Review of “Dispatches from the Race War” by Tim Wise. City Lights Publishers, forthcoming December 2020
In a few short weeks- achingly painful weeks- the US will hold what is likely the most important Presidential election in its short and violent history. The choices before the populace are telling; the choice we are to make- and its clear which one any progressive person should- suggests the importance of Tim Wise’s work. No less so regarding his forthcoming “Dispatches from the Race War.”
Wise is a political activist and author who has a track-record of sensible, intelligent, and anti-racist writing, directed largely at White America. Through clear examples, inscrutable logic, and the power of direct language, Wise challenges White Americans to identify and understand the racism inscribed in the very American project and in the everyday acts of “being American.” From assumptions to the explicit enactments of bias, White Americans, according to Wise, display racism normatively, whether intentional or not. He suggests, uncommonly-yet-fairly, that intentions do not matter nearly as much as the payload visited upon Black-Americans and other minorities matter.
Wise serves as a loud clarifier of American culture and an expositor of America’s racist history.
Wise is unsparing in his condemnation of racism. Using the last 12 years – from the ascendancy of Obama to the wasteland of Trump- as a mirror, he reflects on the connectedness of White denialism, vigilantism, police brutality, and White terrorism in this remarkable book of essays. Wise never disappoints – partially because he never shirks his responsibility to truth, reason, and social justice.
Channeling – whether consciously or not, Chomsky, Wise uses several of his essays to point out the deep hypocrisy in the assumptive frame of (most of) White American when it comes to Black Americans. In one of his more mordant essays, he asks us if we’d consider a bunch of armed Black Americans gathering around the Mall in DC “defenders of the constitution.” He also challenges White Americans to stop looking for mitigating circumstances in the murders of Black Americans (Was he really a criminal? Was he aggressive?)
Tim Wise is an important author very much because he forces his readers into an uncomfortable frame. It is, after all, the frame in which so many people have to live their lives- those people who do not enjoy the privilege of racial dominance.
Returning to the choice referred to in the opening paragraph. While progressives must vote for Biden over Trump, it is indeed a poor reflection on the legacy of our civil rights movement, mangled by the forces of racism, capitalism, and redaction, to consider the choice. One the one hand, we have a White Nationalist in the incumbent position- a man of no discernible morality. One the other hand, we have a mealy-mouthed middle-of-the-roader who in the past displayed great love for large banks and little love for racial integration. Perhaps, the latter has moved on from his past, but –indeed- that is the choice that America has offered us.
Romi Mahajan is an Author, Marketer, Investor, and Activist