Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (January 1998)
From October through December, the Grand Rapids Magazine provided us with a look at how arrogant and candid rich white people can be. Not that this was the intention of the local glossy mag, rather it was the outcome of their organized chat group of privileged people from the area who came to discuss racism in Grand Rapids.
The “dialogue” took place in June and consisted of 5 white folks, 2 black people, 6 men, and one woman. All seven people represent significantly privileged economic sectors of the community: Peter Cook – Chairman of Mazda Great lakes; Stephen Drew – partner with Drew, Cooper & Anding; Tom Regis Regis Reality; Diana Sieger – President of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation; Dan West – GRPS Board of Education; Casey Wondergem – Amway Senior Public Affairs Counsel; and Bob Woodrick – Chairman of D&W.
It would be relevant to the discussion here to note some of the other connections that members of this dialogue group have in the area. Casey Wondergem is a member of the Downtown Development Authority, the non-elected body of rich, white men, that use tax payers money for “development” projects in downtown Grand Rapids. Peter Cook, according to Russ Bellant’s book The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, is very active in religious right activities. He is part director of Gospel Films Inc. in Muskegon, a media forum that promotes religious intolerance and political theocracy. Cook also is a major donor to TEACH Michigan, an anti-public schools organization, Campus Crusade, Focus on the Family, the right-wing Media Research Center, Michigan Family Forum, and the Acton Institute.
Having said all that it is not my intention to dissect the text of the “racism dialogue,” instead I only wanted to mention some of the things said and encourage our readers to get a copy of the October, November, and December issues of the Grand Rapids Magazine.
All of the white members of the panel, except Bob Woodrick, either down-played racism in Grand Rapids or simply denied that it existed at all. Peter Cook said, “I hate to say this, but most of the racist comments I hear come from the black community against the white community.” Tom Regis scapegoated Sidney Rhoads Jr. (who does a show on GRTV) for creating negativism in the community. Sidney apparently said that blacks feel cheated because they created the wealth in this country that the whites have. It would seem that Mr. Regis doesn’t think that history has anything to do with our present situation.
Casey Wondergem probably topped them all in ridiculousness with a comment that I thought was no longer tolerable in most common sense circles. He said “some of my best friends are African Americans.” After picking myself up off the floor from laughter, I came to my senses and saw that what the whole discussion was revolving around was not really racism, but classism.
While both West and Drew contributed the more intelligible comments, neither of them questioned the economic inequity that exists in our community, nor that most people of color are disproportionately poor in this community. Tom Regis’s idea of the community coming along way was the example of Casey Wondergem arranging a party at the University Club with Dutch and non-Dutch people. Radical indeed.
Reading this discussion made me realize even more how out of touch with reality people in power are. Their words were self-indicting as to their ignorance, indifference, and complicity in creating and maintaining structures that exploit and exclude people in this community.
Everyone needs to read this series of articles. Make copies and pass them on to friends. Let’s start our own discussion groups and submit the results to Grand Rapids Magazine or suggest real people in the trenches to be part of another discussion group for their mag. Maybe FUN will organize one for the next issue. Who do you think should take part.