DIVERSITY DIVA

Diversity is too threatening for some

Updated: 2013-09-24T22:22:12Z

By MICHELLE T. JOHNSON

Special to The Star

Tim Wise is a diversity consultant who receives death threats.

In my years of speaking on diversity around the country, writing books about it, even getting into some heated discussions about the topic, I’m grateful to have never received a death threat.

What’s the difference? Tim Wise is white.

Wise writes and speaks out publicly, strongly and passionately about the issues of racism and white privilege.

I’ve never met the man, but Wise says he speaks out as strongly as he does because he thinks that by being white and male, he’s in the best position to be heard about how he sometimes benefits unfairly simply from being white and male.

Of course, when he says this, many accuse him of profiting in and trying to take advantage of white liberal guilt. Some accuse him of promoting the agenda of whites needing to apologize for being white as part of our society of “political correctness.” He’s accused of being a traitor to his race.

I admire Wise because, obviously, I’m not going to get those criticisms hurled at me. A black woman addressing bigotry and racism is downright prosaic.

I’m grateful for the Tim Wises in this world. I appreciate people who can see beyond their personal interests. More importantly, I can applaud anyone who can look at any kind of bigotry and make an honest assessment about the historical and systemic patterns and choices that led to creating it and perpetuating it.

No one ever needs to apologize for who they are and how hard they work to get what they have.

But when I hear any person of privilege (be it race, class or socio-economic status) being irritated and say they are sick of hearing about diversity, I think of Tim Wise. I think of the men and women who say the hard things to the people who don’t want to hear them.

Wise says things strongly because he can. If I publicly spoke in the same way he did about racism, I would be accused of being a race baiter or race hustler or worse.

But if Wise gets through to more white Americans — more people in our society really hear what he says because they trust someone who looks “objective” to them — then I don’t care.

I support whatever ways we have to get to a workplace that is fair and reflective of who this country is.

Carry on Tim Wise, but stay safe.

Send questions to Michelle T. Johnson on Facebook at www.facebook.com/diversitydiva.

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