I keep hearing about the new “post-racial” world, how we’re beyond all that, the past is behind us, and people who keep harping about racism should just get over it.
Wise’s grandmother was what he describes as “a good liberal.” Growing up in Nashville, she forced her father to burn his Klan robes and confronted racist comments wherever she heard them—from friends, family or strangers.
Late in life, his grandmother developed Alzheimer’s disease. As her body and mind shut down, a disturbing thing happened. “She began to refer to her mostly black nurses by the all-too common term, which forms the cornerstone of white America’s racial thinking—Nigger. A word she would never have uttered from conscious thought, but one that remained locked away in her subconscious despite her best intentions and lifelong commitment to standing strong against racism.”
“Here was a woman who no longer could recognize her own children; a woman who had no idea who her husband had been; no clue where she was, what her name was, what year it was-and yet, knew what she had been taught at a very early age to call black people. Once she was no longer capable of resisting this demon, tucked away like a ticking time bomb in the far corners of her mind, it reasserted itself and exploded with a vengeance. She could not remember how to feed herself, for God’s sake. She could not go to the bathroom by herself. She could not recognize a glass of water for what it was. But she could recognize a nigger. America had seen to that–and no disease was going to strip her of that memory. Indeed, it would be one of the last words she would say, before she finally stopped talking at all.”
Wise lectures about racism all over the country and his message is this:
“Those persons called “white” have a particular obligation to fight racism because it is our problem, created in its modern form by us, for the purpose of commanding power over resources and opportunities at the expense of people of color. Furthermore, all whites, irrespective of their liberal attitudes, “tolerance” for others, and decent voting records, have to address the internalized beliefs about white superiority [my emphasis] from which we all suffer. No one is innocent. No one is unaffected by the daily socialization to which we are all subjected—specifically with regard to the way we are taught to think about persons of color in this society: their behaviors, lifestyles, intelligence or beauty.”