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Grand Rapids and Balanced Lifestyles is really code for Whiteness

February 15, 2018

Grand Rapids loves to be on lists……well, some lists. If the list makes the city look good, then people love it. For example, take the most recent list that named Grand Rapids the number one city where people have the most balanced lifestyles. This new ranking, comes from the financial site, MagnifyMoney.

In a blog post on MagnifyMoney, they write:

Residents of Grand Rapids work a little harder for their money than those at other top cities on our list, but that money seems to work a lot harder for them, too. Generally, housing only costs 18% of income, commutes are under 22 minutes, prices on consumer goods are about 5% lower than the national average, and income inequality is relatively low. Maybe that’s why 56% of the population are reported to be in very good health (the ninth highest), even though 14 other cities have fewer sleep-deprived citizens. Of course, we might expect denizens to be made of hearty stock, given all the opportunities for outdoor activity for those who can make it through the notoriously harsh winters.

The methodology for how MagnifyMoney came up with this ranking can be found here. We take issue with the information provided by MagnifyMoney, so lets unpack their claims.

First, the percentage of how much people spend on housing costs (18%) is wildly misleading. Perhaps for those who make a six-figure salary, housing costs might only be 18% of one’s income, but for those who make minimum wage, the percentage of what people pay on housing is closer to 35% – 40% and in some cases higher.

Second, commute times might be under 22 minutes for people who live and work downtown, but for many who ride the bus to work, the commute is considerably longer. Even if you own a car, the commutes can be lengthy. Ask people who are often stuck in traffic on 131 or 196 during morning or afternoon rush hour, if they can safely plan to get to work in under 22 minutes.

Third, when MagnifyMoney says that, “income inequality is relatively low,” what exactly do they mean? Besides, the notion that income inequality is relatively low in Grand Rapids, flies in the face of recent data from the Economic Policy Institute, which shows that the Grand Rapids area has the highest wealth gap of any city in Michigan. In addition to conflicting data, just open your eyes and look around the city, where there are significant incomes disparities throughout virtually all neighborhoods.

Fourth, MagnifyMoney states that 56% of the population in Grand Rapids are reported to be in very good health. Ok, so what about the other 44%. We know that heart disease , diabetes and infant mortality rates are disproportionately higher in the African American and Latinix communities. And we also know that these health disparities are connected to income inequality and what percentage of people’s income goes towards housing.

All four of these points, in many ways, highlight the reality that some Grand Rapidians are living “balanced lifestyles,” but those that are, tend to be members of the white professional class. In essence, the MagnifyMoney ranking about people in Grand Rapids living balanced lifestyles is really code for whiteness and White Supremacy.

Just look at who promotes these rankings. Experience GR has a whole section on their website, called Way to Go Grand Rapids, which highlights many of the recent GR rankings that are positive. The Right Place Inc, which tries to attract new businesses to set up shop in Grand Rapids, also plugged the MagnifyMoney ranking just a few days ago , plus they also have their own rankings section

However, think about the black family that is facing eviction, because they can’t afford the increasing cost of rent in Grand Rapids. Think about black youth that are constantly being harassed and threatened by the GRPD. Think about immigrant families, who are visited by ICE agents who arrest and detain a parent. Think about people who ride the bus or walk to jobs that pay minimum wages, those that clean the hotels and bus tables in restaurants. Do you think these people have balanced lifestyles?

Grand Rapids loves to consider itself a liberal or even a progressive city. However, it is rare to find white liberals who are critical of the structural racism that exists in Grand Rapids. People might condemn individual racism or discrimination, but are hesitant to call out the system of White Supremacy that permeates much of Grand Rapids and West Michigan Nice.

It is precisely the white liberal and white moderate that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated he had the most frustration with. While sitting in a Birmingham jail cell April of 1963, Dr. King wrote a letter to White Christian leaders, in order to challenge them and white moderates. Dr. King states:

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

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