A second point Wise made, in both his evening presentation and in his discussion with the faculty, was the role of objective reality when discussing race relations or race-based inequity.
Wise admits that today, in 2010, there may be some disagreement about if America has achieved racial equality. That is, many whites (and, of course, some blacks) might look around at modern America and conclude that the field of equal opportunity has been successfully leveled. America has no problem with race or racial inequality.
Many in the black community disagree with this assessment. So the question is raised, which view of America is more accurate? Is America fair or unfair?
Of course, the answer has to be based on more than mere opinion. The facts on the ground will need to have the final say. Are people of color treated differently when they apply for home or business loans? What is the median-income for black college graduates compared to white college graduates? Can blacks marry whites without social stigma? And so forth.
But before considering the objective data Wise asks us adopt a historical perspective. Specifically, he asks us to evaluate race relations in 1962, before any of the important Civil Rights legislation had been passed. Was America fair and equal in 1962? Obviously, looking back at the Jim Crow South reasonable people easily see that America was unjust and unfair in 1962. This seems beyond controversy. And yet, Wise asks us to consider the Gallup polling data in 1962. How did Americans in 1962 view their racial situation? For example, in 1962, a year before Birmingham police turned fire hoses and dogs upon the children of Birmingham, Gallop asked the following question:
In general, do you think that black children have as good a chance as white children in your community to get a good education, or don't you think they have as good a chance?In 1962, 83% of Americans said that black children had "as good a chance" as white children. And please note that even my own school, Abilene Christian University, hadn't yet been racially integrated in 1962!
In short, white Americans in 1962 looked around and saw no racial inequality. This despite our 2010 assessment that 1962 America was a racially unjust society.
The point, obviously, is that whenever racism exists, even objectively so as in 1962 America, privileged groups cannot see it. So it makes you wonder, if 1962 America couldn't see that kind of segregation as racist how is 2010 America going to see subtler forms of racism?
In short, although we do need to consider the objective evidence regarding white privilege in America there is an important sense in which objective reality doesn't matter. And it has never mattered. In fact, during slavery white America thought the slaves had it "good." Even the objective realities of slavery failed to register on the moral consciousness of America. So how are we to believe that data on median family income is going to register on 2010 America as it evaluates its racial situation?
Basically, privileged groups engage in a form of denial. And this fact is beyond dispute. Any reasonable examination of the historical record supports this conclusion. Privileged groups cannot see their own privilege. White America has always felt--during the era of slavery and during 1962 America--that the race problem was illusory and a non-issue.
The point is, no assessment of objective reality is going to be persuasive until the privileged group comes to terms with its own tendency for self-deception.