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White Like Me': Book Review

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Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise provides the reader with a very personal take on racism, whiteness, and white privilege in America. Wise explains how racism damages and effects not only people of color but white people as well. He also provides a powerful and accessible social introduction to the construction of racial identities. In this review, I will first be discussing the positive aspects of the book and thereafter I will discuss the negative.

Wise is an activist who wrote this book with the intention of bringing the idea of whiteness to the table and to give white people the knowledge and the tools to understand how privileged their lives are versus minorities in America. He also provided the idea that by doing the right thing when it comes to certain issues, such as race, they can help make the world a better place. While doing this, Wise gives the reader multiple examples of the things/situations that whites don’t have to worry about in their everyday lives in comparison to people of color. For example, being more likely to be arrested for your race or getting pulled over for a traffic violation. It’s also important to keep in mind that Wise’s book was written prior to all of the police shootings of blacks that have taken place over the past few years, which in the end shows a more recent example of one more thing that whites don’t have to worry about or really even think about in this country.

Like I said above, this book provides an engaging and interesting introduction for white people to encourage them to start thinking about race and privilege and I believe the content of this book is outstanding. Wise makes many great points about whiteness and the privilege it allows, that’s why I believe everyone needs to read this book.

Wise allows us and invites us to examine and analyze our own thought processes on the impact of cultural racism and on how we perceive and think about racism. He challenges and emphasizes the idea that white people sometimes claim that they “don’t see color’ or that they ‘don’t have a racist bone in their body’. These statements have always left me extremely uncomfortable, but I’ve also been unsure on how to address them. This book helps to explain why it’s essential and imperative that we examine those matters more closely and that racism damages and affects us all.

The people that claim that they “don’t have a racist bone in their body” or that they “don’t see color” also often claim that America is all about opportunity and that anyone, no matter their race, has the same chance to “make it” in our society. One of the best examples of this is our own former president, President Barack Obama. The issue with this is that the idea that everyone can make it is a myth and by claiming that one is being racist whether one is conscious of it or not. This also implies that despite the overwhelming odds, the people who don’t make it are at fault. These white people claim that instead they should have worked harder, studied harder, and so on. White people believing and telling these lies is an easy way to shield and blind our eyes to a system that pushes others down so that we do not feel like we are overtly racist.

In addition to this problem, the election of Trump is the most obvious sign that proves that racism is still very prevalent in our society today. If the opportunity is given, which by now under trump it has been, racism can and will surface in terribly overt ways. It’s interesting to think that in most spheres it is unacceptable to be overtly racist (as it should be), but that doesn’t mean those racist opinions have disappeared. More importantly, we are still living in a society that is structurally and socially engineered in white supremacy. Therefore Wise emphasizes that it is our responsibility to fight racism and white supremacy wherever we see it.

Even though many whites still believe that it has, racism hasn’t gone away. Many white Americans still believe that it is okay to tell African Americans that they should ‘get over slavery’ or that ‘reverse racism is just a bad’. This is extremely offensive, unacceptable, and ignorant. That’s why I believe that this book is so essential to read, because many still believe that racism in our country is dead, and this book proves that it is indeed not.

The high point for me in the book was in the chapter titled “Loss” in which Wise articulates and attempts to answer the question which I believe to be the central question of the book “why… would the privileged ever give up that thing that sets them apart from, and above, everyone else?’ If I am being honest, I was expecting a completely creative but unconvincing answer, but to my surprise Wise gave a very impressive and impeccable answer explaining exactly what is lost in the great homogenizing concept of ‘whiteness,’ and why it’s such a devastating forfeit on both a personal and collective level.

Wise’s book covers additional territory around his first hand experiences working with people in poverty, and presents a clear picture of what really happened in regard to Hurricane Katrina and how unfair it was to blame the African Americans who weren’t able to evacuate. Which brings me to address some of the negative aspects of this book. Now that I have addressed several positive aspects of this book, I will now discuss some of the negative aspects/aspects that could be improved.

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Although I believe that this book was very well written and had many very important key points, I do believe that it could be improved in many aspects. The first aspect references his take on Hurricane Katrina in the book. Wise ranted for 10 pages to make it very clear to me that “I” don’t know what really happened there, about how ‘I’ still think race didn’t play an issue in the awful events that took place in New Orleans in 2005. His assumptions on my ignorance left me frustrated and annoyed. Frankly, as I watched the television news coverage in 2005, which Wise complains about for several pages, I was well aware that race was an issue. As a young girl, my mother made it very clear to me that race and racism was a part of the much bigger problem going on in Louisiana.

So, I get it. Race was the bigger issue than the hurricane, a fact I knew after it being explained to me as a child and while I was watching the news coverage. I really didn’t require a letter from Wise explaining it all to me, accusing me of putting a blindfold on or pretending like it wasn’t an issue. I noticed this in other parts of the book as well, and I believe that he could’ve explained things differently and in a more polite and understanding matter without insulting the intelligence of his readers.

Another disappointing aspect of the book is that there were no people of color even represented in the book, which is perplexing because how can one come to understand the effects of racism if one doesn’t have any meaningful relationships with people of color? This made me feel like the text at times was not authentic. It’s like claiming that one understands German culture without having met any person of German descent. I believe that in order for this book to be successful for all groups of people, Wise really needs to broaden his real life examples of experiences with people of color.

Another problem I had with the book kind of goes off of what I just said above. Why did a white person write this book? I do believe that he did a great job, but I also believe that we should listen to the people of color that have been actively experiencing racism for hundreds of years. It’s hard for me to understand how an affluent white male can take all of the credit for writing such a book, when I believe someone who has experienced it first hand could do a much better job and go even more in depth.

In the book a lady poses a question to Wise about wanting to do the same work as him, but she wants her contribution to be accepted. After her question was stated, a black woman in the audience said that she indeed does hate the lady and that she would not trust her contribution for a minute. This at first was really striking to me, but after consideration it got me thinking that you know what? That woman in the audience has a point. Why should she trust what a white person has to say about racism? White people are the cause of racism in the first place, what gives them the right to be able to preach about racism when they haven’t experienced it themselves?

When a white person is put on a pedestal for promoting racism awareness, doesn’t that just encourage racism even more? It’s also interesting to think that white people tend to trust other white people more when it comes to talking about racism which is in part causing this problem. Why are we discrediting people of color, when they are the ones who actually know what they are talking about?

Adding on to this, I believe that this book could’ve been titled “White liberal activist like me” because this book felt to be pretty narrowly aimed at the white crowd who claim that they’re progressive on race and other social issues and those who are begging to gain more insight on the insidious nature of white privilege. If Wise claims to be gifted in connecting with all sorts of groups of people, then why not write his book with the same aim?

With all that being said, Wise ends the book on a good note by saying “just do the right thing”. One of my favorite quotes from the book is ‘it is always harder to stand up for what’s right if you think you’re the only one doing it. But if we understood that there is a movement in history of which we might be a part, as allies to people of color, how much easier might it be to begin and sustain that process of resistance?’ This really emphasizes that we are all in this together, and in order for us to see progress in eliminating racism in our society we have to first become aware of our biases as white people then we can go out and spread the word. But the first step is acquiring that knowledge.

In conclusion I found this book to be a great read. Sometimes it was a little dry and felt as if I was in a lecture at 8am on a Monday, but the information was beneficial for me as a white person and this book helped me become even more aware of biases I didn’t even know that I held. However, I do believe that people of color could have been more represented within the book and I do believe that he could’ve been more inclusive in his approach in writing his book. I do think he could rewrite it revising these two aspects, but if not the book does still serve a purpose and deserves a read – especially from white people.

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White Like Me’: Book Review. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/white-like-me-book-review/
“White Like Me’: Book Review.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/white-like-me-book-review/
White Like Me’: Book Review. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/white-like-me-book-review/> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
White Like Me’: Book Review [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/white-like-me-book-review/
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