The Pathology of White Privilege
An Analysis and Evaluation of “The Pathology of White Privilege” by Tim Wise Growing up in the United States, racism is an issue one cannot help but hear about at one point or another. Racial inequality and discrimination is a topic that comes up every February with Black History Month, and is often talked about in high school history classes around the country. But that is what it is considered to the majority of people: history.
Most students are taught that, while there are still and will always be individual cases of racial discrimination and racism, nationally the problem ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. People of color, however, will often tell you differently. At least that is what they told Tim Wise, American writer and anti-race activist. In his lecture titled “The Pathology of White Privilege”, Wise uses this information to present the notion of white privilege in hopes of influencing other white people to open their eyes and take responsibility.
In “The Pathology of White Privilege”, Tim Wise presents the idea of white privilege, explains how it came about, and tries to enlighten others on the damage it can do not only to people of color, but to white people as well. Wise, a white man himself, begins the lecture by talking about the absence of race in politics and culture. He points out that political candidates in the United States will talk about many issues such as poverty and healthcare, but leave out any issue of race, racism, discrimination, racial oppression, or white privilege and the roles they might play in regard to the particular issues they do choose to talk about.
He makes the argument that the ignoring of these issues makes them seem unimportant or nonexistent and simply “feeds the denial that is already far too prevalent among the white community. ” He goes on to explain that white people are quick to admit that racial discrimination used to be a problem, yet only six percent believe it is a serious problem today. He claims that white people simply don’t know black or brown truth because they do not have to know.
Wise then goes on to describe just how much of a burden race can be on a person of color, saying that white people do not have racial stereotypes working against them when people of color have to constantly worry about activating a series of negative stereotypes and whether or not they will be able to overcome them. He says that having one less thing to worry about can be the one thing that separates success from failure. Wise then goes on to describe how racial inequalities came to exist in this country’s founding colonies simply as a ploy to hide class.
After explaining and providing many examples of white privilege, Wise then makes the case that this privilege is not only harmful to people of color, but also very dangerous for white people as well. He says white people should care about what privilege can turn them into, and that caring is an act of self-interest and liberation. Wise closes by explaining that dealing with racial inequality has nothing to do with guilt and everything to do with responsibility. He points out that no one person is responsible, yet this inequality still exists and this generation has inherited it.
He ends with saying “it is up to us to take responsibility, not because we are guilty, but because we are here. ” Tim Wise uses many different methods to make his case in his hour-long speech about white privilege. The first thing he does is appeals to his audience by pointing out the obvious fact that he is white, and continues to point this out at various times throughout the speech. Since his target audience is white, he tries to remind them that although he is speaking out on a subject most white people do not discuss, he is in fact still one of them.
He uses anecdotes such as stories about growing up in poor conditions and doing poorly in school to demonstrate just how average he is. He also constantly makes sure to include himself in the group benefiting from privilege by using the word “we” and claiming he would not even be speaking on this issue if he was not white. Wise also uses collected data to support his claims. He references different scientific studies such as the research published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2004 on ten years of mortality data for African Americans.
This research shows that in a span of ten years, almost one million black people in the United States died that would not have died had their conditions been equal to those of most white people. He also talks about a study published in the journal of the American Medical Association about the high rates of anxiety in the United States, and goes on to state that he believes this is because constantly having to defend a dominant position causes widespread distress among the group. Humor is another tool Wise uses to make his point.
For a lot of his speech, he comes across very serious, as his topic is a serious issue. He periodically uses sarcasm and funny statements, however, as comic relief. One example is when he describes spending two hours with racist policemen as “fun”. He also describes the Unabomber as a “crazy ass white man in the woods of Montana blowing people up for twenty years before they caught him” in order to grab some laughs from the audience. Tim Wise makes his argument about white privilege very successfully in “The Pathology of White Privilege”.
By affirming his similarities to his target audience, he is able to establish an environment where he can seem to speak to them as a peer, which might make them more comfortable than being lectured by an outsider on such a sensitive subject. Another way he does this is by staying away from academic jargon. He manages to sound intelligent and educated on the issue, yet not as though he is a high-class scholar talking down to a middle-class audience. His use of humor also helps to make the audience more comfortable.
Because he is looking to change the mindsets of members of his audience, he has to make sure he does not sound accusatory in his actions. By telling the occasional joke he allows for some relief of tension, which helps the audience enjoy the speech and be more open to the message. The only real weakness in “The Pathology of White Privilege” is in the statistics and data that are referenced. The amount of data presented is effective, as it is not so many numbers that the audience cannot comprehend, yet it is enough scientific research that helps Wise’s arguments to seem supported as fact rather simply as opinion.
The fault, however, is in specific data for which Wise provided no source. For example, it was said that only six percent of white Americans believe racial discrimination to be a significant national problem, and then goes on to compare this to the results of another poll in which twelve percent of white Americans believe Elvis Presley might still be alive. Not only is the source or even the specific year of this study not stated, but neither is the sample size or the poll location, all of which could have significant influence over the outcome of the poll.
This type of data would be more believable and effective if more specific information would be given to support it. Overall, “The Pathology of White Privilege” is effective in conveying its message of the existence of white privilege and why even those that benefit from it should care to stop it. It helps open the eyes of the audience to the fact that racial discrimination is not just something to be read about in the history books. It is not simply a prominent issue in our past. Racism is part of our present, and it is up to us to keep it out of our future.