White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son

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If you are tired of all the literature these days exhorting us to “multiculturalism,” then you might be interested in a new book by Tim Wise. White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son is a fabulous collection of essays by a privileged, White guy from the USA. Wise doesn’t play around with all the fashionable “healing racism” workshop approach to challenging White Supremacy, he continues to confront his own privilege and what that means for those of us who care about racial justice.

Wise himself comes out of the 80’s anti-apartheid movement where he became sort of a national figure, but instead of taking advantage of this notoriety he has continued to do the hard work of looking at the layers of White privilege within his own life. Wise tells stories about how he has been challenged at speaking events, by family members, by fellow activists and how this has contributed to the maturing of his own sense of self and this systemic problem we call racism.

Instead of coming across with easy answers to fighting racism, instead of providing us with a simple formula, or even lessons in diversity, Wise takes an honest approach. He never says if we do this we will end racism. In fact, in the end of the book, in the section titled “Redemption,” Wise admits that we will never overcome racism, not entirely. It is a constant struggle, a commitment to never giving up the fight. Wise doesn’t see this as a cause for pessimism, rather a realization that there is “redemption in struggle.” And this redemption he speaks of is not just for ourselves but for those who come after us. As the great Black writer James Baldwin wrote, “One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.” For anyone who acknowledges the fact that all struggles for justice involve an honest self evaluation, then this book is essential reading.

Tim Wise, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, (Soft Skull Press, 2005).

Media Watch: The GRPD, the Minority Community, and Violence

Over the last few weeks, the Grand Rapids Press and the local corporate TV news stations have been reporting on strained relations between the Grand Rapids Police Department and the public, particularly the African American community. Last month GRPD Chief Harry Dolan publicly noted that in 2004, every homicide in Grand Rapids involved a minority perpetrator, victim, or both. Dolan angered many in the community by suggesting that African American community leaders should focus more on stopping “black on black” crime rather than complaining of racial profiling by the GRPD.

This past Wednesday, the community had a chance to tell the city’s Community Relations Commission about the behavior of the GRPD. Many people, particularly from the minority community, spoke about instances of abuse and brutality by the GRPD. The GR Press ran an article on Thursday laying out some of the complaints voiced at the hearing. As is usual in mainstream reporting on these issues, police chief Dolan is given the last word in the article. The next day, the GR Press ran an article that was very sympathetic to the GRPD, containing multiple quotes from GRPD members and the city commission, but no voices from the community. While the Chief Dolan reiterated that “this is not a department that uses excessive force”, an indication of how seriously the GRPD took the citizen’s complaints could be found in the comments of GRPD officer Ed Hillyer, president of the Police Officer Labor Council:

“This type of a meeting is a joke. You’re asking for people to complain,” Hillyer said. “Every one of our officers knew this was going to be a b—-session. Let them b—-, and we’ll go out and do our job professionally. We knew exactly what was coming this time and there’s no way to satisfy everyone.

“What we’re wondering is when will there be a forum for people who’ve had positive experiences and can praise what we’re doing here?”

On a more positive note, the GR Press ran a thought-provoking guest editorial from Randy Flood of the Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan. In his essay, Flood points out that rather than focusing on the race of all the homicide perpetrators in Grand Rapids, it would be more useful to focus on their gender. In Grand Rapids, as in the rest of the nation, the vast majority of violence is perpetrated by men, and Flood argues that it is male socialization, more than race or class that determines an individual’s propensity for violence.

White Supremacist National Alliance Again Distributing Leaflets in West Michigan

The white supremacist group, the National Alliance, is once again distributing leaflets (previous Media Mouse update on the National Alliance) in the West Michigan area according to reports in the corporate press. In a post on the web site for the National Vanguard, the National Alliance’s magazine, National Alliance members in Michigan reveal that they are emboldened by WOOD TV 8’s coverage of the leafleting. They claim that the report by “a Jewish television reporter name ‘Jam Sarder'” showed a “distinctly unappealing White women apparently involved in multiple interracial relationships” while conveying their message of white purity and detailing how they favor “a proud White America.”

Despite considerable infighting within the group and a membership of only 1,000, the National Alliance has been fairly active in the past year promoting “white rights” and the supremacy of the white race. Throughout the mid-1990s Michigan had considerable National Alliance activity and it seems to be picking up over the past year, with leafleting and even “organizing” meetings being held in Michigan.

The group is currently planning for its annual “Love Your Race” outreach campaign in conjunction with Valentine’s Day with chapters planning to distribute leaflets between now and February 16. Based on information obtained about last year’s leafleting, it seems to be carried out by a small number of people who travel throughout the state, likely based in one of the three cities with National Alliance chapters:

  • Detroit – 734-786-7603
  • Saginaw – 989-776-0745
  • Traverse City – 231-922-1989

We urge people to act to stop the National Alliance.

Martin Luther King Day in Grand Rapids

Today is the official annual celebration of the life and work of Rev. Martin Luther King. Or at least the sanitized version of it. What is regularly left out of the various public events and corporate news stories commemorating King’s Legacy is his strong denunciation of militarism and U.S. imperialism. Instead King has been reduced to being the government sanctioned official symbol of the civil rights movement, a particularly ironic twist considering that there is plenty of evidence linking parts of the national security apparatus to Kings’ assassination. Across the country today thousands of lectures about civil rights and the value of personal perseverance will be given, all of them having the word “dream” somehow incorporated into the title. What tends to be overlooked in all these speeches, events, marches and rallies is that King did much more than have a dream. He had a vision and a plan for social change and, most importantly, he was willing to put in the hard work and take the personal risk necessary to see that change happen. He also was able to recognize the nature of American Empire and relate how it linked to issues of racism and poverty. One of the finest examples of this is King’s 1967 speech at Riverside Church in New York City (audio recording here). Replace “Vietnam” with “Iraq” and the speech reads almost the same, the parallels between then and now being eerily similar.

In Grand Rapids the removal of any real revolutionaly meaning to Martin Luther King’s legacy is best exemplified by the fact that the afternoon MLK day youth parade is lead by the junior ROTC and a military recruiter. A small group of local activists flyered the students in the youth march today about the connections between race, war, and military recruiting. The students were very interested in the flyers although the activists recieved a number of dissapproving glances from the supervising teachers.

Celebrating Genocide: National Columbus Day Holiday

Today marks the annual observance of “Columbus day”, a national holiday where the nation celebrates the “great navigator” Christopher Columbus. What is usually overlooked on this day is that aside from being a “simple seaman” who discovered a “new world” by accident, Columbus was the first in a long line of European exploiters who stole the wealth of the Americas while destroying the ingenious population and enslaving Africans for profit.

Yesterday in Denver, over 200 American Indian Movement members and their allies were arrested in a principled act of civil resistance to the “Convoy of Conquest” (aka: Columbus Day Parade). Stating that the “Convoy is a celebration of genocide against the indigenous peoples of the Americas”, the protestors blocked the parade route for over an hour. Despite the fact that their protest was non-violent and morally justified, the protestors were eventually arrested on charges of loitering and disobeying police orders.

Corporate Media Ignores Event Highlighting Immigrant Rights

Rally Photo

Dozens of people assembled at St. Francis Church Thursday morning for an event titled “Fasting for an Education, Fasting for a DREAM.” The event, organized by Michigan Organizing Project of Grand Rapids and Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), called attention to the inaction by Congress on the DREAM Act, a proposed piece of legislation allowing children of immigrants greater access to higher education. The 10:00 am ceremony, featuring immigrant students, parents, organizers, religious leaders, and Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, marked the beginning of a two-day fast. Mayor Heartwell spoke briefly about the need for equal rights for immigrants and concluded his remarks by chastising the local corporate media for not covering the morning’s proceedings. Following the presentation the attendees marched one half-mile from St. Francis to City Hope Ministries, wearing red armbands. After reaching City Hope Ministries the participants will fast until the closing ceremony tomorrow, September 24 at 4:00pm.

Division to Receive Commemorative Designation in Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Grand Rapids Press reported today that Division Avenue will receive a “commemorative designation” in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. The Grand Rapids City Commission voted unanimously for the designation, ending a debate that had been ongoing since March when the GR City Commission voted against renaming Franklin Street in honor of King. While many in the community, including Media Mouse, would have preferred to see a full renaming of a street to commemorate King, it is perhaps time to end this debate and refocus on ways to address racism in Grand Rapids in a more concrete way than a relatively symbolic measure like a street renaming.

One issue that West Michigan activists should be aware of is the possibility of disenfranchisement of African American voters this November. Like Florida in 2000, Michigan is a swing state with a large number of electoral votes. Also like Florida in 2000, our Secretary of State Teri Land, who is in charge of Michigan elections, is the head of the state Bush re-election campaign. Kathleen Harris, the Florida Secretary of state in 2000, was able to effectively disenfranchise thousands of African American voters in 2000. Could the same happen in Michigan? Two weeks ago State Rep. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, was quoted in July 16 editions of the Detroit Free Press as saying, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.” Given the racial makeup of Detroit, it is not hard to discern which ethnic group the Representative is referring to here.

Four-Hundred March for Immigrant Rights in Grand Rapids

Approximately 400 people participated a march for immigrant rights organized by The Michigan Organizing Project today in downtown Grand Rapids.

march for immigrant rights photo

Approximately 400 people participated a march for immigrant rights organized by The Michigan Organizing Project today in downtown Grand Rapids. The nearly two-mile march route cut straight through downtown, closing off Division Avenue, the major north-south thoroughfare in Grand Rapids.

Marchers demanded equal treatment for immigrants–pointing out that the rights granted to people in the United States must apply to everyone if they are to have any value. Speakers at a post-march rally called for the passage of the DREAM Act, a piece of federal legislation that would give undocumented high school students the opportunity to become citizens and pursue a college education. Among the speakers was Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell who gave a passionate speech declaring that “we are all immigrants” and giving his support for equal rights for all people.

Early reports from the corporate media are predictably bad, with WZZM 13 reporting that “dozens” participated in the march and avoiding any specifics as to why people were in the streets.

Media Mouse Coverage:

Michigan Civil Rights Initiative Drawing Criticism

The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), a petition drive for a ballot initiative that would change the state constitution to prohibit affirmative action, is drawing criticism from a variety of sources.

The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), a petition drive for a ballot initiative that would change the state constitution to prohibit affirmative action, is drawing criticism from a variety of sources. The proposed change to the state constitution borrows and adapts language from the 1964 Civil Rights Act and makes it illegal to “discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting”–language that will effectively outlaw affirmative action programs in Michigan without ever mentioning the words “affirmative action.” Critics claim that basing the language on past civil rights legislation is an affront to that movement’s legacy and that by using “civil rights” in the title, many voters have signed the petition without being fully aware of its goal. Grand Rapids mayor George Heartwell has called the petition an “anti-civil rights initiative.”

The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action & Integration and Fight Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) a national group with chapters in Michigan, the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, and United for Equality and Affirmative Action have filed a lawsuit to stop the petition arguing that it is “a conscious act of deception” and that “they present themselves as civil rights petitions when they are in reality an anti-civil rights amendment to the Michigan Constitution.”

The petition is being bankrolled by Ward Connerly who has pledged to bring similar initiatives to a variety of states after successfully helping to pass California’s Proposition 209 which banned affirmative action programs in hiring, contracting, and public school admissions and a similar Initiative 200 in Washington state. Connerly earns approximately $400,000 per year as chairperson for the American Civil Rights Institute and the American Civil Rights Coalition (more on his funding), two conservative groups opposing affirmative action efforts around the country. Joining Connerly on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative is Jennifer Grantz as Executive Director, who was a plaintiff in a US Supreme Court case challenging affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan.