Saturday, December 21, 2013

On playing the race card

I'm not above playing the race card.

I'm a kid who was brought up in a white, Dutch church in Muskegon, with all white friends and relatives. In addition to the N word, we also heard numerous other titles for people of color. And all this from Christian folk who thought that somehow they were more righteous than those with a different skin. Nothing wrong with using words like that. Perhaps these weren't children of God after all.

It has taken me a long time to get here. But there's no turning back now, after people in my life like the Rev. Cy Young, who had memorized all of Martin Luther King's speeches (who my kids called “Uncle Cy”); Alma Perry, one of the finest and most devout gospel singers to make an appearance in my life (who sang a new song to me in her inner-city kitchen); and then Maurice Carter, my hero and my brother, who served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. I easily place these names at the top of a list of people who made a huge influence in my life.

A couple of prison visitation issues steered my thoughts once again toward our treatment of people of color.

I told a story in an earlier column about an old black preacher who came to visit his son in prison. He had traveled a long way, but upon his check-in, discovered that he didn't have his driver's license with him...no picture ID. The prison people all knew him...he had been there many times before. He had credit cards and other forms of ID. He was not allowed to visit his son. Might have been his last time. Not a problem for the white guard at the desk. Rules are rules.

This week a member of our Board of Directors went to Ypsilanti to visit some women prisoners who are among our friends. The delay in processing visitors was maddening, and she waited 2 ½ hours just to make her first visit. Judy is healthy, and had the time, but it still was unpleasant.

Not to be confused with an elderly African American woman in bad health who came to visit her daughter for the holidays...perhaps for the last time. She was accompanied by another daughter. She waited for over two hours, then had to go home without seeing her child...she couldn't hang on any longer. Judy saw the mother weeping...saw the daughter in the visitor room weeping. Not a problem for those at the desk.

I know that it happens to white people, too.

But somehow, with blacks, I'm not sure everyone feels that it matters all that much.

In Christ there is no east or west.

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