Critical Spontaneity

Tim Wise, informed by Tim Wise

Suey Park

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 12.29.38 PM

I was originally going to blog and tweet responses to Tim Wise’s misguided tweets, but after reading further, I decided as a self-professed radical who commonly uses both twitter and blogging as tools for so-called activism, I may be a bit too irrelevant to warrant Tim Wise’s attention.


Although Tim Wise himself has a common practice of blogging and tweeting, his words are more significant as he is a white man. Therefore, I draw upon the brilliant blogging mind of Tim Wise himself, to inform the twitter activist Tim Wise. After all, Wise clearly believes that sometimes the critique needs to come from a white person.

On Wise’s blog post on appreciation and accountability, he says “accountability, in an antiracist context, means engaging in “the work” (whatever that work might be, from organizing to educating to providing some social service, to parenting, as just a few examples) in a way that is responsive to the needs and concerns of people of color, communities of color, and their interest in the eradication of white supremacy.” Unless of course their responses makes you feel defensive.  

Although he himself is telling off mainly people of color in a potentially self-gratifying function, he insists that activists must be educators. This seems contrary to his own post on crime and the politics of white deflection where he said “often militant and radical black voices who speak out against crime and violence in the black community, but also against racism and systemic injustice (because black folks, unlike white conservatives apparently, are capable of addressing both at the same time).” I think someone needs to brush up on his Tim Wise readings.

Another piece of this accountability Wise mentions in this post is “taking constructive criticism seriously, integrating insights provided by others into your  own work, and following the lead, direction, and advice of those who have the most to lose from antiracism work done badly: namely, people of color.” Unless they just can’t spell well, have too simple of thoughts for you to follow, or are totally jealous and insecure over your fame.

Ugh…if only we could offer Wise feedback in a way that wasn’t so infantile. In the accountability piece, he writes “there are many different individuals, organizations and communities of color, and they will not always agree as to the direction in which antiracist work should go, let alone how white antiracist allies should engage in the struggle. But by listening to as many different voices as possible on these matters, and by forging real relationship with individuals, organizations and communities of color, it becomes easier to know whose voices are themselves rooted in structures of accountability, and thus, especially important to heed.” He adds that he is “open to change and re-direction when concerns are raised by persons of color or other white allies, as to the helpfulness, tone, focus, or content of my writing.”  I guess we missed the subtext that must say “just kidding”.

Tim adds that “Because people of color are understandably focused on combatting racism as a first-order survival issue, it is somewhat impractical to expect educators of color to focus substantially on the ways that white supremacy also injures whites.” However, Wise seems to believe that the work of people of color may be insufficient in actually fixing racism, since apparently only white people can fix racism. And only in the confines of the educational system. At least Wise takes his own advice of “acknowledge when you screw up, apologize for mistakes, and commit to doing better next time.” Thank you for the heartfelt apology, Tim Wise.

Wise also decides to deny his offenses by talking about how his black friends are cooler and more successful that than Twitter folk.

In Wise’s blog post on playing the friendship card, he says “it seems that everyone who ever says or does something blatantly racist to a black person is quick to wrap themselves in the cloak of their multicolored affinity networks, as if this provided the perfect inoculation against the charge that they were anything less than purely enlightened.” He also says “even if one does have black friends, this doesn’t mean that one is free from racial bias or could never act in such a way as to further racism.” He even says “white folks who are actually committed to that kind of action, and the change it would portend in the larger society, are the white folks who never feel the need to parade their interracial friendships in front of others, while the ones who wear their black and brown friends on their sleeves like trophies are the ones who rarely ever do a damned thing to alter the institutional patterns that subject said friends to myriad injustices.” I would say more, but I think he’s already called himself out.

Next, Wise talks about why he is valued by mainstream media and how it’s the fault of people of color for being ignored by mainstream media.

In Wise’s blog post on crime, race, and the politics of white deflection, he states “That most white folks — and especially those on the right — don’t know this, is simply because they don’t know many if any black people (at least not those who live in black communities), haven’t spent time themselves in those communities, and don’t read or listen to black media, where not only are such issues covered, but the efforts made by people in the community to address those problems are also highlighted; unlike in the “mainstream” (read: white) press, where they are usually ignored.” Therefore, we need Tim Wise to say all the things black people have been saying for decades, since he actually gets heard. Also, privilege means having undeserved representation and access, meaning it is not out of reason to ask that more room be made for people of color to speak about the racism they experience.


Then Wise gives a shout out to his piece on personal responsibility of white folks, in which he states “white men were nearly twice as likely as black men to die from an opioid overdose and white women were more then[1] twice as likely to die from such an overdose as black women.” I guess he’s allowed to tell students to overdose then, since it’s pretty likely.

When Wise wrote about the myth of reverse racism, he states that “When a group of people has little or no power over you, they don’t get to define the terms of your existence, they can’t limit your opportunities, and you needn’t worry much about the use of a slur to describe you, since, in all likelihood, the slur is as far as it’s going to go.” Tim proves this truth by letting criticism roll off on him, while using words such as “fool” and “jackass” to refer to black men. In the same article he states “you can’t put white people in their place when they own the place to begin with.” Point taken, oh wise one. 

Not only has Tim authored books and reaped the benefits of his privileged education, he insists we all understand how pedagogy matters, stating in the same blog post that “Within a class system, people compete for “stuff” against others of their same basic economic status. In other words, rich and poor are not competing for the same homes, loans, jobs or even educations to a large extent. Rich compete against rich, working class against working class and poor against poor; and in those competitions — the ones that take place in the real world — racial privilege attaches.” Unless you have some advanced degrees and some sophisticated tactics, Wise will not be able to hear your feedback. I mean, try a little harder to get your critical theories and strategies for systematic change together, people. It’s like we’re all being too lazy to learn.

Gosh, why can’t us darn people of color manage to have deeper conversations? We should be grateful for Tim Wise’s help. Again, in his blog post on the politics of white deflection, he states “I can start drama, and if you respond to the drama I created, you are to blame, not me.” And he certainly proves the validity of his theory when he responds to a twitter hashtag critiquing white feminism and then fails to properly respond to pushback. He is able to escape blame by first stating that twitter is ineffective and hostile, then reaffirms his own self-fulfilling beliefs. Indeed, “whites are rarely typified as pathological, dangerous, lazy or shiftless” and therefore Tim can easily dismiss counterarguments.

Perhaps it’s suffice to say that the internal work of a white anti-racist is never complete, but is instead a continual process. 

[1] “Then” should be “than”, but I’m not white enough to resort to attacks on grammar or perceived intelligence.

26 comments on “Tim Wise, informed by Tim Wise

  1. RH Malaika
    August 16, 2013

    I am not sure why Tim Wise’s skepticism about the effectiveness of tweeting when trying to create social change is perceived as having anything to do with his being “white.” Surely a person can state an opinion about Twitter and activism without being guilty of standing on white privilege. Are you saying that he is not allowed to criticize your methods because he is “white” and male?

    • Benny King
      August 16, 2013

      He’s hardly being critical but rather defensive, whiny, and arrogant. He forgot the most important thing a white ally can do is “shut up and listen”.

  2. Inda Lauryn
    August 16, 2013

    Reblogged this on Corner Store Press and commented:
    I’m just going to leave this here.

  3. americadajoke
    August 16, 2013

    Tim is an insightful and well meaning person. Because we all have quirk (although not in the public space like Tim), this article is suggesting that we look sideways at the brother because of the very same reason that many tend to judge him due his willingness to lend truth to the disenchanted and powerless in America.

    Tim, you rock dude! This from a man of color who has followed your works for a long time. You have earned the right to be as quirky and as off color at times as you want to be. Those who do not understand this, can kiss yo black ass. :)

  4. Suspending Disbelief
    August 16, 2013

    LOVE it when black men tell WoC to shut up and bow down to the likes of Tim Wise. We aren’t allowed to critique “allies” when they reinforce systems of privilege and oppression. Especially if those allies are “well meaning” (intent being magical and all).

    Thanks for the post Suey. Tim Wise is a self-congratulatory blowhard who thinks that he is a Special White Flower above criticism. And boy howdy does it puff him up to have MoC sing his praises and shout down critics on his behalf.

  5. sarahjaneb
    August 16, 2013

    I’m surprised at the comments here. Tim Wise is a disgusting hypocritical jackass, and this is not a new discovery. The juxtaposition of his tweets with the statements taken from his blog just points it out in a way that I’m shocked people are able to deny.

  6. mabaneropepper
    August 16, 2013

    Thank you for documenting this. I am a white woman who was raised to be racist, all the while thinking I was not. I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t get it until I listened to some of TW’s stuff on YouTube. That and being introduced to feminism set me on the path to actually listening to people of color. I have no need of TW now. I have mixed feelings about him, because he does provide a good 101 (hell, maybe a 100 level) intro for obliviously racist white people, and I’m grateful to him for my intro. But he is also a douchebag, which your analysis here shows. And it’s problematic for him to usurp attention. I just don’t know.

    • RH Malaika
      August 17, 2013

      A “former” racist has “mixed feelings” about Tim Wise. Why am I not surprised? Since you are a fan of self-improvement, consider that your use of the term “douchebag” (an implement used to sanitize the vagina) as a pejorative reinforces negative assumptions about the female body. Just saying.

      The uneasiness and complexity of feeling you experience in regard to Wise has probably less to do with any similarity on his part to a sanitary product and more to do with the fact that what Wise has taught you about whiteness is crashing violently against the racial mythologies of your upbringing, and you are not out of the woods yet having only taken the “good 101″ course.

      BTW, if Wise’s wisdom comes across to you as a 100-level intro course, that is only because you have the mind of a first-year student. Wise’s work is Master class, but unfortunately the people who most see him that way do so because they are already active anti-racists.

      • mabaneropepper
        August 17, 2013

        I know that “douchebag” is a controversial term and can be considered anti-woman in the way you describe. It can also mean useless and harmful just like douching is to women, and that’s the way I take it. I try not to use words around people who don’t like them, so I will not use that again here.

        I consider Wise a 100 level course because he’s the spring board to go from “black people can’t be trusted to accurately understand their own experiences and they see unwarranted racism in everything” as I was taught, to listening to black people talk about their own experiences and following their lead in dismantling white supremicism. Once you’ve (general you, not specific you) got that basic point, you graduate to trusting people of color rather than needing the white man to continuously break down why people of color are worth trusting. There are many anti-racists (mostly POC) who don’t appreciate TW’s appropriation of their dialogue, so I’m confused by your last statement.

      • mabaneropepper
        August 17, 2013

        I also want to add that I am not claiming to be a “former” racist. I have been programmed with racist ideology in a racist society, I definitely still find myself thinking and acting in racist ways. The difference now is that I am aware of that fact, open to correction, and actively seeking to improve.

        I was surprised by your comment because I expected someone to scold me for listening to the privileged white man instead of just being able to take POC at their word. I keep re-reading your comment to make sure I understand correctly that you are chastising me on the assumption that I don’t like TW because he challenges my racism. Am I understanding you right?

      • trouble
        August 19, 2013

        you’re an idiot and a mansplainer.
        First – “sanitizing” a vagina is a hideous concept. Douches are either useless or actively destructive to women’s bodies, which don’t need “sanitizing.” Therefore douchebag is a great insult – it’s something created by sexist assumptions about the dirtiness of something completely natural that most women have. you should probably check your medical knowledge before talking about sanitizing inside a person’s body. taking on the concept of “sanitation” reinforces both sexist and racialized ideas about dirt and bodies that you really should try to move on from. just saying.

        also “Master class” nice choice of phrase, bro!

    • Liz
      September 6, 2013

      I just wanted to say that I appreciated your words and do not think you should apologize for honestly locating yourself in this discussion.

      One reason why more white people don’t talk about race is because they think that whatever they say will offend someone. This could be true in some cases but I think participation is better than burying ones head in the sand and ignoring the subject altogether.

  7. time wizard
    August 16, 2013

    anyone remember when tim wise literally wrote this on facebook:

  8. reallytho
    August 16, 2013

    I’m a black women. I think there is an audience that only Tim or white peopele can reach. It comes at a cost to him to do this anti-racist work. Not that we, POC have not been doing this since forever at much greater cost. We have to be real though about what our real challenges are. Tim is a proud academic so in essence all he has is what he “knows” so when when folks call him out on that he will as expected take it personally and fight back. The idea that he should shut up and listen to twitter critiques that come more rapidly from the right than from the left most of the time is naive. With anti-racism either you stand firm or not at all. In the left we seem to think that all criticism is created equal. It is not. And I have been in left organizations where the loudest negative voices were the people who were doing the least. So I feel him on wanting to call people on their complacency while he has to send his daily death threats from Nazis to the FBI. Is he the problem though because he won’t shut up and listen? We have real problems and Tim Wise is not one of them.

    • George Greene
      October 25, 2013

      I am black (I was at UNC when Michael Eric Dyson got sent off for quoting explicit rap lyrics in a commencement speech) and I fully support reallytho’s defense of Tim Wise. Nobody’s perfect. He may have made some errors but I consider them minor in comparison to his contributions. I don’t consider Park’s commentary here to be much of a contribution at all to the African-American struggle.
      I think Robert Skeels’ criticisms of wise below are much more on point, although I don’t agree with him that this “analysis” by Park is even analysis, let alone “brilliant”.

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  10. Unpaid Verbalist (@_Roxie_)
    August 19, 2013

    Tim also said:
    “First, to suggest that white people should not be paid for antiracism work — in whatever realm and field of endeavor, be it writing, speaking, organizing, educating, etc. — implies that entire fields of work should be essentially off limits to a group of people based solely on their racial identity. To the extent few people can afford to work for free, such a prohibition, even if only theoretical (since such a thing can’t be enforced, but is being proposed more as a matter of moral suasion), would all but bar white folks from any kind of antiracism work. And if I really have to explain to people who claim to oppose racism that it is inherently wrong, and by definition racist, to say that certain work should be off limits to certain people solely because of their race, we’re in serious trouble.”

    • b
      September 23, 2013

      why is there even a profession where ppl get paid for antiracist work? where ppl fight each other for paid-speaker spots or tenure positions or grants for doing anti-racist work?

      not defending tim wise in the least–but can we talk about how radical or progressive work has been enveloped, moderated, and pretty much owned by ppl/institutions/foundations that guard the purse strings?

      not saying ppl who are getting paid now should stop getting paid–but why even argue and focus on who gets which crumbs?

  11. verdantsamuel
    August 21, 2013

    Reblogged this on Verdant Handshake.

  12. Pingback: Word to the Wise: Unpacking the White Privilege of Tim Wise » Ewuare X. Osayande

  13. This is brilliant analysis Ms. Park, I thank you and commend you on this. I saw Tim Wise speak in Los Angeles many years ago, and while I understood his shtick, there was something a little off about his politics. Years later I saw his attacks on the Occupy movement and was astonished on his vitriol towards the left. Then I saw his tirades against anyone who criticized Obama (eg. @michaeledyson) and was floored by the audacity of him talking down to people of Dr. Dyson’s stature. The last straw for me was Wise’s shilling for the poverty pimps at Teach for America (TFA) and subsequently condescending to Bruce A. Dixon who called him out on it.

    I get that there’s an audience and a niche for Wise’s message, but for me personally, he’s got no credibility. Like BAR’s Dixon says: ‘If this is how “anti-racism education” works – giving cover to organizations and policies that hurt people of color more than anybody else, it might be time to re-think that whole contraption as well.’

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  15. drbanjo
    October 16, 2013

    Wait, I didn’t see the context. Weren’t these rants spurred on by blogger Pascale Roberts’ allegations towards both Michael Eric Dyson and Tim Wise of essentially being ineffective activists and media whores. Also, didn’t BOTH Michael Eric Dyson and Tim Wise boast about what they have done for race and race relations, citing the number of their books. In fact, it was Dyson who first directed the conversation towards academic status, saying that he, wise, and the other woman were published and Pascale wasn’t. I would also like to see a post on Dyson’s tweets. I wonder whether Wise’s whiteness (and somewhat cynical and arrogant flare) work against him, but essentially this was a battle of egos…over who has done what for the black community and while they are bickering among themselves, we continue to be screwed. #sadface

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  17. Quimichipilli
    January 2, 2014

    If one agitates & annoys me, i’m a clown n talk smack too. I think it’s a human thing. Folks be giving others way too much power and automatically assuming victim positions. TW is human bro, he sure aint perfect, neither are you, neither am I.

  18. Andre Daley
    January 22, 2014

    Thank you for exploring this issue on your blog after seeing Mr Wise in person and viewing several of his video I am also concerned about how he appropriates the racial equity and diversity space as a white male. Being an ally involves much more than simply calling out white folks on radicalized behavior. The myth of great sacrifice that he has made to do so can easily be debunked. He as made money from speeches and books that are more readily received by the dominant culture than the work, and direct personal experience of people of color in the diversity space will ever garner. The fact that white folks would listen to him more than any person of color should point is to the ongoing influence of privilege which he uses and cause some concern not celebration. This phenomenon may well account for why so little has changed in terms of racial equity.

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