In the documentary White Like Me, Tim Wise states that American policies are “piting white people and people of color against each other for the spoils of a system that really none of them are directly benefitting from.” Wise’s thesis for this documentary is to highlight racism and privilege in the United States and to demonstrate how that racism negatively impacts white people in the U.S. as well.

The example of welfare and federal social aid programs were used extensively in White Like Me to explain this thesis. Using examples of broadcast media clips and interviews with white Americans, Wise shows that the stereotype of the poor, black American sapping up tax dollars by not getting a job is pervasive and still debated nationally. However, the largest demographic of people on welfare are poor white women and children. This is an effective example for the thesis that racism negatively impacts white Americans too because the highest number of people this racist rhetoric against welfare and other social programs affects is white people.

However, I found this thesis to be contradictory when discussing college. While it is true, as Wise states, that the stereotype for college admissions and scholarship applications is that Black people have a clear advantage, it remains true that white people have a clearly stronger chance of benefitting from the college admissions process or getting a scholarship because they are white. For example, for every one person who “benefits” from Affirmative Action in college, two white students benefit from a Legacy Status because of their parents. Additionally, only 0.25% of US college scholarship funds are earmarked for students of color, meaning that 99.75% of scholarships are available to white students, and most of these scholarships actually are awarded to white students.
Also debating the College-Prep Pipeline and the Prison-Prep Pipeline, Alice Goffman, a TED Talk speaker for “How we’re priming some kids for college – and others for prison,” uses the example of the stark contrast of the heavily endowed, prestigious University of Pennsylvania to the impoverished neighborhood surrounding it, to show how important it is to acknowledge the legacy of exclusion for African American and Latinx communities. She further explains that it costs $40 thousand dollars a year to send one minor to prison in New Jersey, much more than many college tuitions. While Wise does make explicit how the legacy of racism privileges white people, his thesis that white people are negatively affected by this privilege too does not hold up when talking about college and scholarships.

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2 responses »

  1. jasminerussell13 says:

    I agree with you. And to argue further that white people aren’t nearly as negatively affected by their privilege as people of color are, it’s been found that white women–not people of color–actually benefit the most from affirmative action (link below).

    As a white woman who received a full ride to Scripps, this topic especially hits home for me because it forces me to recognize that I am receiving this education for (almost) free instead of someone else, potentially because of affirmative action.

    (This also is even more relevant because of the recent Supreme Court case about Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas.)

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