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I’m sorry to have to say that the vast majority of White Americans are racists, either consciously or unconsciously

January 20, 2020

The title to this post is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 speech entitled, Which Way Its Soul Shall Go. The speech was given at the annual American Psychological Association convention in September of 1967, just 6 months before he was assassinated in Memphis.

Dr. King would go on to say:

If the Negro needs social sciences for direction and for self-understanding, the white society is in even more urgent need. White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject. The present crisis arises because although it is historically imperative that our society take the next step to equality, we find ourselves psychologically and socially imprisoned. All too many white Americans are horrified not with conditions of Negro life but with the product of these conditions-the Negro himself.

White America is seeking to keep the walls of segregation substantially intact while the evolution of society and the Negro’s desperation is causing them to crumble. The white majority, unprepared and unwilling to accept radical structural change, is resisting and producing chaos while complaining that if there were no chaos orderly change would come.

These words are not what many of us white people are accustomed to hearing, since we too often prefer to hear kind and affirming words from black people. However, after King had moved his operations to Chicago in 1966, King began to see that the “liberal” north was in fact as deeply committed to White Supremacy as they were in the south.

What Dr. King is telling us in this 1967 speech, is that white people are racists. It’s true, we are racists, whether we are conscious of it or not. We can deny it and we can sit in shame of this fact, or we can accept it and then work towards ending our racism or at least our complicity in racist structures and systems that govern our society more than 50 years after King’s death.

How to Be An Anti-Racist?

First, we must accept the fact that for those of us who are white, we engage in racist behavior and are the beneficiaries of structural racism. Second, we need to come to terms with the fact that the problem with racism is not black people, it’s white people. Think about it this way. The problem with sexism isn’t women, it’s men. However, we often think that sexism is a woman’s problem, since men become the absent referent. Often a headline will say, “Woman is sexually assaulted on campus.” The problem with the way this is framed is that the male perpetrator is completely absent from the headline, thus sexual assault is a woman’s problem.

The same is true with racism. Too often, we think that racism is the black community’s problem, when in fact racism is really the white community’s problem. This doesn’t mean that black people shouldn’t do anything about racism, especially since the black community has taken on the primary responsibility of racism. What we need to do as white people is to acknowledge that racism is our problem and then work to dismantle it.

A third thing white people need to do is to not expect black people to hold our hands and show us how to be anti-racist. White people cannot put that burden on black people and make them responsible for showing us how to be anti-racist. We, white people, have to do the work ourselves, to invest emotionally and intellectually in doing the work to dismantle racism. This doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t learned from the lived experiences or the organic intellectualism of black people. We should read and study and expose ourselves to the rich tradition and history of lack liberation struggles and black resistance.

Fourth, once we have accepted that we, as white people, are racist, that we benefit from structural racism, that we must invest in doing the work of becoming an anti-racist, then we have to actually work to dismantle systemic racism. This doesn’t mean that attending another MLK Day event will get us off the hook. There is a big difference from being seen as an anti-racist and actually doing anti-racist work.

Practicing anti-racist work can look like this:

  • Confronting systemic racism in our neighborhoods by not participating in gentrification and by fighting against those seeking to gentrify.
  • Demanding that our faith community publicly acknowledge that they perpetuate and benefit from systemic racism.
  • By acknowledging that we are living on stolen land and are the beneficiaries of white settler colonialism…..and then doing the work to dismantle white settler colonialism.
  • White people need to give political power to black people……..period.
  • White people need to pay reparations and make the institutions in our society pay reparations for the past and present harm that has been done to the black community.

Notice, that I am not using the words diversity and inclusion when talking about how white people can practice being anti-racist. That is because diversity and inclusion are Neo-Liberal terms used by white people to get black people to think we give a shit about their condition. Remember, Dr. King said, “The white majority, unprepared and unwilling to accept radical structural change, is resisting and producing chaos while complaining that if there were no chaos orderly change would come.”  

To my fellow white people, what are we going to do to practice being anti-racist?



Honoring the legacy and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – Part III

January 16, 2020

In Part I, we looked at some of the more radical and less-known positions that Dr. King had, particularly in the last years of his life. In Part II, we explored one of the systems of oppression that Dr. King challenged, one of the evil triplets,  militarism. 

In Part III, we thought it would be interesting to look at how the local news media reported on the 1963 march on Washington, the murder of the four girls in Alabama and how Dr. King’s death was covered by the Grand Rapids Press. We base this post on articles that have appeared on the Grand Rapids People’s History site, which began in 2011.

The first article looks at how the Grand Rapids Press reported on the Civil Rights marches in Detroit and in Washington DC in the summer of 1963. Dr. King and other leaders decided to do the march in Detroit a few months before going to DC as sort of a test run for what to expect in the nation’s capital.

The GR Press article (on page 5) states that the UAW, the NAACP and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), were all sending people to participate in the historic march. The same article in the also mentions that the AFL-CIO, the Grand Rapids Urban League and the Human Relations Commission (City of Grand Rapids), did not send their members to the historic march in Washington.

One final article from the Grand Rapids Press coverage of the 1963 March on Washington, was written after the marchers had returned from DC. The photo that accompanies the article shows 5 people, 4 with the NAACP and one from the UAW, looking at newspaper coverage of the march.

The article that accompanied the photo, provided some basic reflection from the 5 featured in the article, about what they liked and what they were impressed by. Unfortunately, the article did not reflect any sense of urgency that the marchers had brought to DC that day, not much of a sense of the efforts put into making the march happen or the larger historical context of the 1963 march on Washington. Besides Gary Younge’s book, The Speech, another excellent resource is, Nobody Turn Me Around: A People’s History of the 1963 March on Washington, by Charles Euchner.

There was also an editorial that ran in the Grand Rapids Press about the march on Washington in 1963. The editorial demonstrates what one might call a form of white paternalism

Just weeks after the march on Washington, racists bombed a church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four African American girls. People all across the US were outraged, including in Grand Rapids. This post from the GR People’s History site looks at the march that took place in Grand Rapids, where 3000 people came out to march against the racist violence that had taken place in Alabama, like the family pictured here.

Two things stood out to this writer, when reading that Grand Rapids Press article. First, the Rev. W. L. Patterson, with True Light Baptist Church, made this comment to the white people who marched that day. He said, “You have marched with us today, but please march with us tomorrow because we need jobs and places to live right here in Grand Rapids.”

Patterson’s comment made in clear that what the black community was asking the white community was for them to stand with them in the struggle for economic equality and housing justice, which the black community had been struggling to achieve, based on reports from the Urban League in 1940 and 1947, which we have cited in previous postings

The second comment cited in the article that stood out was a comment from Rev. Hugh Michael Beahan, a Catholic priest. Beahan stated, “Those of us who are accidentally white must be a little careful about our righteous indignation. We should see if our hands are clean – maybe too clean because we never lifted a finger.” Essentially, Beahan was calling out his fellow white community members for not doing anything to fight against segregation, institutionalize racism and white supremacy.

Lastly, it is worth looking at how the Grand Rapids Press reported on Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. There were several reaction from residents in Grand Rapids, one of which stated:

Reggie Gatling, referred to as a black power militant, said, “Members of the black community had a meeting last night and decided we would not give out a public statement that would be reflective of feelings. We’re in mourning for Dr. King, but to say anything further would only give comfort, or possibly discomfort, to white racists.”

In another Press article, “Grand Rapids officials recognized, however, that the situation still was touchy Saturday, and denied a request for a permit to hold a peaceful, silent march in tribute to Dr. King.

Honoring the legacy and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – Part II

January 15, 2020

In Part I, we looked at some of the more radical and less-known positions that Dr. King had, particularly in the last years of his life. In Part II, we want to explore one of the systems of oppression, which he called evil triplets, militarism. 

In King’s 1967 speech at Riverside Church, the speech he gave that laid out his analysis of the US war in Vietnam, the civil rights leader made the important link between justice in our communities and justice abroad. 

Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

The civil rights leader could not reconcile the massive amounts of money the US spent on militarism, while at the same time not making sure that the people living in the US had access to basic rights like housing, education, health care, etc.

As Dr. King stated, he had seven reasons to speak out against the US war in Vietnam. Here is the third reason he gives, one that speaks to the moral bankruptcy of US foreign policy.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

In his Beyond Vietnam speech, Dr. King also demonstrates a sharp understanding of US foreign policy and a great deal of compassion for the Vietnamese people. This sharp analysis of global politics was part of the black liberation tradition, from Frederick Douglass to W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson to Malcolm X, Angela Davis and groups like the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and Black Lives Matter.

Dr. King then brings his critique of the Vietnam war back to how it connects to US domestic policies, particularly economic priorities, by stating:

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Dr. King’s deeply intersectional and passionate analysis of US militarism should provide us with critical aspects of resistance to militarism today. However, if the resistance to militarism does not bring a critique of capitalism, white supremacy and other systems of oppression, we will be ineffective in our efforts to not only resist US militarism, but to be able to work from a solid foundation in order to build a better society.

In Part III, we will look at how the local news media reported on the 1963 march on Washington, the murder of the four girls in Alabama and how Dr. King’s death was covered.

Honoring the legacy and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – Part I

January 14, 2020

I have written numerous articles about the legacy and message of Dr. King over the years and there are a number of great books that have been written by Dr. King and about him. Some of those books can be found at this link

Over the next three days we will be posting a collection of previous writings on the legacy and message of Dr. King. In today’s post we want to provide a window into the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr that is not as widely known. Dr. King was a complex man, one who evolved over time. He was a man that cannot be summed up in phrases or quotes, especially since he was a man that was hated by those with power in the United States.

In this post from 2016, we explore the message and significance of the 1967 speech that Dr. King gave on the Vietnam War at Riverside Church. The speech, entitled, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” was revolutionary on many levels. In this speech, which further marginalized him from the Civil Rights community, Dr. King identified what he called the Evil Triplets – racism, capitalism and militarism. 

This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

In another article from 2016, we look at what Dr. King had to say about poverty and capitalism, themes that he addressed in the years just before he was assassinated. In 1966, Dr. King, along with numerous organizations began a campaign in Chicago to challenge poverty, particularly poverty in the form of housing. King often referred to communities were Blacks lived as slums and he began to organize tenants to fight for rights, particularly through various forms of direct action. One such action was the closing down of the Dan Ryan expressway, where hundreds of people took over the highway and shut down parts of the city in order to make a statement against the violence of slums. Dr. King said that slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of white society.

In this third article, we looked at Dr. King’s message about racism and White Supremacy. In a speech he gave in Canada in 1967. Dr. King stated:

Negroes were outraged by inequality; their ultimate goal was freedom. Most of the white majority were outraged by brutality; their goal was improvement, not freedom nor equality. When Negroes could use public facilities, register and vote in some areas of the South, find token educational advancement, again in token form find new areas of employment, it brought the Negro a sense of achievement, but it brought to the whites a sense of completion. When Negroes assertively moved on to ascend the second rung of the ladder, a firm resistance from the white community developed. This resistance characterized the second phase, which we are now experiencing. In some quarters it was a courteous rejection, in others it was a stinging white backlash. In all quarters unmistakably it was outright resistance. The arresting of the limited forward progress by white resistance revealed the latent racism that was deeply rooted in US society.

In this same article, we look at Dr. King’s message about racism at what that means in Grand Rapids.

Tomorrow, in Part II, we will look more deeply at US militarism, what Dr. King called a demonic, destructive suction tube.

Documentary screenings of the film King in the Wilderness, will raise funds for those who have suffered state violence in Grand Rapids

January 13, 2020

The immigration justice group, GR Rapid Response to ICE, will be hosting two screenings of the powerful documentary, King in the Wilderness in the coming weeks.

King in the Wilderness chronicles the final chapters of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, revealing a conflicted leader who faced an onslaught of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. While the Black Power movement saw his nonviolence as weakness, and President Lyndon B. Johnson saw his anti-Vietnam War speeches as irresponsible, Dr. King’s unyielding belief in peaceful protest became a testing point for a nation on the brink of chaos.

Dr. King’s leadership during the bus boycotts, the sit-ins and the historic Selma to Montgomery marches is now legendary, but much of what happened afterward – during the last three years of his life – is rarely discussed. It’s a time when Dr. King said his dream “turned into a nightmare.” From the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to his assassination in 1968, King remained unshakably committed to nonviolence in the face of an increasingly unstable country.

The two screenings will be held on:

Sunday, January 19 at 3:30pm

All Souls Community Church

2727 Michigan St NE, Grand Rapids


Monday, January 27 at 7pm

Westminster Presbyterian Church

47 Jefferson Ave SE, Grand Rapids

Both screenings are asking for a $5 suggested donation and all the funds raised will go directly to immigrant families that have been impacted by ICE violence. If you are unable to attend, you can still contribute by donating here. Again, 100% of all funds raised will go directly to immigrant families impacted by ICE violence.

The AmplifyGR proposal, conflicts of interest and the value of a Community Benefits Agreement

January 13, 2020

On Thursday, the number of people who came to the GR Planning Commission meeting to weigh in on the DeVos-created AmplifyGR development proposal, spill out into the hallway. In fact, the Planning Commission had to set up a TV on another floor, just so people could hear what was being said during the proceedings.

The Planning Commissioners began with what is standard, asking if there is any potential conflicts of interest with the commissioners. One commissioner, Zack Verhulst, said that his father works for Rockford Construction. Another commissioner asked if he had talked to his father about this project and the commissioner said, no. No one on the Planning Commission had any further questions and it was then decided that there was no conflict of interest.

What those in attendance of the GR Planning Commission Public Hearing might not have known is that Rockford Construction, along with the DeVos Foundation, had begun the process of buying up properties in 2015 (spending roughly $10 million) without the knowledge of residents in the Boston Square area, until AmplifyGR went public in the 2017.

As to the conflict of interest, the planning commissioner was not only related someone with Rockford Construction, the person in question is Mike Verhulst, who is the Vice President of Rockford Construction. Rockford Construction stands to profit handsomely, if the City of Grand Rapids approves the project. Rockford Construction’s CEO, Mike VanGessel, was present at the GR Planning Commission meeting as well, although none of the news media mentioned this and they completely ignored the potential conflict of interest with Planning Commissioner Zack Verhulst.

Some of the news media did report that there were people in support of the project, as well as detractors. This writer counted 12 people who spoke in favor of the project and 8 people who voiced opposition. Those opposing the project brought up issues of displacement and gentrification, but the most consistent comment was to ask the Planning Commissioners to hold off on making a decision, since many people felt like there were too many unanswered questions about the project, or that too many residents in the surrounding area had not been engaged in the process. The public comment period was messy at times, even uncomfortable, but democracy is often messy, especially when people could only have three minutes to express themselves. 

There were also several supporters of the project who used the argument that those who aren’t from the neighborhood should either not have a say or that some of the anti-AmplifyGR voices were the loudest. It is difficult to determine who the “loud” anti-AmplifyGR voices are, since they haven’t really been reported on in the news media. In contrast, I would argue that the loudest voices in this entire process are the ones with the most power, the DeVos/Rockford Construction/AmplifyGR voices. They are the ones who have engaged in a massive land grab in the area and they are the ones who have dictated the process from 2015 until now.

On the issue of not allowing people who are not from the neighborhood to have a say in this process, it is instructive that it is rarely acknowledged that DeVos and Rockford Construction are not from the neighborhood either. I do think that what happens in the Boston Square area and in Southtown in general, should be decided primarily by those who live in that area. I have stated this repeatedly in recent posts, but I also think that there are other ways for the residents of the Boston Square area to get what they want without subjecting themselves to the dictates of the private sector

However, those who presented from the AmplifyGR team made it clear that they would be seeking state funding for the housing projects they wish to develop in the Boston Square area. If they are seeking to use public money (likely millions by the time the project is completed), then it seems reasonable that the public should have a say in how their tax dollars will be used to support projects like the AmplifyGR development proposal. To argue that the public should not have a say in how public dollars are used is just another form of Neo-liberal capitalism, which essentially give primacy to the private sector.

In reading much of the commentary on the AmplifyGR proposal on social media, one suggestion that keeps coming up is that those who live in the Boston Square area should seeking a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). For people who live in neighborhoods where development projects are being proposed, a CBA is a way for people to leverage their collective power to get certain things/agreements in the process. This link provides some clear examples of what a Community Benefits Agreements could look like.

A Community Benefits Agreement might be the best possible outcome for those who live in the Boston Square area, but the proposed development from the DeVos-created AmplifyGR still has to get approval from the Grand Rapids City Commission. It does seem likely that the GR City Commission will support the proposal, especially with recent news coverage around the lack of investment in the southeast part of Grand Rapids. We will continue to follow this story as it unfolds and let people know when the AmplifyGR proposal goes before the City Commission.

What about Reparations for the Boston Square neighborhood?

January 8, 2020

(What follows is a letter I sent to the GR Planning Commission in response to the DeVos-created AmplifyGR proposal.)

I am writing to you today to urge you to not approve the development proposal from AmplifyGR. My objections to the AmplifyGR 9-acre proposal for the Boston Square neighborhood are as follows:

First, do we really want to allow the most powerful family in West Michigan, the DeVos family, dictating development projects in neighborhoods throughout this city? So few people can spend more than $10 million to purchase the land they did in the Boston Square neighborhood. They purchased this land in 2015, but residents of that neighborhood did not find out about it until they went public with the non-profit they created in 2017, AmplifyGR. For all their talk about this proposal being led by community input, the DeVos-created AmplifyGR staff fail to acknowledge that the community had no say in their land grab in 2015. This is an important point I believe, since it means that the acquisition of $10 million worth of property in the Boston Square neighborhood puts the DeVos family in a position of power over the residents of that neighborhood. There is no equity or justice when one family can own this much property and then claim that they want to do right by the residents of the Boston Square neighborhood.

Second, another important point about the DeVos family is that they are worth billions. Their collective net worth is not easy to determine, but based on public documentation their collective worth is an estimate $10 billion. Of course, much of their family wealth was created through the Amway Corporation, which recruits individuals with a get rich quick message that is really nothing more than a pyramid scheme, where a few people at the top get rich off the work of others. See Stephen Butterfield’s book, Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise.

Third, the DeVos family also uses their wealth to influence public policy, at the federal, state and local level, primarily by contributing to candidates who will further their policy agenda in Kent County, in Lansing and in DC. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the DeVos family has contributed over $100 million to politicians since 1999. The politicians that the DeVos family has contributed to have consistently done the following:

  • Keep minimum wages well below what people can actually live off of.
  • Undermine and attack labor unions.
  • Making tax laws to favor the super rich, while punishing working class families.
  • Making Michigan a Right to Work State.
  • Supporting politicians that voted for the deregulation of industries like banking.
  • Supporting politicians who voted for bailing out Wall Street.
  • Getting school districts to no longer be financially responsible for public teacher pensions. They are attempting to do the same to public sector/government employees in the State of Michigan right now.
  • Pressuring local municipalities to provide massive subsidies to developers, which is means transfer public money over to companies like Rockford Construction.
  • Pushing for the privatization of public services.
  • Attacking public education in favor of Charter and other Private School systems.

All of this is to say that the billionaire class, like the DeVos family, has contributed significantly to creating a massive wealth gap in Grand Rapids. Now, they want to come to a neighborhood that has experienced tremendous poverty and disinvestment, which the DeVos family contributed to, all so they can play the savior role.

I understand what it is like to live in a neighborhood that has experienced disinvestment and structural racism. I lived in the Forgotten Corner Neighborhood on the near Southeast side of Grand Rapids for 27 years. I saw what happen to my neighborhood that has now been completely gentrified. The residents of the Boston Square neighborhood deserve to have better and affordable housing. The residents of the Boston Square neighborhood deserve to live in a community that is free of crime and free of predatory landlords. The residents of the Boston Square neighborhood could have all of that and more.


Instead, I would propose something that would give the residents of the Boston Square neighborhood what they deserve AND remove the DeVos family from having any influence over the future of that neighborhood. The $10 million that DeVos/Rockford Construction has spent on land in the Boston Square area could be given directly to the people who live in that neighborhood, in a Community Land Trust or however the people who live there decide. In addition, the DeVos family could give an additional $20 million to the residents of the Boston Square neighborhood, money that has been taken out of the neighborhood over decades by the very same policies that the DeVos family has benefitted from. What I am suggesting is that the DeVos family pay reparations ($30 million) for the financial harm they have caused in neighborhoods like the Boston Square neighborhood. This would not only give those residents complete and total control over their future, it would fulfill an element of justice for communities who have historically been disenfranchised by white collar theft and institutionalized racism. Once the reparations are paid, AmplifyGR could dissolve, especially since the residents of the Boston Square neighborhood won’t have any need for such an entity.