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Treason to Whiteness is Loyalty to Humanity: In Defense of Tim Wise

Tim Wise, a white brother who is "down like John Brown," has stepped once more into the cross-hairs of the New Right and the tea bagger GOP crowd. Like a ronin, he has decided to run headlong into the horde--all the while effortlessly taking heads like a zatoichi or samurai executioner. For the uninitiated, Tim Wise (noted anti-racist activist and speaker) penned a sharp rebuttal to the politics of white racial resentment and the red tide that was the 2010 elections. His piece, "An Open Letter to the White Right," was damning and sharp. (Ed. Note: AlterNet published it under the title, "The Last Gasp of Aging White Power: But Time Is Not on Your Side") As it spread across these Internets, Tim's piece was predictably greeted with shouts of "dirty pool" and the perennially lazy charge of anti-white bigotry. We often talk about the Black Freedom Struggle and the role of fellow travelers and white allies in that long journey. In those remembrances, it sometimes goes uncommented upon that alliances are reciprocal relationships. Not here. I stand united in our small part of the universe with Tim Wise: his analysis of the White Soul, the politics of white racial grievance, and the reactionary nativism that is the Tea Party Republican Party's drug of choice is spot on. No qualifiers ought (or need) to be offered. The long-term impact of the Tea Party populist infused GOP remains to be seen. Was last week's rout of the Democrats a realigning election or just a deviation? Is America moving even more to the right or does she remain center-left as signaled to by Obama's (now exhausted) electoral mandate? At present, answers to these questions remain unclear. However, one fact is clear. The election of Barack Obama has unleashed a torrent of white rage and anger. As Tim Wise signaled to in his essay, the Tea Party GOP is up against a generational wall: their base is older, whiter, and more conservative than America as a whole. With changing demographics, this cohort with its repellent, dated, reactionary conservative ideology is on the wrong side of history. While some analysts term this "the challenge of generational replacement," I choose to be more blunt: their base is dying. The leadership of the New Right can either mine this bitterness and yearning for a return to "real America" in exchange for short-term electoral gains--a hit of that white racial resentment crack rock--or they can look to the future. Ultimately, the election of Barack Obama was truly groundbreaking for how it shattered one more semi-permanent glass ceiling in this country. His election was also cathartic and purifying as it further exposed the always bubbling beneath the surface white victimology and temper tantrum politics of the New Right, the Tea Party GOP, and contemporary Conservatism. But here is my question: Why do some White folks want to kill the messenger? Is there a special amount of rage reserved for whites who dare to tell the truth about Whiteness? Who expose that the emperor has no clothes? To some--the sickest and most in denial addicts of Whiteness--Tim Wise is a "race traitor". Ironically, in many circles to be a race traitor--here being a a traitor to Whiteness--is an act of loyalty to humanity. As fuel for the struggle against Whiteness, once more the wise words of historian Noel Ignatiev provide comfort, solace, and wisdom.
Various commentators have stated that their aim is to identify and preserve a positive white identity. Abolitionists deny the existence of a positive white identity. We at Race Traitor, the journal with which I am associated, have asked some of those who think whiteness contains positive elements to indicate what they are. We are still waiting for an answer. Until we get one, we will take our stand with David Roediger, who has insisted that whiteness is not merely oppressive and false, it is nothing but oppressive and false. As James Baldwin said, "So long as you think you are white, there is no hope for you." Whiteness is not a culture. There is Irish culture and Italian culture and American culture - the latter, as Albert Murray pointed out, a mixture of the Yankee, the Indian, and the Negro (with a pinch of ethnic salt); there is youth culture and drug culture and queer culture; but there is no such thing as white culture. Whiteness has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with social position. It is nothing but a reflection of privilege, and exists for no reason other than to defend it. Without the privileges attached to it, the white race would not exist, and the white skin would have no more social significance than big feet. Before the advocates of positive whiteness remind us of the oppression of the white poor, let me say that we have never denied it. The United States, like every capitalist society, is composed of masters and slaves. The problem is that many of the slaves think they are part of the master class because they partake of the privileges of the white skin. We cannot say it too often: whiteness does not exempt people from exploitation, it reconciles them to it. It is for those who have nothing else... What would the determined minority have to do? They would have to break the laws of whiteness so flagrantly as to destroy the myth of white unanimity. What would it mean to break the rules of whiteness? It would mean responding to every manifestation of white supremacy as if it were directed against them. On the individual level, it would mean, for instance, responding to an anti-black remark by asking, What makes you think I'm white? On the collective level, it would mean confronting the institutions that reproduce race... A traitor to the white race is someone who is nominally classified as white but who defies white rules so strenuously as to jeopardize his or her ability to draw upon the privileges of whiteness. The abolitionists recognize that no "white" can individually escape from the privileges of whiteness. The white club does not like to surrender a single member, so that even those who step out of it in one situation can hardly avoid stepping back in later, if for no other reason than the assumptions of others - unless, like John Brown, they have the good fortune to be hanged before that can happen. But they also understand that when there comes into being a critical mass of people who look white but do not act white - people who might be called "reverse oreos" - the white race will undergo fission, and former whites, born again, will be able to take part, together with others, in building a new human community.