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Dispatches from the Race War

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Essays on racial flashpoints, white denial, violence, and the manipulation of fear in America today.

"Drawing on events from the killing of Trayvon Martin to the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, Wise calls to account his fellow white citizens and exhorts them to combat racist power structures."—The New York Times

“What Tim Wise has brilliantly done is to challenge white folks' truth to see that they have a responsibility to do more than sit back and watch, but to recognize their own role in co-creating a fair, inclusive, truly democratic society.”—Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow

"Tim Wise's new book gives us the tools we need to reach people whose understanding of our country is white instead of right. And without pissing them off!"—James W. Loewen, author, Lies My Teacher Told Me

"Tim Wise's latest is more urgent than ever. "—Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy

"A white social justice advocate clearly shows how racism is America's core crisis. A trenchant assessment of our nation’s ills."—*Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

" [Dispatches from the Race War] is a bracing call to action in a moment of social unrest."—Publishers Weekly

"Dispatches from the Race War exhorts white Americans to join the struggle for a fairer society."—Chapter 16

In this collection of essays, renowned social-justice advocate Tim Wise confronts racism in contemporary America. Seen through the lens of major flashpoints during the Obama and Trump years, Dispatches from the Race War faces the consequences of white supremacy in all its forms. This includes a discussion of the bigoted undertones of the Tea Party’s backlash, the killing of Trayvon Martin, current day anti-immigrant hysteria, the rise of openly avowed white nationalism, the violent policing of African Americans, and more.

Wise devotes a substantial portion of the book to explore the racial ramifications of COVID-19, and the widespread protests which followed the police murder of George Floyd.

Concise, accessible chapters, most written in first-person, offer an excellent source for those engaged in the anti-racism struggle. Tim Wise’s proactive approach asks white allies to contend with—and take responsibility for—their own role in perpetuating racism against Blacks and people of color.

Dispatches from the Race War reminds us that the story of our country is the history of racial conflict, and that our future may depend on how—or if—we can resolve it. “To accept racism is quintessentially American,” writes Wise, “to rebel against it is human. Be human.”

ISBN-13: 9780872868090

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: City Lights Books

Publication Date: 12-01-2020

Pages: 352

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

Series: City Lights Open Media

Tim Wise, whom scholar and philosopher Cornel West calls, "A vanilla brother in the tradition of (abolitionist) John Brown," is among the nation's most prominent antiracist essayists and educators. He has spent the past 25 years speaking to audiences throughout North America, on over 1000 college and high school campuses, at hundreds of conferences, and to community groups across the nation about methods for dismantling racism.Wise's antiracism work traces back to his days as a college activist in the 1980s, fighting for divestment from (and economic sanctions against) apartheid South Africa. After graduation, he threw himself into social justice efforts full-time, as a Youth Coordinator and Associate Director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism: the largest of the many groups organized in the early 1990s to defeat the political candidacies of white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. From there, he became a community organizer in New Orleans' public housing, and a policy analyst for a children's advocacy group focused on combatting poverty and economic inequity. He has served as an adjunct professor at the Smith College School of Social Work, in Northampton, MA., and from 1999-2003 was an advisor to the Fisk University Race Relations Institute in Nashville, TN. Wise is the author of seven previous books, including Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority, Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America and has been featured in several documentaries, including "The Great White Hoax: Donald Trump and the Politics of Race and Class in America," and "White Like Me: Race, Racism and White Privilege in America." Wise is one of five persons—including President Barack Obama—interviewed for a video exhibition on race relations in America, featured at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC.His media presence includes dozens of appearances on CNN, MSNBC and NPR, feature interviews on ABC’s 20/20 and CBS’s 48 Hours, as well as videos posted on YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms that have received over 20 million views. His podcast, "Speak Out with Tim Wise," features bi-weekly interviews with activists, scholars and artists about movement building and strategies for social change.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from Dispatches from the Race War by Tim Wise

RACISM AND INEQUALITY IN A TIME OF ILLNESS AND UPRISING

By the time you read these words, we will know the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. We will know whether American voters—or at least 75,000 people or so in a handful of key states—have re-elected Donald Trump for four more years or decided to end his time in office and return him to reality television. No matter the answer, this book will remain relevant, because the issues about which it is concerned pre-date his presidency and, if history is any guide, will continue to plague us long after he is gone.

That said, this has been a strange time to compile a collection of essays on race and racism. With a man such as Trump in the White House, I knew as I began work on this volume how quickly events could change and how often race-related stories could emerge from an administration that, from the beginning, sought to divide the nation along lines of race, ethnicity, and religion, for political gain. Keeping up could prove hard, and I always suspected we could get near publication time only to have to insert something at the last minute to reflect the latest outrage. Little did I suspect, however, what 2020 would ultimately have in store for the nation.

As I write these words, it is summer, and the coronavirus pandemic is still ravaging the United States. Approximately 160,000 people have died, and estimates as to what lies ahead are not promising. If they prove prescient, as many as 300,000 will have perished by the time you laid eyes upon this sentence. Experts say that at least 60 percent of the earliest deaths could have been avoided, and then most of those after, had President Trump taken the threat seriously from the beginning. Had he even listened to members of his own administration and the intelligence community that serves him—voices that were trying to tell him in early January of the dangers ahead—hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died would still be alive today. Likewise, had he been as concened with public health as with his own private gain, he might have resisted calling for a quick re- opening of shuttered businesses in the hopes of an economic rebound. But with millions thrown out of work and the economy contracting by one-third in mid-summer—the largest single economic collapse in contemporary national history—Trump’s concerns were with spur- ring commerce and evincing optimism that the virus would magically disappear: anything to bolster his sinking poll numbers and his re- election chances. The results, of course, were predictable and have proved tragic. Sending children back to school, encouraging people to gather in restaurants, bars, churches, crowded downtown streets and beaches—lobbying tirelessly for a return to “normal”—the president and his enablers have endangered the lives of millions. This they have done for the sake of political marketing, hoping that even if hun- dreds of thousands more die, his attempts to blame the virus on China (where it originated, although the most virulent strain to hit the U.S. came from Italy) will convince enough voters that none of the suffering was his fault.

According to the data, around half of all fatalities have been persons of color, and the mortality rate for black, Latinx and indigenous folks has been about 2.5 times higher than for whites. It is not likely a coincidence that the Trump administration met the present challenge—one in which people of color have done a disproportionate share of the dying—with such nonchalance. Indifference to black and brown suffering, if not outright hostility to black and brown peoples, has been a hallmark of Trump’s presidency and most of his life. And if this had not been clear enough from the administration’s response to COVID-19, it would be made glaringly obvious from its reaction to the other major event of this year: the uprising in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police.

Once video footage of Floyd’s murder went viral, showing officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, while continually sporting a disinterested smirk, it was only a matter of time before the nation exploded. Although we had witnessed this scene before, seeing on film the killings of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, and John Crawford III, among others, this time was different. Perhaps it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, or perhaps it was the relative quiet and isolation of the COVID lockdown providing people the space to truly see and feel in ways that would have been more difficult had they been going about the normal hustle and bustle of their lives. But whatever it was, within weeks millions of people in the United States, including large num- bers of whites, had poured into the streets in the largest mass uprising for racial justice in the history of this country.

In the face of more than 11,000 overwhelmingly peaceful protests, the administration and local authorities have met demonstrators with tear gas, clubs, and rubber bullets. On multiple occasions, the president has threatened to call in the military to suppress lawful assembly and protest, and actually did so in response to demonstrators in the District of Columbia. Hundreds of videos available online show law enforcement attacking nonviolent protesters without prov- ocation. Dozens of people, including police officers, have attempted to run over demonstrators with their vehicles. The hostility of the “law and order” brigades, from the president on down, is apparent, and their embrace of authoritarianism has been laid bare for all to witness. Since June 2020, we have been in the midst of a full-scale rebellion, or what some have called a soft civil war. Not between North and South, or even black and white, but between those who believe in racial equity and pluralism and those who do not.

And into that breach, in late August, yet another black man, Jacob Blake, was shot in the back and killed on camera by an offi- cer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The rebellion that followed involved widespread property destruction by those frustrated with the lack of charges brought against the officer. This uprising was then countered by white vigilante violence, including the murder of two white antiracism activists by 17-year-old Trump supporter and police super-fan, Kyle Rittenhouse. The president, in keeping with his soft-pedaling of right-wing violence, not only refused to condemn Rittenhouse, but has justified his actions as self-defense, and continued to blame the black community and its supporters for the chaos.

This volume is divided into seven sections containing essays written from 2008 to the present. The first two chapters track, in chrono- logical order, the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. They seek to show both the continuity of race as the background noise of everything that happens in America, as well as the way that the nation can quickly careen from hope and optimism around race to the depths of cynicism. The third section looks specifically at this unique moment in our history, and the way in which both COVID-19 and the current uprising for black lives have rendered 2020 a year that few others can match for historical significance. Sections four through six contain essays that speak to three broad themes: white denial about the reality of racism in the United States, historical memory and the way our tendency to misremember our past contributes to racial strife, and the propensity of the nation’s right wing to rely on faulty data to craft their narratives in opposition to racial justice efforts. The final section seeks to provide some direction for antiracism work, activism, and advocacy, both for individuals and for institutions, moving forward.

There is one thing, however, that binds these chapters together: They all speak to the core crisis at the heart of this nation. Because however unprecedented this moment may be in our lives, in some ways what it reveals is as old as the country itself. Some lives matter more than others in America. It was true at the founding. It remains true today. It will remain true forever, unless and until we decide we have had enough.

A few words about citations and sourcing of fact claims in this volume: Because this is an essay collection, I have opted to forego formal footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical citations within the body of the work itself. To insert such notes would have proved visually distracting in short pieces, and would have increased the size of the book to an unwieldy length. However, because it is important to make citations available, especially for references, data or histori- cal material that is not widely known or understood, City Lights and I will be posting references on their website, www.citylights. com. These notes will be textual, meaning they will be broken down by chapter, and then reference particular page numbers, with a few words of the text cited so as to orient the reader to what is being referenced. These will then be followed by formal citations. I hope this will satisfy the aesthetics best for most readers while also meeting the needs for scholarly legitimacy desired by those seeking truth in these dangerous (and often surreal) times.

—Tim Wise, Nashville, August 2020

OUR FEAR IS REAL BUT FAR FROM UNIQUE

Empathy in a time of pandemic

Is it safe to leave the house? To go to the store? To get in the car and drive, even if only to break the monotony of days or weeks inside? Is it OK to go for a walk around the neighborhood to get some fresh air? Will my job be there next week, next month, in six months? If I get sick, will I be able to get care? And even if I can, will I be able to afford it?

Questions such as these have become commonplace for millions in recent days and weeks in the face of COVID-19. Whether having chosen to shelter-in-place or having been told to do so by state and local officials, they are queries on the minds if not lips of much of America right now. They are questions filled with far more emotion than mere words on a page can convey. They are laden with anxiety and dread at the new normal and what it might portend for our families, our children, ourselves. And in such a moment, in which so much insecurity has been visited upon so many, it is perhaps the perfect opportunity to reflect on a few things we are often reluctant to consider in more sanguine times. Indeed, reflection may be the one gift offered up by this pandemic. All the rest, to be sure, is shit. But having been offered the time to engage in it, reflecting is the one positive thing we can do now, even as it often eludes us in the hustle and bustle of our regular lives. And so, let us think for a second.

Let us think, in particular, about those questions with which I began. To be precise, let us think about how eerily normal they are, if not for some of us, certainly for others; and not just now, but always, every day, with or without a virus lurking in the background. Because what many are only now experiencing—the disorienting feeling of not knowing where we can go and what we can do safely, and the financial and health insecurity haunting our dreams—is hardly revelatory for everyone. It is nothing if not ordinary for millions of persons with whom we share a nation but have rarely shared a reality.

Let us think about the routine act of leaving the house and going to the store. Let us consider how fraught that act can be even in normal times for Black folks, so often followed around inside, asked for multiple forms of identification when making a purchase, perhaps even shot and killed, as John Crawford was, simply for holding an air rifle at his side, which he had gotten off a store shelf at an Ohio Walmart.

Our fear is real. It is justified. But it is far from unique.

Let us think about getting in the car and driving around, or walking or jogging through the neighborhood. Let us consider what that experience is regularly like for people of color, identifiable Muslims of all colors, or those who are Sikh. Imagine, if you are white, what it must be like to be presumed out of place, stopped by police, or followed by a wanna-be cop like George Zimmerman, who has decided that solely because of the color of your skin, you are likely a criminal. For that matter, let those of us who are men consider how maddeningly typical it is for women (of whatever race, class, or ethnicity) to have to worry about leaving the house for a walk or a run, never knowing if they may become the victims of sexual assault. Let all of us consider the utterly normative concerns of trans folk seeking to go anywhere at any time of day, knowing that they are so frequently the targets of abuse, verbal or physical or both.

Our fear is real. It is justified. But it is far from unique.

Let those who are white and middle class think about the job insecurity we now feel, the uncertainty about our careers, despite having done everything right. We got our educations, we’ve worked hard, and still, we are left to wonder how long before the wolf is at the proverbial door. And let us reflect for a moment on how often people of color experience that same anxiety not because of a worldwide pandemic but because of a little thing called everyday life in America. Because while all of this might be new to many of us, Black folks with a college degree have long been nearly twice as likely as whites with one to be unemployed.Latinos and Latinas with a degree have been about 50 percent more likely than similar whites to be unemployed. Asian Americans have been about 25 percent more likely, and Indigenous folks about two-thirds more likely than whites to be unemployed, even when possessing a degree.

Our fear is real. It is justified. But it is far from unique.

Let us think about our uncertainty in the face of potential illness, the fear that grips us as we contemplate what will happen if we contract this lethal virus: will we be able to receive the care we need? And if so, at what cost? Will hospitalization, perhaps several days on a ventilator (presuming there are enough to go around) result in a hefty bill, bankrupting our families, even in the event we manage to survive? And let us consider how many millions of people have wondered those same things, not because of the novel coronavirus, but because of a broken health care system that treats health as a commodity rather than human right to which all are entitled.

In other words, let us take this moment to reflect on the way that our present vulnerability has rendered us more normal than we knew. Let us think of this as a lesson on how much more interconnected we are than we had perhaps suspected. Let us see this as evidence, glaring, and obvious, of the cost of indifference in the face of pain. It’s an indifference that has kept us from creating the needed infrastructure to sustain life and health and to prioritize safety and security for all. Perhaps if we had listened before, the terror that presently grips so many for the first time could have been avoided.

And now, with so many having paid the price for our prior nonchalance, perhaps we can begin to construct the empathic scaffolding upon which society and humanity depends. It is the edifice upon which they have always depended, however little some may have recognized it.

Because although our fear is real, and undoubtedly justified, it is far from unique.

Table of Contents

Dispatches from the Race War: Table of Contents

Preface: Racism and Inequality in a Time of Illness and Uprising

Introduction: America’s Longest War

I. POST-RACIAL BLUES: RACE AND REALITY IN THE OBAMA YEARS

Good, Now Back to Work: The meaning (and limits) of the Obama victory

Denial is a River Wider than the Charles: Implicit bias and the burden of blackness in the age of Obama

Harpooning the Great White Wail: Reflections on racism and right-wing buffoonery

Imagine for a Moment: Protest, privilege, and the power of whiteness

If it Walks Like a Duck and Talks Like a Duck: Racism and the death of respectable conservatism

Bullying Pulpit: The problematic politics of personal responsibility

No Innocence Left to Kill:Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and coming of age in an unjust nation

Killing One Monster, Unleashing Another: Reflections on revenge and revelry in America

You Will Know Them by the Eyes of Their Whites: Ferguson and white denial

II. TRUMPISM AND THE POLITICS OF PREJUDICE

Discovering the Light in Darkness: Donald Trump and the future of America

Reeking City on a Dung Heap: The dangerous worldview of Donald Trump

Patriotism Is for Black People: Colin Kaepernick and the politics of protest

If It’s a Civil War, Pick a Side: Charlottesville and the meaning of Trumpism

Making a Murderer (Politically Profitable): Immigration and hysteria in Trumplandia

Racist Is too Mild a Term: The President is a white nationalist

The Face of American Terrorism Is White

Weaponized Nostalgia: The evil genius of Donald Trump

III. 2020 VISION—AMERICA AT THE CROSSROADS?

Americanism is a Pandemic’s BFF: Why the U.S. has been so vulnerable to COVID-19

It’s Not a Death Cult, It’s a Mass Murder Movement: The homicidal indifference of MAGA nation

Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud: COVID and Trumpism reveal America’s true virus

Bad Will Hunting: The killing of Ahmaud Arbery and the rituals of white supremacy

This Bias is Not Implicit: The problem isn’t fear, it’s contempt for black humanity

It’s not the Apples, It’s the Orchard: Police violence is neither new nor rare

Violence Never Works? America Would Beg to Differ

Nobody’s Perfect—So Why Do We Need Black People to Be? Demanding angelic victims of police violence is absurd

IV. CONFRONTING WHITE DENIAL, DEFLECTION, AND FRAGILITY

White Denial Is as American as Apple Pie

What, Me Racist? Understanding why your intentions are not the point

Weaponizing Appalachia: Race, class and the art of white deflection

Chicago Is Not a Punch Line (or an Alibi): White deflection and black-on-black crime

Identity Politics Are Not the Problem, Identity-Based Oppression Is

Farrakhan Is Not the Problem: Exploring the appeal of white America’s bogeyman

You May Not Be Racist but Your Ideology Is: Why modern conservatism is racist

Who’s the Snowflake Now? White fragility in a time of turmoil

V. MIS-REMEMBER WHEN: RACE AND AMERICAN AMNESIA

Dream Interrupted: The sanitizing of Martin Luther King Jr.

Holocaust Denial, American-Style

History, Memory, and the Implicit Racism of Right-Wing Moralizing

Europe Didn’t Send Their Best Either: Immigration and the lies we tell about America (and ourselves)

Racism Is Evil but Not Un-American

MAGA Is a Slur and Your Hat Is Hateful

Statues Make Good Rubble: An open letter to my fellow Southerners

VI. ARMED WITH A LOADED FOOTNOTE: DEBUNKING THE RIGHT

Cheap White Whine: Debunking reverse discrimination and white victimhood

Rationalizing Unequal Policing: Exposing the right’s war on justice

Hey Conservatives, Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings Either: Debunking the lie of welfare dependence

Baby Mama Drama: Debunking the Black Out-of-Wedlock Birth Rate Crisis

Debunking the Model Minority Myth: Using Asian Americans as pawns in a white game

Intelligence and Its Discontents: Debunking IQ and the absurdity of race science

Nazis Make Lousy Researchers: Debunking the myth of Jewish power

VII. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Not Ready to Make Nice: The fallacy of outreach and understanding

Checking Privilege (While Not Being an Asshole)

Spreading Solidarity in Pandemic Times

Coalition building in a post-corona America

“Listen to Black People” is Completely Correct and Entirely Insufficient: Amplifying Black voices does not mean refusing to use our own

Taking Personal Responsibility Seriously: Rejecting white saviorism and embracing allyship

Forget STEM, We Need MESH: Civics education and the future of America

Who’s Afraid of De-Policing? Why a radical sounding idea isn’t as crazy as you think

Hope Is a Noun, Justice Is a Verb, and Nouns are Not Enough

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