The narrative of Grand Rapids is one of White Supremacy: Sponsored by Start Garden
It is common place to see sponsored messages show up in your Facebook feed. People, most often with economic privilege, will pay to spread their message beyond their friend-base.
The other day I saw a sponsored message from the local venture capitalism entity started by Rick DeVos, Start Garden. The sponsored message, shown here, was a posting from the tech-business, SalesPad.
The sponsored message was a blog posting from SalesPad entitled, 5 Reasons to Move or Expand Your Business in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Let’s take a look at the 5 reasons and see what kind of narrative they have created about Grand Rapids.
1. Constant Growth
The narrative begins with a focus on growth, specifically economic growth, by saying, “Grand Rapids is the ninth “fastest growing economy in the US.” The source for such a claim is an MLive story from January of 2015 based on a report from the Brookings Institute. The narrative from both MLive and SalesPad never defines growth, but more importantly they never ask the question of “growth for whom?”
While Grand Rapids is booming for some sectors, it also means that a significant portion of the population here still living in poverty. Based on recent US Census data, nearly 30% of the population of Grand Rapids is living in poverty. Those disproportionately impacted by the poverty are communities of color.
The Wall Street Journal in October of last year ran an article that looked at the 10 worst US cities for Black Americans and Grand Rapids was number 5. The data they cite looks at employment, unemployment, median household income and the increased risk of going to jail.
Another article that shows that the “growth” in Grand Rapids does not benefit Black people comes from Forbes magazine, which stated that of the 52 largest cities in the US, Grand Rapids is the second worst for Blacks.
When people talk about the economy being a growth economy, one should always ask for whom.
Breweries are not much of a selling point if you are experiencing poverty. Oh, it would also be good to ask if any of the “over 40 breweries- that’s a craft beer” are owned by people of color.
The narrative lists ArtPrize, Meijer Gardens and Founders Brewing Company’s Founders Fest as the list of entertainment sources which makes Grand Rapids such a good place to start a business. I’ve written plenty on what is problematic about ArtPrize and the other 2 entertainment sources given just continues a narrative that really speaks to the young, white professional class and not to working class families.
4. Convenient Business-ing
This reason is essentially a promo for the Gerald R. Ford Airport.
5. Old meets New
Reason number 5 is in many ways the most instructive in terms of how we understand the narrative that SalesPad has created. The narrative states:
The first trading post was put up in 1826 by a man named Louis Campau, who later bought what is now Grand Rapids for just $90. Today, buildings are being renovated, houses and apartment communities are being built and the culture appears to be thriving.
What is instructive is the use of Louis Campau as an example of entrepreneurship. Campau was indeed a businessman and a shrewd one at that. His presence along the Grand River in the 1820s was the direct result of settler colonialism, where Europeans were entering tribal territory with the goal of taking it over. Campau was just part of the first wave of settler colonists to occupy land which was inhabited by the Anishinaabe. To say that Campau bought Grand Rapids for $90 only perpetuate a narrative of settler colonialism and ignores the narrative of the native communities that lived in the area now known as Grand Rapids in relative peace before Europeans invaded.
Reason number five also acts as a meta-narrative for the first four reasons, since it seeks to legitimize why people should start or bring businesses to Grand Rapids. In many ways, the 5 reasons should be seen as a White Supremacist and Neo-Liberal Capitalist narrative, which is exactly why it was fitting that Start Garden paid for the sponsored message that featured the narrative about Grand Rapids from SalesPad.