Tim Wise began his comments at Virginia Tech with a caveat…a bit of clarification…perhaps even a spoonful of keepin’ it realism. No surprise…what he came to deliver was not anything different from the messages people of color have been sharing, promoting, explaining, and demanding in classrooms, boardrooms, cubicles, and neighborhoods. Only this time it was presented in a package a little more palatable than what may have been the norm. It was akin to a parent no longer giving their child Castor Oil in a spoon but now it is in a gelcap. Same medicine…just easily swallowed. The goal, to massage the words of Malcolm X, was to administer the medicine by any means necessary.
Mr. Wise, if you’re not familiar, is an anti-racism activist, an author, lecturer, and cultural provocateur (I added that one myself, we’ll get to that one later). His books, White Like Me, Dear White America, and (hold on for this one) Speaking Treason Fluently Anti-Racist Reflections From An Angry White Male speak to address, illuminate, and dismantle structures of white privilege, cultural mis-education, false notions of power, and the head-on challenge of having serious and action-oriented conversations on equity and diversity.
On this evening, like many of his presentations, Tim Wise was speaking primarily to his white brethren and sisterens. A deep rooted son of the south, Tim peeled back the onion of history, of Americana mythology, of institutional practices of divisiveness, and the mental shackles that bind us all. His peeling, slow and easy, doesn’t produce tears. His delivery, complete with self and cultural-effacing humor and rife with majority-generated information for the data-driven doubter, brought a paced and steady rise of discomfort for many in the audience. Tuned in observers may have noticed that numbers of people of color present served as the choir, offering their call and response to this guest preacher in the House of Diversity & Equity Elevation.
Tim Wise challenged misrepresented rhetoric presented in the form of mainstream logic when addressing Black Lives Matter, immigration issues, and deadly police interactions with people of color. He challenged those unable to connect racialized issues of today as another troubled link in the history of race relations in the United States. He challenged the very core of belief systems that define how people view their place as human beings.
As a cultural provocateur, Mr. Wise stirred the senses and notions of those in attendance. At times it was uneasy to laugh, to agree, to look at your neighbor, or even at yourself. I asked him at the conclusion of his visit did he feel he was getting any traction with his message. He said on the grand scale, maybe not. But individually, people who say their lives and thinking have been changed…yes. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The journey of a better world begins with one person.
Guy A. Sims is the author of the forthcoming Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation. He is also the author of the romantically romance novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim. Contact or comment at guysims.com or @guysims6