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Understanding Whiteness: a Book Review of Tim Wise's 'White Like Me'

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White like me is an analysis and intense examination of racism in the United States of America. This book offers an insight into the life of a white man and how he became aware of his privilege. While exploring other people’s hardships and discriminations because of their skin color, Tim Wise dives deep into the ways in which racial privilege shapes the daily lives of white Americans in every realm. Tim Wise is a husband and father of two daughters. He claims to have been ‘conceived, appropriately, during an act of antiracist protest’ when his parents refused to stay at a hotel when the manger turned away a black traveler. Call it fate or ironic, but this one action by his parents seems to have set Tim’s future for writing this book and reflecting on the white privilege he has had throughout his life.

‘What does it mean to be white in a nation created for the benefit of people like you?’. This question hits the reader with a different perspective on America’s history and how it affects today’s society. The fact is, is that America was founded on white privilege. It is ingrained in our social systems and hard to stray away from, especially if you are white. Having privilege means having access to resources, jobs, and housing. Something that only white people could have during the first century America’s birth. Privilege is also protection from law enforcement and even stereotypes. I can remember in my own early childhood how my history teachers would kind of graze over the actual effects of slavery and how it affected the black community. In chapter 1 of this book, Tim researches his own family’s history to discover his ancestors owned slaves and thought of them as property. In one instance, Tim found a will that talked about how the house slave’s life as an object, just like a house or a calf to be sold if something happened and they needed money. After researching this information, Tim makes a great argument that while some white people make the excuse that the barbarity of enslavement should be judged by the standard of its own time, he will not accept it and finds it horrendous. White Privilege has been internalized which allows whites to believe that ‘this is just the way things are’. Tim makes a point to mention that white people, pacifically white slave owners, ‘had the capacity for rational and moral thoughts…’. Thus, there is no excuse for whites to treat black people the way they did.

In the chapter entitled Awakenings, Tim talks about how racial identity in white people is typically slower than for people of color. ‘As the dominant group in the United States, whites too often have the luxury of remaining behind a veil of ignorance for years, while people of color begin noticing the different ways in which they are viewed early on’. There is a stigma of white denial that happens in America. White denial allows white people to pretend racism doesn’t exist because ‘It does not affect them’. Tim makes it clear that this is a lie that is constantly being believed by white people everywhere. This has become normal for people because the thought process is, ‘If it doesn’t happen to me then it doesn’t happen’. This way of thinking is completely inaccurate. White people who think this have a distorted view of the world. Tim also notes that white people like to protect their image of themselves as good upstanding people even when they are not. There have been times when some whites even claim that they have been more oppressed and discriminated against than black people. These are the same people who complain about affirmative action. Tim also points out throughout the book that whites are considered ‘normal human beings’ while every other person of color is labeled and defined by their appearance or ethnicity.

In the chapter Middle Passage, Tim describes a situation of his father attempted suicide. His father’s mistress had broken up with him after a yearlong relationship and he decided that life was not worth it anymore. After visiting him in the hospital, Tim comes to the conclusion that when white people do not get the things they think they deserve, they think of themselves as failures. ‘To be American and to be white is to be told in a million different ways that the world is your oyster… and yet when one’s achievement falls well short of the aspiration and expectation, what happens?’. Tim describes the difference between white people and people of color. People of color are never told that they can do anything, so their expectations are not as high. He also states that there are more drug problems in the United States of America because of this same expectation. White people feel like they have more to live up to and when they cannot achieve that goal then they turn to drugs and alcohol.

White people can never fully understand what it is like to live as a person of color in America. When white people are faced with racism, they tend to keep silent. As I have learned by reading this book, silence also says something even when we do not say anything at all. It is our responsibility to speak up when we see injustice happening to people of a different color. Tim gives examples of ways to combat racism in modern times. Such as using privilege as a tool to make space for others. Having ‘black friends’ is not enough. As a community, Tim suggests building relationships and actively supporting people of color. We need to strengthen organizations and align our priorities to make it successful. Tim Wise gives his personal account of him working on the governor’s race in 1991. At this time David Duke, a neo-Nazi, anti-conspiracy theorist, far-right politician, convicted felon and former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, ran for the state senate. It was Tim’s job to find evidence and recordings of Duke’s personal business and broadcast it to the people. Tim states that this campaign was a real ‘eye-opener’ for him. ‘One thing I knew at that moment was that it wasn’t the job of people of color to fix us; it was our job’.

The fight against racism has been around for many years, dating back to slavery during the birth of the United States of America. Although we have come a lot further in this fight, we still have a very long way to go. Unfortunately, racism cannot be solved so easily. It will take intense collaboration with different kinds of people to help end racism in this country. Nowadays, with Trump as our president, I feel as though we have not been able to have positive progress as a nation in this fight. Ending racism will benefit many people, not just black people. Americans should want to coexist with their fellow citizens for the sake of the common good. If we continue to do nothing, nothing will improve and our sense of reality will continue to be wrong.

Overall, I found Tim Wise’s book to be very eye-opening. While reading there were some instances where I felt like I could relate to Tim. For example, towards the end of the book, Tim gets on a flight and glances into the cockpit to find that both pilots were black. Since he’s been fighting for the rights of people of color for so many years, you would think that his first thought would be ‘Oh wow, this is so awesome’, but instead it was ‘Oh God, can these two really fly this plane?’. He was quick to dismiss the thought and actually applauded them for pushing past stereotypes and other things being thrown at them in order to become a pilot. He realizes that they are probably more qualified than some white pilots out there. I must admit that I have also had thoughts like this as well. But just like Tim, I was also to push those thoughts away. I think that this s a perfect example of progress towards ending racism. By retracting thoughts and thinking about how other people feel. On the last page, Tim writes ‘I have no idea when (or if) racism will be eradicated. I have no idea whether I say, do, or write will make the least bit of difference in the world. But I say do it, and write it anyway, because as uncertain as the outcome of our resistance may be, the outcome of our silence and inaction is anything but’. In the future, I hope that this nation can come together to defeat the pointless and useless thing that is racism. We can all learn from Tim Wise and become better people. I for one, want to be a part of the solution and will fight for the injustice against people of color.


  1. · Wise, T.J. (2008). White like me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son. Brooklyn, NY: Soft Skull Press

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Understanding Whiteness: A Book Review of Tim Wise’s ‘White Like Me’. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from
“Understanding Whiteness: A Book Review of Tim Wise’s ‘White Like Me’.” GradesFixer, 24 May 2022,
Understanding Whiteness: A Book Review of Tim Wise’s ‘White Like Me’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Jun. 2022].
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