Book Mini-Review: Trying To Explain The Craziness

Dear White America: Letter To A New Minority.
Tim Wise.
City Lights Books.
190 pp. $14.95.

The South Carolina crowd jumped up, giving Newt Gingrich a standing ovation for beating down Juan Williams. On radio, it sounded like just a reporter being assertive, and an interview subject giving strong pushback in front of an audience. But in tone and in content, everyone knows it was more than that.

Tim Wise has been writing about issues like the above for at least a decade. He has made a career learning about what people of color know and understand about white supremacy, and sharing what he has learned to other whites.  (Since I’ve read James Baldwin”s “Stranger In The Village” and “The Fire Next Time,” I’ve never read—or, frankly, felt the need to read—any of Wise’s books.) In his latest, he cuts to the core of white fears, using his white authority and white privilege to tell other whites that yes, it’s time for you to deal with yourselves and the new American reality you now inhabit. It explains why white conservatives need the 1950s (because the 1960s changed everything), why the “public good” and “Big Government” are no longer good (because they now serve people of color, so working-class whites now feel like losers in the Great Recession) and why whites are so angry about multiculturalism (because the president and the dominant popular culture is Black, which means that, for the first time in America, whiteness to white eyes is now a color instead of being universal).

If you know some ignorant white folks who want to know why the Republicans are tripping over each other trying to be reactionary, this is the book to give them. Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans got this particular memo 160 years ago when Frederick Douglass broke down The Fourth of July.

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