On White Anti-Racist Activists by Ewuare Xola Osayande

I’ve been working all day on a blog post on the role of White anti-racist activists in the struggle to end racism.  It’s been a tough piece for me to come to terms with, and I’ve been working up the courage to write it since April when I attended the White Privilege Conference.  However, in writing, I found that I was quoting an article by Ewuare Xola Osayande over and over and over.  Considering that I’ve been quoting Osayande so much and considering that without this perspective, it can be hard to understand where I’m coming from in the piece I have been working on, I’ve decided that this week, I will just post Osayande’s article.  That way, when I post my own reflections on the role of White anti-racists, my readers and I can be more on the same page.  Please consider taking the time to read the entire article to inform a vital conversation that must be had by any who work to end racism.

Ewuare Xola Osayande is an author, poet, and political activist from Philadelphia, PA.

A Word to the Wise

By Ewuare Xola Osayande

“My friends, I have come to tell you something about slavery – what I know of it, as I have felt it. When I came North, I was astonished to find that the abolitionists knew so much about it, that they were acquainted with its effects as well as if they had lived in its midst. But though they can give you its history – though they can depict its horrors, they cannot speak as I can from experience …”
Frederick Douglass, 1841

In the past decade or so, we have witnessed the rise of critical race studies, even something called Whiteness Studies. With the rise of Whiteness Studies on college campuses across the country has come the resurgence of whites as so-called experts on all matters pertaining to race. Among the most popular of them is the anti-racist speaker Tim Wise, who has become a regular presence on the college lecture circuit as well as in the media in the past few years. He has even been deemed the leader of the anti-racist movement by some of these very media outlets.

As Black liberationist, abolitionist, anti-racist and social justice activists, we would be wise to use this moment to ask some critical questions of ourselves and the state of the movement for racial justice in the U.S. We are thus compelled to critically engage Tim Wise and what his apparent popularity represents both in symbol and substance. In so doing, we confront the two fundamental issues in this work of eradicating racism: internalized oppression and white privilege.

Read the rest of the essay at Ewuare Xola Osayande’s website.


25 thoughts on “On White Anti-Racist Activists by Ewuare Xola Osayande

  1. This is a brilliantly conceived and executed piece, but I do wonder to what extent anyone, or any group, CAN eliminate systemic racism and white supremacy. It’s a worthy goal, no doubt. But Noel Ignatiev’s idea of abolishing whiteness, while perhaps a good one in theory, is ultimately (as author Michael Kimmel writes) an individual response to a systemic problem; I realize there are other activists and scholars who agree with him, but the idea of being a true “race traitor” doesn’t seem realistic because once again it betrays white privilege: who can CHOOSE to act in a way that is identified as non-white in hopes of erasing racism and be taken seriously for it? Oh right, white people. That runs into the same problem Wise runs into: Wise can’t divest of white privilege, although it would be great if he did hold himself accountable in making his lecture tours, for example, feature speakers of color with more time for their work than his own. So my question is, if Wise holds himself accountable, would that stop systemic racism? My guess is no, because racism is so engrained in this society as to be impossible to erase, as Derrick Bell has written (when he called racism “indestructible” as a force in U.S. history and its present and future). I’m reminded of the idea a professor of color posited to an African American Literature class I attended: “There are a lot of people who say, ‘We’re gonna go out, we’re gonna change the system,’ and often they become really disillusioned and bitter people. Well, what if I tell you that the system is right, that the system benefits exactly who it’s supposed to?” As horrible as that sounds, I think it’s true: too many people with power and privilege are satisfied with that power to even want to relinquish it, and that’s why massive change continues to elude this society. And I’m not discounting that individuals can make changes, recognizing their own racism and working to undermine it. But as a system, what could erase white supremacy? I honestly don’t know if anything can.

  2. “Several years back I spoke at a school in Massachusetts for their annual Dr. King Day commemoration. As I spoke about King’s legacy and the ongoing struggle for racial justice, I was met with outright hostility from the students gathered in the auditorium.”

    This is encouraging. Americans are waking up to the fact that “anti-racist” is just code for anti-white.

    • “When we speak, we are often met by the deaf ear of white denial. When Tim Wise speaks, he gets applause, standing ovations, awards and proclamations. The fact that schools can’t “hear” us when I and other people of color speak but will search out and roll out the red carpet for Wise is a statement to a kind of racism that doesn’t get discussed much – if at all – in our work.”

      You speak the overpowering din of white denial that only serves to silence discourse. Rather than respond to his legitimate claims, you simply write him and his point off as “anti-white.” Thanks for that “contribution.”

  3. I call them like I see them. Tim Wise, too: anti-white bigot, spreading his lies (or delusions) about “white privilege,” in a society that privileges non-whites in every way.

    • It’s always funny to hear from those like yourself in the white supremacist movement that I am anti-White or that I hate white people. I love myself. I love my people. I just don’t love that we are forced to live in a restrictive, oppressive box of whiteness that hurts us and has and will continue to hurt people of color.

      Again, thanks for refusing to add anything substantive to the conversation. If you’re looking to simply increase the presence of your hate speech through links on my blog to yours, please find another way to self-promote.

  4. {{ A post by Unamused was removed due to inappropriate and abusive language. }}

  5. 1. “Anti-racist” is just code for anti-white.
    2. Contemporary American society privileges non-whites in every way.

    Two simple points I made, and which you refuse to address.

    • I will start by saying that your unsupported assertions were not addressed because they are just that: unsupported assertions. However, to move the conversation forward to hopefully talk about the actual claims of the article and why I posted it, here you go:

      1. I guess it depends on what you mean by anti-white. If you mean that those of us who work to end racism as an interpersonal and systemic institution hate people who have less pigmentation in their skin, I think you’re going to have a hard time supporting that claim. I love myself. I love my fellow white people. What I don’t love is the ways in which our system systematically oppresses and disadvantages folks based on skin color. While I may benefit from this oppression, I recognize that while one of us is chained, none of us are free.

      If, however, anti-white means that those who work to end racism are opposed to the social construction of whiteness, to the supposed racial reality that white people are better and that as such, should rule or receive unearned privilege by the nature of the melanin levels in their skin, then yes. I am anti-white, and anti-racist does mean anti-white. I am opposed to whiteness as a social construction that is poisonous in its historical and current-day conclusions that privilege some over others.

      2. This point is, at best, laughable. Though I could compose a dissertation (and many have) on just how flawed this logic is, I will just present a few potent examples.

      A. Unemployment rates are significantly higher for most people of color, and a black person is twice as likely to be unemployed than a white person in our current economy. Additionally, among those people of color who are employed, they make significantly less than a white person for equal work.

      Now before anyone goes off spouting the stereotype that people of color are lazy or good for nothing, consider that when a white applicant and a black applicant are LITERALLY equal except for their name, a white applicant is 50% more likely to get a job than a black applicant.

      B. While folks (usually White folks) like to rant and rave about how they can’t get any higher ed scholarships because they are white, the reality is that ” Caucasian students receive more than three-quarters (76%) of all institutional merit-based scholarship and grant funding, even though they represent less than two-thirds (62%) of the student population. Caucasian students are 40% more likely to win private scholarships than minority students.”

      C. People of color and poor folks (including White poor folks) are significantly less likely to receive proper medical care in our system that many tout as “the best in the world.” As a few examples, “When hospitalized for acute myocardial infarction, Hispanics are less likely to receive optimal care,” and “Blacks and poorer patients have higher rates of avoidable hospital admissions (i.e., hospitalizations for health conditions that, in the presence of comprehensive primary care, rarely require hospitalization).”

      D. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tEuaj4h8dw Enough said. Start at 10:47 to see the current reality, but I highly recommend watching the whole thing.

      The list goes on and on. In fact, I cannot think of a single way in which People of Color are privileged over White people that can be supported by widespread and trustworthy sources.

      Now, perhaps it’s time for readers to discuss the implications of the actual article posted rather than for us to continue this distraction. If you want to further continue the discussion, I recommend you find a posting in my blog that more directly relates to your objections, Unamused. I have plenty on white privilege and racism.

  6. The second point is more interesting to me, so I’ll restrict myself to that.

    What’s truly laughable is that literally nothing that you wrote is evidence for society privileging whites. Literally nothing.

    Here’s why: you’re citing examples of blacks and whites performing differently. You assume, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that blacks and whites are identical in every way (except skin color, I suppose — oh, and whites are racist). Thus, any difference in performance must be caused by white racism.

    You ignore the overwhelming evidence that blacks and whites are different. First of all, we know that they are genetically distinct; for example, any two white people are more closely related than a white person is to any black, and similarly for every other race. Failure to understand this is known as Lewontin’s Fallacy. (Proof from mainstream peer-reviewed scientific journals is available on request, but I assume if I link the places in my blog where I prove these statements, you’ll just accuse me of “self-promotion.”)

    Furthermore, all human behavioral traits are heritable. Intelligence, for example, is as much as 80 percent heritable in adulthood. Blacks score 1.1 standard deviations lower than whites on intelligence tests, when intelligence. This so-called “IQ gap” is probably 50–80 percent genetic, according to the leading experts on race differences in intelligence.

    Of course, this puts the lie to your “evidence” of racism: blacks underperform because they’re different from whites.

    Incidentally, Asians score higher than whites on intelligence tests, and outperform whites in American society. By your logic, this proves that there is a racist Asian conspiracy against white people!

    It’s as simple as that: nothing you wrote is evidence of racism. It’s evidence of EITHER racism OR race differences in cognitive and other abilities. And since we already know that race differences in cognitive and other abilities exist… well, Occam’s Razor can take it from there.

    Your study about names has a huge confounding factor, namely: names and socioeconomic status. The authors of “Freakonomics” demonstrated that the stereotypically “black” names used in that study are actually stereotypically ghetto black names, associated with low income and all the terrible behavior that goes with it. They also noted that when you control for socioeconomic status, people with “black” names do just as well in life as you would expect anyone else from that background. Your “race” study is a really a “name and income” study.

    • The evidence Jamie presents might not be reducible ONLY to racism, but racism sure has a lot to do with it. I’d like to bring up that race is a social construction (not a biological reality), but one that matters in issues you seem to pass off as a result of “natural” superiority and inferiority. When you talk about whites and blacks being different in supposedly objective areas of performance, you act like these are based on biology, which ignores that America’s history is COMPLETELY INTERRACIAL. Whiteness has never been pure or fixed, and neither has blackness or any other racial identity. For example, various groups commonly considered white today were not always considered white: the Irish, for example, as well as many Eastern European groups (including Germans), used to be considered separate from whites, and the fact is that blackness as we know it today was largely produced in a white-dominated world, by white men raping black women, for example. (James Baldwin made a great point when talking to a segregationist about the fear of interracial marriage: he said something like, “You’re not worried about me marrying your daughter. I’ve been marrying your daughter since the days of slavery. You’re worried about me marrying your wife’s daughter,” which points to white hypocrisy regarding black children they create and disparage and white children they create and love.) So if you talk about whites and blacks being different, you’re ignoring that whiteness as a social identity was formed very much in relation to–and largely against–an identity of blackness. Ralph Ellison was right when he pointed out, in an essay called something like “What America Would Be Like Without Blacks,” that erasing black people means erasing American history: just about every major event affirming American identity would have had no basis of comparison had it not been for people like blacks and Native Americans.

      So given that whiteness and blackness are social constructions, rather than biological realities, the meanings derived from the statistics and studies Jamie presents, are for the social uses to which they are put: for example, whites would not be paid more for equal work based on biological superiority, but they are often paid more due to a perception of them as superior. Truth be told, many whites who tell blacks and Latinos to work harder do not have to work nearly as hard as a lot of people of color do everyday, but whites receive benefits by being supposedly race-less, like being taken more seriously for their points of view–even if those points of view are identical to those of black authors and activists (see the post above, regarding Tim Wise). Being white means never having to be burdened by race in the same way that people of color are.

      And also, if you really want a white-dominated nation, you already have one.

    • Let’s start by clarifying what you asked for. You say, “literally nothing you wrote is evidence for society privileging whites.” You did not ask for that evidence, though I disagree with you about the conclusions drawn from my evidence. You asked for me to respond to the idea that people of color are privileged in almost every way in contemporary American society. They are not. They are at a tremendous disadvantage.

      While there is biological evidence that blacks and whites are different, that does not presume that one race is superior to another race or that race is a real, biological construct instead of a social construct (which Josh expands on). Other peer reviewed anthropological and biological studies have made the point that if Edward’s critique of Lewontin’s argument holds true, the human species would be so incredibly subdivided that there would be thousands if not millions of races, thus making it difficult to make any claim of racial superiority or inferiority by our social understanding of race (White/Caucasian, Hispanic/Latino, African American/Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and so on). Taking the “Hispanic race” in and of itself, there is so much biological diversity that it is silly to lump those folks together, yet we, as a society, choose to do so.

      You also presume that IQ tests are fair, when there is plenty of (peer-reviewed) research that states otherwise. One study, for instance, conducted by Paul Williams and Leslie Zoref and published in the peer-reviewed “Journal of Educational Measurement” found that there is such overwhelming sexual and racial bias in all five of the IQ tests that they studied that they can, in no way, be considered a fair or useful standard of intelligence measurement. Further, your logic ignores the entire area of research known as “multiple intelligences,” which states that to try to measure intelligence as one thing misunderstands the breadth of human intellect. There are, in fact, multiple intelligences that make up the human intellect and that cannot be measured in traditional measuring processes.

      This is exactly why it is silly to say that there is some sort of “Asian conspiracy against Whites.” IQ tests are a horrible measurement of intellectual ability and capacity.

      You also assume that race and class can be separated easily in the American experience. In fact, while racism bleeds America, classism is the real issue, so the Freakanomics study finds that classism is a serious problem. However, for most Americans, race and class are confounded. Because Black folks are disproportionately poor (thanks to hundreds of years of policies that gave Whites a head start economically) and because they are disproportionately portrayed as such in the media, most White folks associate Black as synonymous with poor. While the study acknowledged that when there are controls for socioeconomic status, the results are closer, they also found that it was not as easy for an employer to tell which resume would have belonged to a Black person as a White person (since the controls brought the names closer together, thus making the racial differences less obvious). That so-called “name and income” study is still very much a “race and class” analysis of employment numbers.

  7. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

    You need to know what race is before you can talk intelligently about it. Race is 100 percent genetic (hence biological), not a social construction.

    A complete explanation may be found in “Race: A Social Destruction of a Biological Concept” (2001) by Neven Sesardic (Biology and Philosophy 25(2): 143-162). Two people of the same race are always more similar genetically than two people of different races (pp. 150–154).

    In “Genetic structure of human populations” (2002), N. A. Rosenberg et al. showed that people cluster genetically according to major geographic regions — in other words, races (Science 298(5602): 2381–2385).

    In “Genetic Structure, Self-Identified Race/Ethnicity, and Confounding in Case-Control Association Studies” (2005), H. Tang et al. demonstrated that genetic clusters match self-reported race (white, black, Hispanic, or East Asian) 99.9 percent of the time (American Journal of Human Genetics 76(2): 268–275).

    Tishkoff et al. (2009) plot global genetic variation. You can literally see the races.

    So let’s start with that: the basics of human genetic variation. When you wrap your heads around that, we can move on to why intelligence tests measure intelligence, why they’re not racially or culturally or otherwise biased (so the race differences in intelligence they detect are just that: cognitive differences between distinct genetic groups), and so on.

    • Your list of peer reviewed articles does not address the point I made above. Simply listing a bunch of peer-reviewed articles that state that there is a genetic basis for race (something I acknowledged) does not prove your point that there can be conclusions drawn about intelligence or ability because of such genetic markers.

      “While there is biological evidence that blacks and whites are different, that does not presume that one race is superior to another race or that race is a real, biological construct instead of a social construct (which Josh expands on). Other peer reviewed anthropological and biological studies have made the point that if Edward’s critique of Lewontin’s argument holds true, the human species would be so incredibly subdivided that there would be thousands if not millions of races, thus making it difficult to make any claim of racial superiority or inferiority by our social understanding of race (White/Caucasian, Hispanic/Latino, African American/Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and so on). Taking the “Hispanic race” in and of itself, there is so much biological diversity that it is silly to lump those folks together, yet we, as a society, choose to do so.”

      While there are genetic variations that can, in some ways, be grouped by race, the concept of race as we know it in our culture is socially constructed.

      Plus, even your sources (http://unamusementpark.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/genetic_variation_world.png) display the silliness of understanding race as we have socially constructed them. According to the very graphic you present, Saharan Africans (who often are quite dark in skin color) are grouped with Western Eurasians (read most of Europe, particularly Western Europe) who have light skin like mine.

      You ignore the fact that racial groups have been and continue to be fluid throughout history, as the concept of “Whiteness” has been expanded to include those who were not otherwise considered white (the Irish, Jews, Germans, etc).

      If you want a parade of peer-reviewed texts that argue that race is a social construction, you can have it.

      From Multicultural Education, v7 n2 p2-8 Win 1999 http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ600574&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ600574

      Accepted dissertation from the University of Texas: http://gradworks.umi.com/32/16/3216349.html

      And entire works published through the Library of Congress: http://books.google.com/books?id=OmYgbI0OO00C&pg=PA154&lpg=PA154&dq=peer+reviewed+race+socially+constructed&source=bl&ots=GSjyQqZkNe&sig=jmfnSD7WPa9-BcCFGK3qSpCKMgA&hl=en&ei=Bc9vTq3mHcW0sQKF2c31CQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCIQ6AEwATgK#v=onepage&q&f=false

      You can continue your patronizing rhetoric of “when you can wrap your head around that . . . ” but you refuse to follow your own research to its final and logical conclusions that show that race, while founded in some genetic reality, cannot account for the realities of race and racism that we see today.

  8. Um, when you claim “people of color” are at “a tremendous disadvantage,” either you were trying to present evidence for that claim, or not.

    If not, then your claim is unsubstantiated. If so, then I already pointed out why your “evidence” fails.

  9. As I said, first I need to explain to you what race is, because you so obviously don’t know. You babble on about “social constructions,” when it’s actually genetic. Read my last paragraph again, genius: “When you wrap your heads around [the basics of human genetic variation], we can move on to why intelligence tests measure intelligence, why they’re not racially or culturally or otherwise biased (so the race differences in intelligence they detect are just that: cognitive differences between distinct genetic groups), and so on.”

    So the next step is explaining race differences in intelligence and criminality. I’ll simply refer you to my blog, where I’ve already proved my case many times.

    Sesardin’s “Race” rebuts all your silly politicized social science articles. That is its entire point. Too bad, so sad for you.

    • I hate to say it, but you sound like a petulant child. I am not sure if it is because you are threatened by the arguments being presented, but I am not interested in a discourse of “too bad, so sad.”

      I Have responded to your point about genetics clearly and posited why (in addition to genetic variation), race is a social construct. If you would rather not discuss this point, that is fine, but until you do, we have nowhere to go.

      And I have spent a bit of time perusing the white supremacist musings of your blog, and I am not sure I have found a point proven among the lot.

      Take care, my friend.

  10. […] Color.  It’s a Black knowledge, a Brown knowledge, a Red knowledge, a Yellow knowledge.  In the words of Ewuare Osayande, “it is an analysis born of the blood struggle for Black liberation and racial justice […]

  11. Hannah pointed me to your blog. Nice work, what I’ve read, and this is an excellent post. Just one request – stop feeding the stupid troll already. I’d delete most of Unamused’s comments, since they’re blatantly bigoted and this person is unlikely to change with reasoned discussion. Your post deserves better than to be weighed down by that crap.

  12. […] 8.  The 8th post popular post on my site was also the most popular post among our White Supremacist buddy over at Unamusement Park who decided to hijack the post for his White Supremacist ramblings. The post, though, was a reposting of a profound piece by Ewuare Xola Osayande in a critique of Tim Wise.  On White Anti-Racist Activists by Equare Xola Osayande […]

  13. I do not beleive anyone can dispute Tim Wise has good intentions and overall hass had a positive impact on this topic. While I find this article raising some interesting points, when I finished reading the article I realized the author and all contributors have dedicated a entire blog focuses soley on the color of someones skin. Is this not the exact thing we are trying to do away with?

    • Hi, Robert,
      First, welcome to the site. I always am excited to see new commenters.

      I suppose I have to answer your question with this one: Is focusing on someone’s color of their skin what we are trying to do away with?

      I would argue that it is not at all what we want and that this idea is actually a very problematic way of approaching race. For better or for worse, race exists, and race is connected to culture, power, and privilege (or lack thereof). To completely ignore race (or to espouse a “colorblind” ideology) means that we no longer look a the incredible tapestry of culture that comes with race. I, for one, do not want a world where there is no variation in culture because we have all found some way to be colorblind (as if that is even possible).

      Furthermore, we live in a society that was built upon certain privileges and powers afforded to White people and that systematically disenfranchises People of Color. To espouse a “colorblind” ideology refuses to recognize this fact, and as such, we cannot break down the systems of oppression and inequality that exist. The only way for us to overcome this problem is for us to have accountable conversations about race and the privileges (or lack thereof) afforded to us based on this social construction.

      As such, we White folks (since I am White) need to own the fact that we have White Privilege so that we can begin to understand the effect that has on those without such privilege. Then we can begin to work in ally relationships with People of Color to break down the system of oppression based on race that exists.

      The answer is not to do away with race. The answer is to do away with race privilege and power.


      – Jamie

  14. I agree that anyone who calls themselves an anti-racist should be held up to the toughest/highest standards.I agree that too many black people are quick to welcome non-blacks into the fold just because they “talk black”. I agree that many institutions use white activist as a screen. But. Should these activist just refuse to speak? Give the number of a black activist and discontinue their own work? What litmus test would be good enough for you? I have listened to Tim Wise’s speeches and in every one of them he begins by saying that any black person is way more qualified than he is to talk on the subject. He will go on to note that it is racism that keeps whites from hearing black voices. I think he knows this. Should he then not speak at all. If you ask me what is most striking to me about Wise,it is that he does not, in my viewpoint try to speak for us at all. He is speaking to white people about themselves. Is that not okay? You mentioned that he doesn’t debate other radicals,especially not black ones. I have heard him say that he would not be so bold to even try to do so.He has admitted that when it comes to the black experience he could never truly know anything “really” because he isn’t black.So why would he debate you or any other more qualified person. In my estimation he is a white person calling out other white people and he is welcomed to do so. To insinuate that he would not take orders from or follow the lead of black anti-racist seems unfair.I don’t know maybe you know him personally.As for your lack of speaking engagements, perhaps you should take our own community to task. universities are not the only forum in which to speak. What does it say about us that we can not provide support to our own? I would most certainly book a black anti-racist speaker before a Tim Wise. Do you find that he is being sought out by black people over other blacks? That would be a tragedy as he has said himself that any black person alive has forgotten more about the subject of racism before breakfast than he could ever hope to learn.

    Thank you for your challenging essay. I look forward to reading more.

  15. I see that this was a piece written by Mr. Osayande. I would still welcome your thoughts/comments on my post.

    Peace and Blessings

  16. What about Angela Davis’ recent collaboration with Tim Wise? Recently, I have been noticing some very unfortunate sexist “criticism” aimed at Davis by “authentic” men (black or otherwise) who juxtapose the current activism of an aging yet wise women with that of an attractive and more rebellious younger version of her. Though Osayande criticizes the failure of black political leadership in addressing the sexism against another young and attractive blak female, Marissa Alexander, I am not aware of any academic defense of Davis amid such attacks. (See, for example, Glen Ford’s post about Davis’ characterization of Obama’s association with the black radical tradition: http://www.blackagendareport.com/category/us-politics/angela-davis–or Paul Street’s post about Obama, Davis, and money in the US electoral system: http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=content/%E2%80%9Cdespite-power-money%E2%80%9D-reflections-vapid-obama-commentary-professor-angela-davis). We need to be careful of not only the social, but also the intellectual, reproduction of sexist racism, even with the beloved community.

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