September 23, 2017

P.O.U. Book Club- Tim Wise, Chapter 1: Born to Belonging

Good Afternoon P.O.U.!  The first chapter of Tim Wise’s book; White Like Me, starts off with a James Baldwin quote:

“People who imagine that history flatters them (as it does, sine they wrote it) are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves, or the world. This is the place in which it seems to me, most white Americans find themselves. Impaled. They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence.” – James Baldwin, “The White Man’s Guilt,” Ebony, August 1965

The below video basically brings home the point of this whole chapter.

 Louis CK- Being White

The basic premise of the first chapter involve Tim Wise speaking about his lineage and his being born white. He has royal lineage in his family line, and they owned slaves and stole land from Native Americans. He discusses how whiteness, regardless if you are rich or poor all share a common bond of inclusiveness. Here are interesting quotes from the chapter:

“While some might insist that whites have a wide range of experiences, and so, presumably, it isn’t fair to make generalizations about whites as a group, this is a dodge, and not particularly artful one at that. Of course we’re all different, sort like like snowflakes, which come to think of it are also white. None of us have led the exact same life. But irrespective of one’s particular history; all whites were placed above all persons of color when it came to the economic and social and political hierarchies that were to form in the United States, without exception. This formal system of racial preference was codified in law from the 1600s until at least 1964, at which time the Civil Rights Act was passed, if not 1965, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act or 1968, when our nation finally passed a law making racial housing discrimination illegal.”- Page 3

” The only reason you are reading this book  right now, the only reason this book exists, the only reason this story is being told, is because of white privilege. You are not reading this book because I am a great writer or because I am particularly smart. There are lots of folks, especially persons of color, who know a lot more about racism than I do, people who have forgotten more about the subject since breakfast than I will likely ever know. But you’re not reading their book right now; you’re reading mine, and that has everything to do with privilege.”Page 14

Wise speaks of genealogy as privilege and that every step he has taken in his life, he has received advantages.  Genealogy is a privilege for people who have not been enslaved, conquested, and dispossessed of their land. Even though his family has worked hard to receive what they have gotten, they cannot or should not ignore the fact that there are black families who worked just as hard and have not gotten any further, because of the systemic discrimination that has been and is continued to be practiced in the United States.

He remembers graduating high school and being one of the first graduating classes to be diverse, that was in 1986. He became a full time successful author and anti-racist activist/lecturer full time by his mid-thirties. He credits that to his advantages for being white. He credits his attendance to Tulane to his privilege of whiteness, because he procrastinated in attaining financial aid, and was $10,000 short and his mother who never owned any property, lived paycheck to paycheck, and didn’t have a reliable working car was able to attain a loan to cover his expenses.  By using his grandmother’s house as collateral, his mother was able to co-sign for the loan.  This same home was financed with VA/FHA loans which were only available to only white families first, an advantage that people of color didn’t have and couldn’t benefit from, regardless of military service. Also, the home was in a “desirable neighborhood”, which meant no people of color were allowed to reside there and the house would appreciate in value.  In 1948, the Supreme Court outlawed restrictive covenants  barring blacks from living in certain neighborhoods, it remained legal to discriminate in other ways until the late 60’s and there wasn’t really any real enforcement of the Fair Housing Act until 1988.

He describes his help as “color-coded” and that has made all of the difference. He also states that whites have to accept that their advantage in life has been passed on from their families who have also had advantages given to them from the government. That is the true meaning of the word, “inheritance”.

This was a fairly short chapter, so that is pretty much the summation of it


For next Thursday, June 14th,  we will discuss the Chapter 2: Privilege.

  • Miranda

    That Baldwin quote is so perfect.

    • PBomb

      I loved it. But I am big James Baldwin fan. This book is littered with his quotes.

  • Gc

    I discovered Louis one night when I was channel surfing. He is brilliant.

  • gc

    I’ve been posting too much – home with a cold. Last one: I was an English Major in college. Was doing horribly in a Modern Lit class. Over my head. And then we read The Fire Next Time. I aced all papers and exams related to this work. And then went back to screwing up. Professor didn’t understand. Actually I’m not sure I did either. One of the female characters wore a snake ring. I looked for years to find one (no Ebay back then) I finally found one at a flea market.

  • Admiral_Komack

    What I found interesting from Chapter 1 was the part about dealing with the residue of past actions, and the example of a CEO of a corporation wanting to utilize the assets but ignoring the debts of the corporation and comparing it to racism (pages 24-25).

    • PBomb

      Admiral, I don’t remember seeing that part in Chapter 1. Chapter 1 in my book stops on page 16. Different edition maybe? My edition has this Preface to a new edition. I see that what you are talking about is in Chapter 2.

      Hold on to that thought, for next week. It will be great to discuss it.

      But the concept and comparison sounds interesting.

      • Admiral_Komack

        Thank you.

        I have the third edition (copyright 2008, 2011).