Duck Duck Book


21 – white like me
07.7.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: social sciences

White like me / Tim Wise.
Brooklyn, NY : [Berkeley, Calif.] : Soft Skull Press ; Distributed by Publishers Group West, c2005.
[MCL call number: 305.8 W813w 2005, two copies, seven holds]

Wise examines his whole life (all 36 years) through the lens of race and with an eye on the problems of white skin privilege. This is not a book of history, it is the story of one man’s experience and what he has chosen to do with it. Wise will not tell you where racism and white privilege come from, exactly, but he will tell you where he has found them, his observations about what they give and take away from white people’s lives, and what a compassionate white person ought to do about it all. He does this, I think, with an honest and a serious attempt at understanding his life context and how race has impacted it with compassion and intelligent, rational analysis.

Wise makes his points with stories. If you have seen him speak (which he does regularly, all over the country), his method and tone will be familiar to you. He talks about his youth and his travels, tells his family’s legends, and tells his own versions of their stories. All of this is done to show how whiteness and racism have affected Wise’s own life, and his particular family. What have they gained, what have they lost, how did they get to where they are, and what does it mean? This matters to Wise’s readers not because they are so infatuated with him or his family, but because the story he is telling is not an enigmatic story, it is just a regular story of an average white person in a normal white family in the United States. Even though White Like Me is not about you and your family, if you are white, it will be familiar.

For me, listening to Wise speak and reading the book produced much the same feeling — he impressed me as a very regular person with a very exceptional ability to see clearly through a set of subjects that our society works hard to obscure. He is plain-speaking, calm, and consistent. Your mother, your boss, your next-door neighbor, and the person in line in front of you in the grocery store would probably like him, and so would you. What Wise has to say is very hard for most white people to hear, but we need to hear it, and he is the right person to get his say said and listened to.

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