Monday, September 13, 2010

I got email from Tim Wise

Tim Wise may be the USA's hardest working white promoter of neoliberal anti-racism theory. Two nights ago, after I posted "black" names and class; the first problem with Tim Wise's latest book, I got this email from him:
If you had any intellectual integrity, you would post the dismissive comments about my book (which you refuse to read because you are too Goddamned scared to challenge your simplistic white Marxist viewpoint), on my site, so I could respond to them, and so others could (who had actually read the book), rather than on your own site, where you can limit comments to those who have the appropriate accounts that make it possible to comment. Your response to the "names" study -- which is only one of about 5 dozen examples of racism I cite, and which are not at all simply "class" rather than race, but which you wouldn't know, because you refuse to read anything that challenges your white ass perspective -- is pathetic, in part because the names in the study were not, in fact, "lower class" signified names. They were not as class dependent as your critique suggests. And of course, there were several other examples of blatant racial bias against people of color who were not working class, etc...but you wouldn't care about that, because if a black person is middle class or above, I guess you think they deserve whatever comes to them. Your white working class perspective is bullshit. White working class folks are just as racist as other white folks, and not just because of manipulation. DuBois -- ya know, a black Marxist -- discussed this at length, but you would know nothing of this of course, because why bother with such trivial challenges to your white leftist world view...Feel free to post this on your blog, read by all of, what, 35 people...I couldn't care less. And please know, I will bounce your ass from my site from here on out...I thought we had some common ground, but you just played nice on my site and then talked smack behind my back. Cool: now you can play with yourself and those who read your work, and I'll happily ignore your class reductionist nonsense...

I felt sorry for him, partly because I didn't mean for my comments to be taken personally, partly because he doesn't know Rule #1 for authors: Never respond to your critics.

I replied:
Tim, I don't "limit comments". Anyone can post on my blogs. Open ID works fine, so you don't even have to get a free Blogger ID. The only people who can't comment on my blog are those who want to post anonymously. That's Blogger's default setting.

But if you really want to post anonymously, I'll change the settings.

When I made my comments at your blog, I hadn't read the review citing information that was debunked years ago.

And, yes, white working class folks can be racist. But historically, they're less racist than the upper and middle classes because they're more likely to live and work with people of color. Have you read about Bacon's Revolution? That's when the ruling classes began working hard to divide workers in North America by race.

Out of curiosity, have you lived with white working class people? All I know about you is that you graduated from an exclusive school, and you began your career by opposing David Duke. If I'd been in Louisiana, we probably would've met at a rally against him.

I am sorry you took this personally, 'cause you seem like an extremely well-intentioned fellow. I'd meant my review as friendly joshing, but I see how it didn't come off.

Anyway, I won't address this in public for 24 hours, because if you'd rather I didn't make your note public, say so, and I won't. I've also written in haste.

Out of curiosity, does Adolph Reed Jr. also have a simplistic white Marxist viewpoint?

best wishes (honestly!)

It's been 36 hours and he hasn't responded, so let the fun begin!

Adolph Reed mentions Wise in The limits of anti-racism:
This anti-Marxism has some curious effects. Leading professional antiracist Tim Wise came to the defense of Obama’s purged green jobs czar Van Jones by dismissing Jones’s “brief stint with a pseudo-Maoist group,” and pointing instead to “his more recent break with such groups and philosophies, in favor of a commitment to eco-friendly, sustainable capitalism.” In fact, Jones was a core member of a revolutionary organization, STORM, that took itself very seriously, almost comically so. [Will's warning: the second link is to a PDF.]

And are we to applaud his break with radical politics in favor of a style of capitalism that few actual capitalists embrace? This is the substance of Wise’s defense.

This sort of thing only deepens my suspicions about antiracism’s status within the comfort zone of neoliberalism’s discourses of “reform.” More to the point, I suspect as well that this vitriol toward radicalism is rooted partly in the conviction that a left politics based on class analysis and one focused on racial injustice are Manichean alternatives.
So far as I know, Wise hasn't responded to Reed or to Why Anti-Racism Will Fail by Thandeka. His "race maximalist" theory doesn't seem to leave room for people of color who point to the primacy of class.

Wondering if Tim knew about Bacon's Rebellion, I went googling. He's actually sound on race history, but he invariably takes the antiracist turn when he gets to the last thirty years or so. For example, in Tim Wise: On White Privilege, he's solid until he gets to the post-Katrina vote by St. Bernard Parish Council to prevent owners of single-family residences from entering into rental arrangements with anyone except "blood relatives." Tim talks as if everyone in St. Bernard Parish is a white racist, but the vote was five to two. Does that mean all the whites of St. Bernard Parish are racist, or that five racists, almost certainly wealthier members of the parish, got onto its council?

Far more importantly, he doesn't mention what should matter to anyone looking for "institutional racism" in Katrina. Adolph Reed saw it in New Orleans - Undone by Neoliberalism: "St. Bernard Parish, nearly 90 percent white, working class and reliably Republican, was virtually wiped off the face of the earth. Most of the parish's housing was destroyed. No hospitals or public libraries have reopened, and only 20 percent of its schools are operating." Whiteness has not helped New Orleans' poor whites.

I'll add this: in the case of the council vote, the institutional power of the law prevented a racist decision from being enacted.

I kind of feel sorry for Tim. I don't doubt that in person he's a nice guy. Sure, he's a capitalist, but he's sincere in wanting a better world for people of color. Yet anti-racists of color have begun critiquing him:
For POC with Tim Wise Issues....

Tirade Tuesday: Tim Wise and the Problem with Allies

Dear Tim (and other White anti-racist activists) . . .
My man Malcolm would say it's a case of the chickens coming home to root. Tim preaches anti-racism theory, so people who think it's all about race have no choice but to tell the white man to shut up and sit down.

Malcolm X/El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz saw the flaw in capitalist anti-racism theory long ago: “It’s impossible for a white person to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism. You can’t have capitalism without racism. And if you find one and you happen to get that person into conversation and they have a philosophy that makes you sure they don’t have this racism in their outlook, usually they’re socialists or their political philosophy is socialism.”

I keep asking anti-racists: "If you don't redistribute wealth, the distribution of wealth will be racially disproportionate. If you do redistribute wealth, capitalism ends. It's a Catch-22 that anti-racists ignore. Do you have an answer?"

That question either shuts them up or makes me point out that there's very little class mobility in the US. Then they shut up.

Tim asks if I care about middle and upper-class people of color. The quick answer is that I do, because racism is evil, but the conservatives and neoliberals of color are doing a good job of looking out for themselves. Just as it was better to be a black slaveowning woman in the antebellum South than a poor white man, black people like Condi Rice grew up with far more advantages than most white people.

The price of middle and upper class privilege for black folks is high. Because poorer blacks feel abandoned by richer ones, 40% of black people today believe blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race.

My focus stays on the race of have-nots, the race of poor folks of all hues. After all, as Martin Luther King noted:
In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States.
That's still true. King had a solution:
...the programs of the past all have another common failing -- they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective -- the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.
I like that, but being a socialist, I favor a more extreme solution: everyone should share equally in the world's wealth. If you're a christian, that's the literal meaning of the poor inheriting the earth.

When I look for solutions from anti-racism theorists, I only find recursive analysis of what's racist. I'm with Karl Marx: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways—the point however is to change it"

Well. I'm not afraid of debate, so I don't ban people from my blogs. Tim's very welcome to comment here.

P.S. For more smart critique of neoliberal antiracism by folks of color, see Saladin Ahmed's comment here and Darryl's comments here.

ETA: Since Du Bois came up, here's a quote from his preface to The Souls of Black Folk: "I still think today as yesterday that the color line is a great problem of this century. But today I see more clearly than yesterday that back of the problem of race and color lies a greater problem which both obscures and implements it: and that is the fact that so many civilized persons are willing to live in comfort even if the price of this is poverty, ignorance and disease of the majority of their fellowmen; that to maintain this privilege, men have waged war until today war tends to become universal and continuous, and the excuse for this war continues largely to be color and race."

ETA 2: I changed the comment setting so even anonymous folks can comment now.