Grand Rapids Book of The Year Author Talks History of Racism

Mar 27, 2016

Todd Robinson, Jeremy DeRoo, and Darel Ross during Robinson's speech at LINC-up.
Credit Taylor Running / Taylor J. Photography

The author of the Grand Rapids book of the year, A City within A City, held a speaking tour in Grand Rapids last week. Todd Robinson’s A City Within A City is a history of the African American community in Grand Rapids up until 1975. Mayor Rosalynn Bliss made it the Community Reading Project’s book of the year. Which may be part of why Robinson’s talks, including one at the LINC-up Gallery, were packed.

“Grand Rapids is a very polite, a very kind, well-meaning place—I think. And I say I think because at the end of the day it seems to harken back the same result, which is a ‘no you can’t work here, no you can’t move there, no we won’t educate you over here.’”

It was that politeness Robinson says that helped suppressed meaningful change in racial equity. Specifically, he used the term “managerial racism.”

“It was the ability to manage race in the context that kept it away from any real effective change. It was the ability to say ‘we are the power structure and we are going to continue dictate and determine based upon business.’”

Mayor Bliss said the book provides a story and a framework for where we are today as a city and said that it is more than a history of African Americans.

“This is our city’s past. I mean, this happened here in Grand Rapids, to Grand Rapidians. It’s our history.”