“As much as we might hope such vitriol would find little fertile ground in which to take root, the evidence suggests hostility to the poor is easily internalized in a culture where such contempt is so common.”
Tim Wise is one of America’s most prolific public intellectuals. His critically acclaimed books, high-profile media interviews, and year-round speaking schedule have established him as an invaluable voice in any discussion on issues of race and multicultural democracy. In Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America, his fourth book with City Lights, Wise’s arguments about a culture of cruelty are intended to empower his readers and call them to action in an attempt to put to death the arising notion that the poor are to blame for their own situations.
Tim Wise sat down with Tavis Smiley recently to discuss some of the issues that are brought up in Under the Affluence, like the glamorization of the elite class, the continual growth of “white anxiety” as a result of affirmative action and other multicultural reformations, the concept that the racial and economic “other” has become intertwined, and much more.
“Don’t misunderstand: a certain degree of inequality between persons is to be expected. We all have different talents and interests, after all; some can sing, some cannot; some are artists, some are not; some simply work harder than others. But the extremes between rich and poor to which we are being exposed today are unlike anything that can be written off to the normal distribution of abilities. It is not the simple fact of inequalities that concerns us, but the extremity of the gap, the shape of those disparities, and their increasing impermeability that should give us pause. There is nothing normal or acceptable about those things, however much we may allow for a reasonable range of talents and rewards based upon them.”
In a second interview about the book on The Laura Flanders Show, Wise elaborates on the necessity for transparency in his role as an activist, especially in recognizing his own advantages with regard to race, gender, sexuality, and the like. He states that in belonging to so many positions of advantage, he and others like him should use these productively to draw others in and empower more voices.
“What motivates most of the world’s population must be something else, something more meaningful, having to do with survival and love and caring for their children and protecting them from the dangers that exist around every turn. Or for artists, musicians, poets, and even parents, for that matter: is it the promise of money and material riches that motivates such persons? You’d best hope not.”
Tim Wise argues that far from any culture of poverty, it is the culture of predatory affluence that deserves the blame for America’s simmering economic and social crises. He documents the increasing contempt for the nation’s poor, and reveals the forces at work to create and perpetuate it. With clarity, passion and eloquence, he demonstrates how America’s myth of personal entitlement based on merit is inextricably linked to pernicious racial bigotry, and he points the way to greater compassion, fairness, and economic justice.
You can find Under the Affluence at citylights.com, as part of our Open Media Series, or ask for it at your local independent bookseller. Tim is very active on Twitter and Facebook and has a massive touring schedule where he delivers speeches and talks across the U.S. His essays, appearances, and more are documented on his official site.