Tim Wise, a white anti-racist educator and advocate, put together a nuanced understanding of the effects institutionalized racism still has today in the United States. Time Wise’s parents sent him to a predominantly black school because they wanted him to have a more racially open minded environment along with his education. Yet there is an instance in the documentary White Like Me where Tim Wise relates a story where he fell into the trap of socially conditioned discrimination. He got on a plane where both the pilots were black and his first thought was “oh god” because he had a preconceived notion black men would not good pilots. He quickly rectified his thoughts and recognized that he was engaging in racism.
I enjoyed this moment in the film because it was a moment of real honesty and showed that racism is conditioned and invasive, even in racially progressive individuals. I would argue that every person in the United States has been conditioned to be racist and it is only through active effort that one unlearns those prejudices instilled into us since birth. Another moment in the film that evokes reflection is a white woman who relays something her black friend told her: “When you look in the mirror, you see a woman. When I look in the mirror, I see a black woman.” This moment brings home that white people are seen as the default, as“normal.” This is an immense privilege that most people would not even begin to consider. Statistics show students of color worry that their own failures might reflect poorly on their race or ethnicity as a whole. White students do not have to worry about this. The stress of racism has been correlated with the increase of poor health and shorter lifespans in black individuals.
As a Mexican college student, I have received my fair share of comments that insinuate my ethnicity has helped me in regards to college admissions and financial aid. It is not a good feeling to be discredited and told that my success is based on some sort of “charity.” Moreover, saying people of color are starting to have more privileges than white people is not only false but dangerous. When former President Obama was elected, a news anchor said there were no longer excuses that barriers existed for people of color. The sentiment that the US was now post racial was echoed across the country. It is clear this was false, especially as racist backlash against President Obama arose. However, some white groups used this to further their argument that now there existed racism against whites. Racism is institutionalized prejudice. Prejudice by itself does equal racism. A white person can be discriminated against but I do not believe that it is accurate to say that there is any racism against white people when they stand on a history of privilege.
The film mentions that there are more black people in the prison system today than there were slaves in American history. The United States needs to acknowledge its deep racially biased roots because we may not have official government sanctioned slavery anymore but we are continuing troubling trends, especially with the rise of Mr. Trump’s leadership.