White Like Me

White Like Me

Scott Morris (2013)

Film Review

White Like Me is a frank examination of white privilege featuring long time white civil rights activist Tim Wise. Contrary to popular misconception, the political disenfranchisement of people of color didn’t end with the Civil War or the 1960s civil rights movement. The majority of black people attend poorly funded, segregated inner city schools, face massive job discrimination and have much poorer health status. Thanks to these historic structural disadvantages, they also bear the brunt of the 2008 downturn and growing inequality.

Blaming the Victim

Many white conservatives use Obama’s election to the White House to shift the blame to the African American community for their miserable economic and social conditions. If a black man can achieve the highest office in the nation, they argue, it must mean that racism has ended. By extension, it must be their own fault if African Americans remain at the bottom of the heap.

They conveniently overlook the fact that Obama lost the white vote by a 57% to 43% landslide. In some southern states, he only garnered 10% of the vote.

Examples of White Privilege

In examining specific privileges, white people enjoy Wise begins by discussing three important federal programs that blacks were excluded from until the late sixties: Social Security, Federal Housing Authority (FHA) loans and VA loans.

He traces how Roosevelt deliberately excluded domestic servants and agriculture workers (occupations employing 80% of African Americans) to win the support of southern Democrats.

At the same time, the FHA made it virtually impossible for blacks to access loan guarantees with the following language:

Areas surrounding a location are investigated to determine whether incompatible racial and social groups are present, for the purpose of making a prediction regarding the probability of the location being invaded by such groups. If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes. A change in social or racial occupancy generally contributes to instability and a decline in values.

There were no specific laws excluding black veterans from VA-guaranteed loans – this was down to banks refusing to give them mortgages, even when the federal government guaranteed them.

White Affirmative Action

Other privileges whites have enjoyed include freedom from racial profiling by police and white affirmative action in education. This begins in elementary school when white kids have the option of attending well-funded non-ghetto schools. It continues at the college level, where white beneficiaries of affirmative action are called “legacy” students. On average, colleges admit twice as many white students whose parents or grandparents attended as minority students who qualify for affirmative action.

Whites also have the privilege of indulging in occasional marijuana use without losing their civil and human rights for the rest of their life. The film quotes from Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow  to demonstrate how the War on Drugs deliberately targets people of color for mass incarceration.

The filmmaker also features University of Massachusetts professor John Bracey, who explains how structural racism hurts white people. As one example, Bracey talks about the millions of poor whites who have lost access to welfare benefits, thanks to the deliberate misportrayal of social safety net programs as primarily benefiting minorities.

Coming to Grips with White Privilege

Wise concludes with advice for white people who are genuine in wanting to conquer their unconscious racism:

Among other suggestions he calls on them to

1. make the conscious decision not to be colorblind and close their eyes to racial disparities and inequality. In order to address racial disparities, we must first learn to see them.
2. acknowledge that we all have unconscious racial biases that can affect our behavior in ways that maintain or exacerbate inequality.
3. study and honor the long tradition of white anti-racist activists who are our role models.

Wise also has a book entitled White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son.

12 thoughts on “White Like Me

  1. The endless road of white privilege, and how it remains invisible so that we only recognize the barriers when we knock against them. It’s there in social norms and social hierarchies. But also in every day events, like going to a shop late with a group of your friends and knowing nobody’s going to call a security company. Getting taught your own version of history, by a person who looks like you (as a white person), knowing that you are likely to be taught in your home language, that you can wear a hoodie or peer into a car window and not be marked as suspicious on a neighbourhood blog…that you can be messy but not be associated with poverty, or get something wrong and not have people believe that you are illiterate…or that you are a token to be held up if you happen to get it right. Most people don’t believe I got my scholarship because of my race. They don’t mumble about affirmative action because of my job. Privilege is invisible but potent too. Mostly though, the fact that people refuse to see it is sad.

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  2. I hate the term Obama as black man,he grewup with all the privilages of white elite. I do enjoy the fact that i’m the only white person in small Thai town and kids go out of there way to be nice but at home wife and daughter are color blind.

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    • You certainly live in a unique cultural situation, Gerald. Yes, indeedy. No question Obama grew up under white privilege. Now he lives under millionaire privilege, and I think it has a lot to do with his narcissistic arrogance.

      From the film, I get the impression that Wise is using the term “white privilege” to describe US sociological phenomena.

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  3. I agree with you Stuart, Obama did grow up under white privilege, as many black and mixed people are now. But, it does not negate the reality of the injustice toward what is called the “black underclass.” Tom Wise is the guru of white privilege, I read him years ago. Sadly, it may take a few more generations before the tide begins to turn. But, white people are becoming a minority – in this country – and actually in the world. It is necessary, however for people of color to rise above the cultural decimation of Western culture and economics to create a new world in which white privilege dies a gentle death. Of course, this is a great challenge when we look at the intrenched power of the capitalist corporate military-weapons-industrial complex. But, I know this too will pass.

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  4. Excellent perspective. Hopefully it will be easier to come to grips with the problem if we could get people to turn off their TVs and get involved with their neighbors and communities again, as they did during my parents’ generation.

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  5. Every race of people who have “founded” their own country have a unique advantage over all other people or race who then comes to said country at a later date! In the Middle East, Muslims or Middle Eastern natives have the born advantage. French people have the advantage in France. The United States of America was founded by white people and though limited, white people in general still have a percieved advantage over others who came to the country later.

    Without military might to force or overthrow the present or founding people, any country in the world will resist change, invasion from outsiders, submission, etc. America and the WHITE AMERICAN people have done more to create equal standards and opportunity for others than most other countries world wide. Typically, it is the WHITE AMERICAN individual or family being forced to financially contribute and support the multitude of social programs highly used by minorities (those who were not the founding people of the country).

    The country is AMAZING, white people – just like all colors and races of people can and are AMAZING in general or as a whole. Some individuals suck, but that is standard across the board!

    If you don’t want black people to be associated with the cleverly designed government/elite made labels of poverty, crime, or ignorance; what makes you think white people are going to agree or except the association with the ridiculous term “white privilege”!!!!! Black people tend to associate the word “nigger” as a derogatory across the board statement defining laziness, ignorance, crime, poverty, etc. of the black race. Guess what, white people tend to associate the term “white privilege” as a derogatory across the board statement defining affluence, wealth, manipulation, abuse of others, greed, etc. of the white race.
    Collective labels are not just completely inaccurate, wrong, and HURT EVERYONE, but are created by the elite via whatever government structure has been installed.

    Do you honestly, believe the common white person has any more control over anything than anyone else does????? We are all slaves and victims to our governments who are under complete control and direction of the wealthy, evil isn’t, and most powerful people the world over.

    Stop attacking the color or race of people! That is what the government and their controllers want us all to do.

    Start attacking tyranny from the world’s top 1% and the governments worldwide that are essentially nothing more than the legislative part of the military to enforce the dictates and desires of those who rule all of us!

    You could kill 99% of the common white people on Earth and NOTHING will change for all other races (except less potential money in the global pot that is spread around), those in power will still rule you, still control you, and still divide everyone from each other.

    Dammit, wake up!!!!!!! Stop been a tool, a useful idiot, a servant for the evil designs of the global 1%!

    I’m out. The continued racial division perpetuated by this site and others like it are ONE of the biggest reasons hatred amongst people exists and why we have remained slaves to the 1% for centuries.

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    • Not sure if you watched the video, gb888. But I think you might be missing the point the filmmaker is making. If you think he’s encouraging hatred of white people, I think you’re missing the core message.

      In my view, one of the reasons the 1% is so successful in maintaining power is because they recruit lieutenants they reward with special privileges to encourage them to support the ruling elite rather than the mass of exploited working people.

      In the US, there are many types of privilege. As a woman, the one that affects me most directly is male privilege. There is also middle class privilege (the army of doctors, lawyers, social workers and teachers) who set the rules for the rest of of to live by. And race privilege, and heterosexual privilege and able-bodied privilege (20% of our population is disabled).

      In my work as a community organizer (which I do full time now that I’m retired), I find an understanding of “privilege” (ie ways in which we side with the ruling elite against the 99%) is really important in building solidarity across sectors of society that are currently alienated from one another.

      Recently the following video really opened my eyes to the concept of privilege in a new way:

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  6. What?! I mean, WTF?!
    Are you serious? Male privilege, race privilege, middle class privilege, heterosexual privilege, AND able-bodied privilege? Are you serious?
    So you are suggesting that anyone who is different or perceived to be different, whether physically or mentally and anyone who has achieved more regardless of why or how they achieved more or can do more- is privileged?

    Are you a full blown Communist or an extreme Marxist Socialist? Do you expect people to apologize for being different than what you are or want? Do you expect others to limit their own potential, so you or the less achieving can feel better or more equal? Pure insanity!

    Middle class privilege of teachers? Complete B.S.
    My husband and I are both elementary school teachers in Oklahoma. He works in a rural district, I work in an economically and culturally diverse Title 1 school in the city. We both make approximately the same salary, even though he has his Masters and has taught 6 years longer than I. As a side note, my husband began his teaching career in the Ferguson public school district in MO, teaching 2nd and 5th grade. The experience was a nightmare. The black principal despised white people and was systematically working to eliminate all white teacher from her school. Even the other black teachers, who were good friends with my husband, openly stated the principal’s opinion of and attitude towards white people in general. My husband’s contract was not renewed, we put our house on the market to move closer to family in Oklahoma. The housing market had gone to hell and our home in MO would not sell. My husband already had another teaching job at this point in Oklahoma. I stayed behind in MO with our 2 yr. old son for another year trying to sell that house and my husband lived in OK with family. Eventually, the house went into foreclosure (we essentially lost $200,000.00 plus 8 years of built up equity to the bank).

    We now live in a modest duplex and because of medical a bills live paycheck to paycheck. Teaching in Oklahoma is no different than anywhere as far as I can tell. Teachers don’t make the rules others have to live by. Educrats in collusion with the federal government make the rules and teachers wanting to stay employed are forced to follow those rules even though they recognize the corruption and witness the devasting effects the constant changing education policies have on all children of every label or classification.

    When it comes to teachers, it appears you been fed lies and swallowed them whole.

    Everyone has good and bad AND has to live with it. Blaming other innocent people caught up in the rat race called life helps no one.

    Able-bodied privilege? What a hoot! How dare someone not be disabled and enjoy the fact that they have the use of all their faculties.

    You seem to want to make life more “fair” for some by making life less fair for others. You don’t want equal opportunities for everyone, you want equal outcomes for everyone. The only was to make equal outcomes happen for everyone is through force, theft, and abuse. Are you a Communist? Do you know who has determined what the greater good for society is and what the definition of good is? Are you sure? Every socialistic policy enacted by the U.S. government has done far more harm than good. Yes, many people in America are not starving to death, because of taxpayer assistance/social programs, but those same people have become an underachieving, entitled class completely dependent on an unscrupulous government for their every need and even existence. That my friend, is slavery. There are no starving government officials, politicians, or bureaucrats. Nope, they’re well fed, have job security, their children go to the best schools, they have big green grassy lawns, go on luxury vacations, get huge tax breaks, no worries about medical insurance or retirement. The list goes on and on.

    So you go on wasting your time community organizing over the ridiculous notions of privilege for the common people and ignore the governmental-corporate-elitist structure that determines the reality and level of privilege everyone else is forced to accept.

    Male privilege? The privilege of having to carry a large burden of responsibility, be held legally more financially responsible for any offspring that results from any sexual union, even in cases when the child is not biological their own. Most middle class and lower class jobs pay men and women of equal education and experience the exact same. So what is male privilege? Men pee standing up? Men don’t have to deal with a menstrual cycle?

    Heterosexual privilege? The statically proven privilege of having less risk of catching HIV or many other STD’s more common among homosexuals? Are you offended by the “privilege” that heterosexuals have the physical body parts to procreate?

    You’re not fighting or organizing against privilege. You are fighting for the forced acceptance of any and all people, things, ideas, thoughts, and actions whether they are good or bad, safe or dangerous, nice or nasty, Godly or evil.

    Force is EVIL. If acceptance and/or love doesn’t come from one individual to another by natural choice and independent thought and experience, than the acceptance and/or love is false. A forced lie.

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  7. I honestly can’t see how I’m “forcing” anyone to think or believe anything. I’ve always been about tolerance and not thought control.

    I’m sure our political views are shaped by our life experiences and my ideas about privilege come mainly from 33 years of working with blue collar men and women, gays, African Americans and disabled people who have suffered brutal harassment and discrimination in the workplace and in other areas of life. And in all cases, they were harassed despite their intelligence and achievements – because of their minority status.

    Your husband’s experience with the bigoted black principal sounds very similar to what many of my patients experienced. Instead of being assessed for his qualifications and experiences, he was written for his identify – ie for being white.

    I happen to believe the powers that be seek to exacerbate divisions between people based on racial, ethnic and sexual differences and the only way to prevent this from happening is to have open dialogue about them. Though I certainly have no desire to “force” my viewpoint on anyone.

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  8. In all honesty, I believe we both want what is best for humanity, but I also recognize we are (trying) meeting each other from a life’s worth of different experiences and perspectives. You are much more polite and patient than I am. Thank you! If we can’t talk openly and productively deal with different opinions (opinions not based on hate or ignorance, but based on individual life lessons) we, as a species, are doomed. I like you. As I have said, I highly disagree with some of what you’ve stated, but mainly because I view the event, situation, or item of discussion differently than you do. I like you, because you continually keep the dialogue open, confidently express your own personal opinion and stay true to your convictions, yet allow others who see things differently than you to interject. My hope is that there is a possibility to meet in the middle without compromising your own my personal beliefs or feelings.

    I tend to be defensive when I see an attack on a collective of relatively innocent people who are trying to survive, get ahead, and make a better life for themselves and their love ones. BUT, I do so without blaming other ordinary, regular, innocent, virtually powerless, and harmless people. I can not tolerate or excuse the collective blame game.

    I had a close friend heavily criticize and blame me for enabling the problematic immigration situation for working in a predominantly Hispanic community/school district. While unspoken for the most part, we (teachers, administrators, HR) all know MANY of our students our not legal citizens. We, those of us in the education field, though not in charge of policies, laws, or any federally mandated crap, discuss the impact legal and illegal immigration has on the education system. The humane part of all of us and the love of learning and life for all enables us to dedicate and devote our lives to all children/students regardless of personal beliefs, opinions, and/or factual data proving the counterproductive, inefficiency, neglect and abuse, fraud and corruption of the system.

    I will never teach my students (Pre-K) to believe or allow the belief of themselves that they are a victim. I strive to instill self-worth, confidence, individual responsibility, reasoning, and compassion in each of my students. No one is worthless, a societal victim or even (my most hated word) a “loser” UNLESS they allow themselves to become one or allow themselves to be labeled as such by the system.

    Children are our hopes and dreams; for parents, for society, and for humanity. Appreciate what you have, but always strive to better yourself. The only structural or systematic or institutionalized privilege or racism that exists is created, sponsored, instigated, funded, promoted, and entrenched by those ignorant enough to believe and support the establishment of elites.

    “We are the World” means so much more and goes so much deeper than any ordinary person can decipher. Is it privilege to be on welfare and not contribute to society as deemed acceptable by those who make the rules or is it privilege to work your ass off, sacrifice your own time, effort, and family contribution, to enable that welfare system for others?

    I have always took part in debating, playing the so-called “devil’s advocate”, and tried my damnedest to be able to identify with both sides of any given situation (again there is ALWaYS a sense of bias based on own personal knowledge and life experience). I have spent years studying the individual vs. the collective and continuously and consciously search for awareness, information, insight, etc. to try to understand the chaos.

    In closing, I will once again suggest a plea for you to research and focus on the concept of equal opportunity vs. equal outcome. Maybe we can see eye to eye in this domain. Maybe not.

    As always, thank you for all you do to offer insight and personal perspective on the insanity called life.

    (Typos, mistakes in grammar…? An absolute certain. I apologize and hope you get the jist of my opinionated rantings)

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    • Thank you, gb888. I really get the sense you are speaking from the heart – which I feel is the most important factor in any dialogue.

      I think I get most of what you’re saying – and agree with a lot of it.

      Interesting your experience being criticized for enabling illegal immigration. I have been criticized in the past for enabling Big Pharma by working as a psychiatrist. I think we all need to remind ourselves not to judge people until we have walked in their shoes.

      I also agree with your point about not enabling people to be victims – that’s definitely not where I’m going when I talk about privilege. For me the whole discussion is about empowering people who are disadvantaged.

      I think I do understand about the difference between equal opportunity and equal outcome. I honestly don’t think there is such a thing as equal opportunity.

      What I’m trying to say is that you can’t legislate equal opportunity because children aren’t born equal. The way they turn out is heavily determined by the mother’s income, diet and stress level during pregnancy. Epidemiologists have been studying this for more than 3 decades, as well as a recently discovered phenomenon known as epigenetics.

      According to epidemiologists, the most accurate predictor of a person’s lifetime health, mental stability and life expectancy is a mother’s income level at the time a child is born.

      What this means (and I saw it repeatedly when I was practicing) is that many kids start out with poor health and emotional instability and never really amount to anything due to no fault of their own. My mother was a teacher in a ghetto school and also came across a lot of kids like this.

      My dream would be a society where every child would have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Obviously this would have to start during pregnancy with proper nutrition and good prenatal care. I honestly can’t see this happening when corporate billionaires keep sucking up more and more of the wealth. When I was younger, there used to be public programs to ensure poor women got adequate nutrition and prenatal care during pregnancy. These are long gone now due to austerity cuts.

      So all I know for sure is that we have to knock the billionaires off their perch somehow, but I honestly don’t know the best way to go about it. This is the main reason I blog – to share ideas with other people.

      Thanks for commenting on my posts. Your comments are always very thought provoking.

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