Book Review: "Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority" by Tim Wise
To my white American friends who are moved by racial justice: If you haven’t already, let me suggest starting a “must read” list of books to begin the process of re-educating yourself about American history (and our present-day situation). And, if this will be your first time wading into these waters, let me propose making this book your top priority: Tim Wise’s Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority. Trust me—you never learned this stuff in grade school. Why this book, from a fellow white American, rather than a book from one of our countless brilliant American writers of color? Because this stuff isn’t always easy to swallow and if your psyche is going to allow for real change and you’re new to these territories, you may just need your first class to be taught by one of your “own.” And, because it’s jam-packed with eye-opening facts and statistics imbedded in logical, airtight arguments that will either make you do a double-take (Huh?!? OMG!) and/or give you everything you would need for that challenging conversation with your parent, sibling, neighbor, friend, or stranger…or better yet, with that part of you inside who still doesn’t quite “get it.”
Wise’s book packs a powerful and serious punch on a wide range of topics including, but not limited to: systemic racism (including job and housing discrimination, predatory lending, discrimination in the legal system, etc.), the myth of meritocracy, the racial disparity and inequity in our educational system, the myths of so-called “entitlement programs”, white supremacy (and no, not just with the KKK), slavery through Jim Crow through our current-day mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, the myth of living in a ‘post-racial America’ during Obama’s presidency, the rise of the Tea Party movement, the Constitution and the reality of our founding fathers, the so-called opposition to “Big Government,” and on and on.
Wise finishes by offering a potent and uplifting call-to-action on doing our homework to re-educate ourselves. He suggests we learn not only the names and stories of people of color who have fought for racial equality (e.g., Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Dr. Martin Luther King, ...), but also the names and stories of white allies who followed the lead of people of color and worked in solidarity with them to build a better and more just society (e.g., Jeremiah Evers, William Shreve Bailey, John Gregg Fee, Helen Hunt Jackson, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, George Henry Evans, Matilda Gauge, …). Why does Wise do this? Because, we never learned these names in grade school and we should have. I had never before heard the name of a single one of them and it was a long list. He argues that our current racial dialogue would look and feel radically different if we had learned the alternative historical tradition of white ally-ship and anti-racist resistance from an early age. Our psyches would have been sculpted in significantly different ways than they have been and this would have led to normative thinking and behavior quite different from what we think and do now. Learning these people’s stories gives us a map, a path already partially paved, for finding our way as whites towards being true allies, working together with Americans of color to build a more equitable and just society. Reading Wise’s book is like taking the A.P. American History course you never had.
Lastly, why share a book review on my therapy website? Because our development around racial awareness and racial justice is directly related to our internal psychological development. When we "work on" our own psychological condition and develop more awareness about our inner diversity, we have a greater ability to understand and effect change in our social environment. Likewise, when we process racism, sexism, homophobia and other -isms on a societal level, we have a greater ability to effect change in our inner lives. Our awareness around social diversity mirrors our awareness around our own internal diversity.