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Prominent anti-racist author and speaker Tim Wise spoke about the continuing reality of racism in the United States to an audience of more than 700 students at Sacramento State University Wednesday.
Wise opened his lecture, "Colorblindness and its Consequences: How Ignoring Race Deepens the Racial Divide," with a personal story. He told the audience about when he lived with nine guys in Louisiana and one of his roommates made a pot of gumbo but never cleaned it up. Wise said the gumbo sat on the oven burner for more than a day and a half before the mess and smell compelled him to clean.
"It didn't matter that I didn't make the mess. The only thing that mattered was that I didn't want to live in that funk anymore," he said, using that example to tell students that even though they didn't help create the legacy of racism in society, it is their responsibility to help clean it up.
"This legacy lives today," Wise added. "It is one we must confront on a daily basis."
Wise pointed out, as an example, that the majority of CEOs of top companies are white men, who he then criticized for losing billions of dollars over the last few years.
"It would take half a millennium for black and brown folk to steal that much damn money!" Wise joked before adding, "But we're more afraid of a black guy crossing the street in a hoodie than we are of rich white men driving around in their Lexuses."
Throughout the rest of his lecture, Wise used stories, facts and statistics to make his point that racism is still alive in our society. He said the government, not the free market, helped create the middle class through the Homestead Act of 1862 and FHA loans from the '30s through '60s.
"The government has never been small for white Americans," he said.
Wise said that racial discrimination has made it harder for black and Latino people to get a jobs. He cited a statistic that said that a black person with a college degree is twice as likely as a white person to be out of work, and for Latinos, is almost two thirds as likely.
"For some people," he said, "double-digit unemployment ain't new."
Wise told the students that by being aware of the prejudice, they can more easily fight it. He was given a standing ovation after he finished and was available to sign books for the students who enjoyed his lecture.
"He really spoke to one of our big problems today," said English graduate student Lee Lee. "We're in denial about racism even though it affects us all."
Cosumnes River College student Kendall Gums brought his grandmother to the lecture, and he said he loved Tim Wise and his message.
"He's really in tune with the depth of society's prejudice." he said. "It's really excellent what he does."