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Another manifestation of West Michigan Nice: Deconstructing the Inclusive Growth video

September 22, 2021

Systems of power and oppression are always trying to reinvent themselves. One of the tactics that these systems use is to create a narrative or use rhetoric that makes those who are being oppressed believe that they care about you. Dylan Rodriquez, in his vitally important book, White Reconstruction: Domestic Warfare and the Logics of Genocide, provides us with a more precise articulation of this tactic that is used by systems of power and oppression:

Contemporary institutional articulations of multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusivity do not reflect the obsolescence of white supremacy, race, and/or racism. Rather, they indicate the historical continuities and discursive-political complexities of white supremacist social formations. These institutional re-articulations are foundational relations of anti-Blackness and racial-colonial power, and generally normalize those relations while narratively disavowing them.

This articulation sums up exactly how I felt after watching the recently created video by the Johnson Center at GVSU, a video entitled Inclusive Growth.

Included with the video is a definition of what inclusive growth means:

As both a process and outcome, inclusive growth is economic growth that prioritizes neighborhood-level needs, embraces the potential of local economies, and puts factors like health and education on par with job creation, all while closing widening income inequality (stagnating wages, lack of access to good jobs, and increasing costs of living).

On one level, what is being said in this video sounds nice, uses good buzzwords like opportunity and wealth creation, but it does exactly what Dylan Rodriquez is saying above. 

There are numerous things about the video that are highly problematic, but let’s start with the problem of who was invited to be part of the video. We can begin by asking ourselves, who was involved with determining which people would be invited to participate. Then there is the question of “leaders.” Is this a self-designated term, a term based on what positions people hold or does it come from the broader community?

A second serious problem with this video is that there is no historical analysis that would back up the data used in the video. Black families have disproportionately less income than white families because of longstanding and ongoing structural racism. The longterm effects of Jim Crow policies and racial capitalism have determined the data that is used in the video. Now, maybe the creators of the video think the history of structural racism is well known, but that would be naive to think so. Kent County and Grand Rapids were founded on the theft of Indigenous land and the racial wealth gap is a result of systemic manifestations of White Supremacy. 

Some of the people in the video do acknowledge the wealth gap, with one person saying that there is this intense concentration of wealth in this community. However, no one names the names. There are real people, with real names who have concentrated wealth, names like DeVos, Meijer, Kennedy, Jandernoa, Secchia and Van Andel. We all know this, so why are we not naming names? Now, I understand that maybe people did name names in the video process, but that information was included. I also recognize that there are people in the video who hold positions that rely on dollars coming from the DeVos family or other wealthy people in this community, thus self-censorship always comes into play. In fact, the only person who even talked about power was Beca from the Urban Core Collective. She made the important observation that those in power, the decision makers, don’t want to give up their power.

Speaking of concentrated wealth, the DeVos and Meijer families have a combined wealth that is roughly $20 Billion. In addition, their wealth has increased significantly during the COVID, which should tell you something about who benefits within the system of racial capitalism. But just imagine what $20 Billion could do for BIPOC communities that the video is wanting to center? Now, those who have concentrated wealth will not willingly give it up, so how do affected people get that wealth? This is a whole separate discussion, but historically, when oppressed people are organized, they tend to take back or reclaim what rightfully belongs to them.

A third issue I have with this video is the constant reference to the importance of providing opportunities. This is essentially Neo-Liberal language that says those in power will provide the “less fortunate” opportunities to achieve their goals. The notion of providing opportunities not only ignores the history of White Supremacy in Grand Rapids, it ignores the fact that those who have concentrated wealth, made their wealth on the backs of other people’s labor, resources and land. 

There is also language around being invited to the table. I really hate this kind of language, especially since it usually means that those with power and privilege, the ones who have cause the rest of us harm, now want to invite us to their table, in their house, with their rules. In the video, the President of GRCC, Bill Pink, acknowledges that it is problematic to not invite those most affected, but this dynamic ignores history. Every example from history where there were oppressed groups, groups fighting for their liberation, always achieved liberation by challenging the power of those doing the oppressing, not by sitting down with them, especially if it was at the “master’s table.” 

Lastly, the whole idea of inclusive growth is problematic. In fact, growth is an essential component of Capitalism. In this sense growth is not a good thing, since economic growth means the use of more resources. Growth, in an economic sense, is fundamentally extractive in nature. Just making sure that more BIPOC people gain wealth doesn’t come without consequences, consequences to other BIPOC people and to the natural world. 

Instead of calling for inclusive growth, we should be demanding economic and racial justice. Now, these terms don’t sound as sexy, but they more honestly center the notion of justice, which means changing power dynamics and taking collective ownership for the harm that has been done by those with power and concentrated wealth. 

I for one don’t think that those with political and economic power are going to give it up without a fight. I don’t trust most of the people in the video to fight with those most affected by the realities of racial capitalism and I don’t expect to see substantive change for the most people who are just struggling to survive. I do, however, believe that it is possible to achieve economic and racial justice, especially if such struggles are led by those most impacted and not by well intentioned people with privilege. 

In the end, this video advocating for inclusive growth is just another manifestation of West Michigan Nice.

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