Activist says U.S. still needs to battle racism

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 13 2015 11:12 a.m. MDT

When anti-racism writer, activist and speaker Tim Wise was recruited to speak at the University of Utah before the school year began, he was certain he'd be giving his standard speech about racism and white privilege.

However, the November election of Barack Obama as president of the United States changed that, or at least made Wise's topic somewhat more complicated. When he addressed a crowd of students as part of the uVoices Social Justice Speakers Series, Wise said that although a black American was elected, racism and white privilege still abound.

"For some reason there is this bizarre assumption that we are now living in a post-racial environment," he said. The assumption couldn't be more untrue as poverty and unemployment rates among minority households are nearly double that of white households, and black men still aren't earning the same as their professional cohorts, he said.

"I am not suggesting that the election of Barack Obama doesn't mean anything," Wise said. But he emphasized that "most job interviews don't last two years and most job interviews don't involve 135 million decisionmakers."

People who believe racism has seen its day in America, he said "are in denial."

As Wise walked the audience through history, pointing out the obtuse battle that minorities of any kind have faced, he said perhaps the dominant groups in society are otherwise oblivious to what is going on. "When your stuff is the norm … you don't have to racially designate its origin," he said.

Although Obama might have changed the way some people see the issue, Wise said it is still important that people are involved in the cause to push for equality.

U. student Esther Kim, who classifies herself as "a racialized woman on a predominantly white campus with predominantly white investment," said it is good to know that there are people like Wise who are "affecting the status quo."

"It helps us realize that issues of race are not confined to people of color," she said.

Wise encouraged students to break down stereotypes but also not generate archetypes in the process. The two-time author just released his second book, which details his idea of "Racism 2.0," or "the upgraded software, without all the bugs."

The exception of one man, he said, shouldn't make America believe the country has been healed of an age-old problem.

"It is not the president's job to solve the problems that beset the community of this nation," he said. "It is on us."

E-MAIL: wleonard@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company