The Rapidian

Grand Rapids, time to get in formation

From my vantage point, "Formation" was a battle cry for Grand Rapids and every space like it.
Panel discussing race, including Aaron Turner, Jakia Fuller, Madison Bogard, at a Partners for a Racism Free Community event

Panel discussing race, including Aaron Turner, Jakia Fuller, Madison Bogard, at a Partners for a Racism Free Community event /Courtesy of Americorps VISTA

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After the Superbowl, none of us are talking about a game reminiscent of flag football. We are talking about a video that dropped a day before the game. We are talking about the powerful performance that reinforced that existence of that video. We are talking about the very public celebration of blackness that all those viewing the Superbowl were confronted with. 

We are talking about Beyonce.

Now, normally this would not warrant my discourse (at least not here) but then Grand Rapids reminded me that it needs a continuous education on race and racism. Grand Rapids reminded me that, even Beyonce can make people fly their racist flags high. Just look at Jamal Spencer from WZZM 13, who wrote commentary about the video and shared it during one of the station's subsequent broadcasts recapping the Superbowl. What was he met with?

Local spectators who took artistic license in questioning everything from how Beyonce's performance was comparable to the KKK getting on stage at the Superbowl, while others went as far as to question his upbringing. That doesn't sound "West Michigan nice" to me. 

In evaluating the commentary and the discourse among people of color and white people, both nationally and in Grand Rapids, I realized something: we have never seen a televised celebration of blackness before. Correction: we have never been confronted with an unapologetic celebration of blackness. We have never seen someone underline their blackness, put it on a stage, display it and celebrate it - in a space in which we are used to the safety of mainstream messaging. By mainstream messaging, I mean messaging that neutralizes differences and chokes individualistic celebration and differential elevation.

People were confronted with a difference they could not identify with and that made them uncomfortable. 

In Grand Rapids, that very discomfort of recognizing, elevating and appreciating difference is the reason some of our most pressing issues like housing inequity, racial injustice and disparate health outcomes have not been effectively addressed. Our desire to choke difference has resulted in children being left behind in receiving an education. Our desire to be "post-racial" has resulted in an uptick of racialized aggression. Our avoidance of celebrating difference is how you get a Donald Trump leading in political spaces where the primary difference went from being tax philosophy to racial, ethnic and religious identification. 

"Formation" was a battle cry for Grand Rapids and every space like it.

When Beyonce said to "get in formation," I immediately thought of the need for groups like Partners for a Racism-Free Community, Urban League and the NAACP to collaborate, support and elevate causes like Black Lives Matter and Equity Drinks because the work to end racialized violence and oppression is our mandate.

While many of these organizations work to accomplish similar goals (and some different), using varied approaches, we all must be working collaboratively and supporting one another. I say this not as a new person to the block, but as an experienced practitioner that has seen toe stepping, silencing and sandbox scenes reminiscent of Animaniacs.

People of color in Grand Rapids need to get in formation. The level of lunacy and ridiculousness that runs amock in the world of race relations among people of color in this space is mind boggling. The fact that the Hispanic and African American communities in Grand Rapids do not more intentionally collaborate is cause for alarm. I don't need confirmation of this point. I have lived here long enough and worked on the ground, particularly in schools and with school aged children, to have seen the way in which the very segregated ways this community exists has negatively impacted the perceptions of young people in this space. Young people of color should be able to celebrate their difference and the difference of their peers. Our need to get in formation is a matter of existential necessity. 

We have no excuse not to. Mayor Bliss has set the stage for us to get in formation through her call to make this community more inclusive. Her vision for this city can serve as a launching point for the reset this space so desperately needs. Just so we're clear, reset does not mean forgetting the past. Much like a video game, when you press reset you remember what caused you to lose in the first place - and to that end I hope that we never allow ourselves to forget where Grand Rapids has been in crafting what it becomes. 

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