On Friday, March 18, 2016 the Julian Samora Research Institute hosted the acclaimed, anti-racism activist and scholar Tim Wise, who spoke before 150 students and staff members.  Wise is the author of six books, including his celebrated memoir, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, as well as Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority, and Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity.  In his latest book, Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America, released in 2015, he explores the ways by which racism has been central to the development and perpetuation of the nation’s class system.  Further, he demonstrates the importance of challenging the dominant White racial narrative not only to fight racism itself, but also economic and social injustice in society.
Wise’s presentation, titled “Challenging the Culture of Cruelty: Understanding and Defeating Race and Class Inequity in America,” was timely and well received by the audience members.  The topic was especially relevant given the conflictive police-community relations that burst on the national scene in recent years.  A gifted orator, Wise spoke on several dimensions of racism in American, clearly articulating white privilege and providing shocking figures that profiled the social and economic disparities among African Americans, Latinos, and Whites.  For example, he referenced W. E. B. Du Bois’ concept of “psychological wages of whiteness” to highlight the sense of superiority that White Americans feel in relation to Blacks (and other racial minorities), no matter how low their own wages or how poor their own lives are, and how they are complicit in the perpetuation of racism.  Further, according to Wise, African Americans who hold a college degree earn roughly the same income as Whites with a high school diploma, and African American women with a college education tend to have access to healthcare that is inferior to that accessed by White women with a high school diploma.
Other noteworthy topics discussed by Wise were income inequality, persistent poverty, and color-blind racism. He argued that to understand current existing inequalities and racism in America one has to wear historical and social context lenses.  The present is rooted in the past, he argued, as are the configurations of today’s social contexts.  For example, Wise highlighted the history of housing discrimination in the United States and the segregation that characterized the nation’s cities.  More specifically, he spoke about the practice of redlining, which refers to the “method” used by lending institutions to deny African Americans and other residents in selected neighborhoods mortgage loans regardless of their credit history.  The practice involved the use of maps and “clearly marking with red lines neighborhoods where they would not grant mortgage loans.”  He pointed out that the practice of redlining involved the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), which played a significant role in institutionalizing racism in the housing industry, and contributed to today’s residential segregation and economic marginalization patterns which limit where minorities can live and exclude them from opportunities for upward social mobility.
Wise also spoke about the role of big corporations in perpetuating poverty.  He provided the example of Wal-Mart, one of the nation’s most profitable corporations, which generates its profits by paying the large majority of its employees wages that place them below the poverty line and assuming that they will receive government benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to make ends meet.  Wal-Mart employees then turn around and spend their food stamps at Wal-Mart, thereby contributing to the revenues of the corporate giant, which is indirectly “subsidized” by the American taxpayer. Hence, the poor continue living in poverty while the rich reap benefits from government assistance programs and increase their fortunes.
Asked to speak on the protests and riots that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri following the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, on August 9, 2014 by a White police officer, Wise pointed to the need for community self-determination of policing.  The practice would involve a process by which police officers assigned to neighborhoods would be vetted by community members to determine whether or not a particular officer was a fit for the community.  This would help eliminate the “pernicious extrajudicial behaviors” among police officers, especially in relation to young African American males, and would provide many marginalized communities voice and influence in improving policing in their neighborhoods.  
This is necessary, Wise argued, because White Americans tend to blame marginalized communities for their victimization, believing that those persons killed by police must have done something to provoke them.
Wise concluded his presentation by commenting on the dysfunctions of white privilege and how it keeps society from progressing to higher levels of civilization.  Moreover, he argued that the prescription that everyone should adopt a colorblind approach to eradicate racism is silly because we need to become more, not less, conscious of the relationship between race and inequality.  Moreover, because of the structural dimensions of racism, colorblind policies actually worsen the problem of racial injustice in society.  
Wise’s visit was co-sponsored by the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, The Comparative Black History Program, the College of Human Medicine, the College of Veterinary Medicine, International Studies & Programs, and Lyman Briggs College.  Further, it was featured as part of MSU’s 60/50 series which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas, which ended legal segregation in public schools in 1954, and the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which transformed race relations in the public arena.