Anti-racist speaker Tim Wise fills the Metroplex


Anti-racist activist, Tim Wise, talks about white privilege and the Black Lives Matter vs. the All Lives Matter movements Wednesday night at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex. Wise has spoken in all 50 states and at more than 800 colleges across the nation.

Chance Swaim

Nine people in one house.

One cooks gumbo and leaves it on the stove. Twenty-four hours pass and the smell starts to drift into bedrooms. The other eight people in the house don’t want to clean out the gumbo pot because it’s not their mess. After 36 hours, the stench gets so putrid, someone has to take responsibility.

“If we’re tired of living in the funk — we’re sick of the way it smells — we’ll clean it up,” Tim Wise said.

Wise gave this anecdote about when he lived in New Orleans in the early ’90s as an anti-apartheid activist, but said the terrible smell imposing on everyone’s life now is systemic racism, and it’s time to take responsibility.

Wise, anti-racist activist, essayist and author, spoke to a sellout crowd Wednesday night at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex. Students, faculty, staff, sponsors and the general public filled seats of the auditorium to hear Wise’s speech, titled “Black Lives Matters vs. All Lives Matter & White Privilege.”

Wise didn’t waste time addressing the elephant in the room — the fact that he is a white man who was selected to speak during Black History month.

“I’m getting paid to break things down that a person of color would tell you for free,” Wise said.

Wise likened the concept of white privilege to the blue pill in the Matrix. That is, living in a state of ignorance without knowing it.

“The ‘Black Lives Matters” movement demands recognition of the thing that is being ignored,” Wise said. “No one is saying all lives don’t matter, but to counter with ‘All Lives Matter’ is utterly irrelevant to the current moment.”

Wise spoke about mistrust of police in black communities and institutional racism. He said modern policing is based on early-American slave patrols.

“Law enforcement earned the reputation they have with people of color,” Wise said. “That doesn’t mean every individual officer is a racist, but the institution deserves to be looked at with side-eye.

“People of color don’t trust when white people say, ‘All lives matter,’” Wise said, “because we already told them, ‘All men are created equal’ and we didn’t mean that shit.”

Danielle Johnson, who organized the event, said she chose Wise as the keynote speaker in part because of his knowledge and speaking abilities.

“Right now we are in the midst of a lot of craziness,” Johnson said. “From presidential candidates, to the incident that happened at Mizzou, to what has been going on at Wichita State, Tim Wise is a timely speaker on a timely topic.”

The color of his skin was also a factor in bringing him to WSU.

“We live in a majority white society here in Wichita,” Johnson said. “We are on a predominantly white campus, so who better to hear this message from than someone who looks like the demographic.”

Another of Wise’s strengths that makes him effective as a speaker, Johnson said, is that he doesn’t misappropriate black culture.

“He realizes that he is not black, but he uses his white privilege to really speak to other people. If someone who looks like you tells you something, you’re more apt to listen to them.”  

Johnson said she thinks the university is taking steps in the right direction with race relations, but it’s important to continue to “walk the walk” when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

The true test of progress, Wise said, will be the day a person of color can stand on stage and say the things he says and be taken as seriously as him.

“The thing I’ll take away from this is that everyone has to do something to try to take responsibility and actively do something, even people who didn’t cause the problem,” said Wichita State student Louis Gomez. “That something I hadn’t considered previously.”