Regarding anti-racism activist Tim Wise’s appearance before 600 people at USF (Foghorn, March 21, 2013), it’s hard to believe that most of the students in that crowd were not “encouraged” to attend by faculty, either as a class assignment or for extra credit. Why would white students of their own free will wish to go hear someone berate them for their alleged racial privilege? I could imagine Wise’s presentation would make students of color feel uncomfortable too. And how about those students who don’t identify so readily with either category?
In my 24 years of teaching at USF, I have noticed that most students, regardless of race, work hard to do well in school, many hold down jobs at the same time, and a very large number will go into debt in order to finance their educations. These are traits that students can be proud of in themselves. Pride, not guilt, offers the healthiest foundation on which to form solid friendships and work relationships, and that goes for relationships across racial lines or within them.
Thanks to the successes of the civil rights movement, we are all lucky enough to be living in a new era – for the past forty years – in which the vicious racial divides of America’s past are no longer powerful. Among the young in northern California and especially in the Bay Area, racial advantages in themselves are practically nonexistent. What does divide people are disparities in wealth, which include the residual effects of discrimination on past generations. But the antidote to that continuing problem is certainly not the cultivation of white racial guilt but a common effort by all to remove the economic and educational impediments to equal opportunity.
The great nineteenth-century African-American activist Frederick Douglass, whose second marriage was with a white woman at a time when interracial marriage was illegal in most states, used to paraphrase in many of his speeches the stirring Biblical words from Acts 17:26: that God had made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth. If Douglass could maintain this wonderful, integrationist vision in the midst of some of the darkest days for African Americans, surely we can do the same when racism is practically dead.