Anti-racist speaker explains white anxiety
A renowned anti-racist activist laid out his arguments for systemic biases in the United States in a sold-out speech Thursday night.
The crowd gathered in UW-Eau Claire’s Schofield Auditorium to hear Tim Wise give a speech titled “They Want Their Country Back: Racial Nostalgia and White Anxiety in an Era of Change.”
He said racism is still very much alive in society and affects how people behave when the topic of racism surfaces in conversations. He said people tend to avoid the topic of conversation or dismiss the topic by blaming the victim because they do not want to engage in the conversation.
“Nobody enjoys doing it even when we know as a matter of moral and ethical and practical responsibility we should,” Wise said. “And we don’t like having these conversations for different reasons.”
Wise talked about racial nostalgia, the desire for white Americans to take the country back to a time when equality, justice, and discrimination were nonexistent.
Wise spoke about how white Americans are anxious and insecure about the change in American political and popular culture. To better explain this, Wise described the four pillars of “white anxiety”. These pillars are having a black president, the economic meltdown of the past few years, cultural changes and demographic shifts.
Wise said white Americans experience anxiety because of the loss of normalcy.
“As long as we are doing our job to create real-world multicultural and multiracial democracies, it’s not going to matter if they try,” Wise said. “That will be on us to create that anxiety for white Americans who have been able to take away that normalcy from us.”
Wise also talked about the idea of backlash in communities that no one wants to take responsibility for. “There’s something very dangerous about this backlash,” Wise said. “What this backlash has as a part of its cutting-edge politicalness is the desire to essentially say you’re on your own. We have no more need to really help one another.”
An UW-Eau Claire professor that teaches courses about race and racism said this event was well worth attending.
David Shih, an associate professor in English said, “I think it was vital for [Wise] to make the point that people of advantage groups or who are no longer as advantaged are now feeling the effects of this attitude toward a survival of the fittest society where you no longer look to government as an entity that can create the common good.”
Yingxing Zhang, a junior majoring in public relations and mass communications, said he learned a lot from Wise’s critical opinion of racism.
“Racism can be dangerous in our society but most people haven’t realized it,” Zhang said. “So I think our younger generation has the responsibility and obligation to change and give some awareness to get people involved in ending racism.”
Wise ended the evening by asking the audience to change their worldview so that real changes can be made.
“You often don’t even understand how much your perspective is shaped not by objective rational analysis but by subject of experience,” he said. “We need to develop a critical lens before we can begin to see how the world views it in order to make progress and move towards ending racism.”