently and inspire discussions we need to have, both inside and outside the classroom,” said Mission College President Daniel Peck. “[Today’s talk] enables us to discuss privileged culture and its impact on our individual lives as well as our lives collectively as a nation.”

Wise began his talk by stating that although he is not known for his optimism, he believes that if racism has been beaten back in the past, there is no reason to fear it now.

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“For the last eight years [with Obama as president], we’ve had to convince people that there was racism,” said Wise. “The good news is that in the last few months, we no longer have to convince people about racism in the U.S. It’s right out there in the open now. The bad news is, it’s right out there in the open now.”

Wise repeatedly emphasized the need to understand racial inequities and injustices in their sociological and historical context in order to change the system. Race-based housing loan discrimination called “redlining” was one such past injustice.

Until 1968, banks drew red lines around black neighborhoods on community maps, marking locations where the banks would not give housing loans. The banks loaned exclusively to white Americans, enabling them to become middle-class homeowners.

“You must understand the past to make sense of the present,” said Wise, a white man born in 1968 and raised in the south. “Not understanding the past is really dangerous.”

Wise spoke of the American myth of rugged individualism and of the white expectation of entitlement and success, saying, “It’s a myth, a blatant lie, that all you have to do to succeed is to work hard…. We know ours is not a system of merit. It’s about favoritism–affirmative action for white people.”

During the Q & A time, Wise was asked how teachers can bring these issues to life for their students and identify bias. He emphasized the need to know and understand one’s community and its struggles.

“Educate yourself. The vast majority of teachers are white and have little training on issues,” said Wise. “Then start where people are and engage them around that. Elicit what students know.”

A book signing and reception, catered by the Mission College Hospitality Management Program, followed Wise’s one-hour presentation.

“White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son,” his recently updated 2004 memoir, was made into a 2013 documentary in which he starred. His latest books are “Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America” (2015) and “White Lies Matter: Race, Crime, and the Politics of Fear in America” (2017), (www.timwise.org).

“We need to create allies of white folks who come on board, and the more we understand our community, the better we can respond as counselors and teachers as we create our community and advise students,” said Ken Songco, Mission College Director of Student Equity and Success.

“Tim Wise has inspired me to think about how I frame conversations and how our college should be looking at supporting our students and the different experiences they come to the college with,” said President Peck. “These conversations were relevant 20 years ago, are relevant today and will be relevant 20 years from now.”

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