If you are not familiar with Tim wise, he is a white man well known for his anti-racist speaking and writing. His book most people know best is White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son.
Osayande offers a sophisticated critique of Wise's anti-racist work suggesting (among several critiques) that Wise's work displaces people of color, providing a more palatable stage presence (because he is white). The insistence that white people need a kinder, gentler explanation reinforces the stereotype that people of color are non-stop angry (dangerous), and enables white folk in their continued efforts (both individual and systemic) to maintain a racist structure that upholds the very white privilege Tim Wise speaks against.
No need to paraphrase more; go read Osayande's excellent essay.
Immediately after I posted the essay, a few folks got back to me through email and messages, objecting that there IS a need for a kinder, gentler explanation of white privilege and racism, and that we will not reach people with an anti-racist message if we make them uncomfortable.
This reminded me of a conversation I had on Twitter a few weeks ago with some friends who identify as "LGBT allies." One of was seeking a definitive term to refer to individuals within the lgbtqqi2s community. Should he refer to an individual as a lesbian? A gay woman? A queer person? Is it LGBT? Is it queer? Is it the "gay community"? He'd run into some folks who didn't like to be called queer. He'd run into me who prefers queer. Are trans folk queer? As he described his dilemma he said in exasperation, "I want to be a supportive ally without offending anyone."
The fact is, we cannot do anti-racist work without offending anyone. Straight folk cannot support their lgbtqqi2s friends without stepping on toes sometimes. We don't grow as human beings without being uncomfortable. If we want to do this work--if we are called to it and committed to understanding our own complicity in unjust power structures, we will be uncomfortable. We will be uncomfortable often.
Several years ago, I began to meet with a therapist to work through the trauma of rape and abuse. After a couple of weeks of meeting I had shared much of my story. He asked how I was feeling, and I said, "I'm very uncomfortable." And it was true! I was acutely uncomfortable--vulnerable, defenseless. This man knew so much about my life, who I was, and what made me tick that it made me squirm just to sit in that room every week. I was facing hard things about myself and my family, deeper truths I didn't like examining. It was terribly uncomfortable.
But the alternative was to be comfortable and allow my history to swallow me in bitterness and pain. I still have a long way to go. Last week in my salsa class, the instructor brought her regular dance partner to class so everybody could have a partner and dance the whole time. For the last two months, we have danced unpartnered, learning the footwork. I was not fully prepared for a man in my personal space, and as he danced with me I could not meet his eyes. A half hour into the class I realized I had been staring at his crotch for the last thirty minutes--not intentionally, it was simply that I was deeply uncomfortable.
This is how it is with white folk talking around issues of race--we're so uncomfortable we end up staring at crotches instead of making eye contact. We allow our fear to drive our actions. Rather than examining our discomfort and learning through it, we seek out someone who will tell it to us nicer, who looks more like us, who doesn't scare us.
Perhaps the most urgent task for us as white folk in anti-racist work is to teach, cajole, encourage, demand that we learn to lean into discomfort. Because our insistence on comfort and security is perpetuating racism. And in our fear, we are missing out on powerful, meaningful relationships across racial lines. What a damned shame.