GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids native is garnering a lot of attention on social media after sharing a video of reactions he got while holding a Black Lives Matter sign.
Rob Bliss, the man behind the video, is best known for throwing large scale events in Grand Rapids, including a paper airplane toss at the first ArtPrize and a giant water slide on Lyon Street. Bliss is now the owner of Rob Bliss Creative and is behind several viral videos.
In the video, now viewed nearly 1 million times, Bliss says he was standing outside of a Walmart shopping center in Harrison, Arkansas, holding a Black Lives Matter sign. Bliss says he chose the city because it is often labeled one of the most racist towns in America.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a self-proclaimed “white civil rights group”, was founded in Harrison. The SPLC says the group is a branch of the Ku Klux Klan and labels them a hate group.
Bliss says his goal was to start a dialogue.
“If you do this in Brooklyn or Los Angeles, most of the people that you encounter are going to have the exact same feelings as you. But to do it in Harrison, I wanted to start that conversation where it doesn’t normally happen,” said Bliss.
Throughout the two-minute-long video, several drivers yell racial slurs and expletives. Others made threats against Bliss.
“Obviously, blatant racism, very real things. A lot of personal accusations some threats toward me. Lots of white power symbols that were flashed at me,” Bliss said. “It’s jarring and definitely gave me a lot to think about the divide in America between Red and Blue.”
Bliss, who considers himself an ally, says in larger, more progressive cities many believe racism is a thing of the past or only exists in certain areas. He says he wanted to show how much further the country has to go.
“In the video, you get the sense that there’s this idea that I’m playing for the wrong team. People would come up to me and try to talk to me like ‘Hey, I think you’re doing the wrong thing’ like I’m a wayward son,” said Bliss.
Bliss says the behavior of the drivers and shoppers in the video is something non-Black allies need to actively combat.
“Would I be comfortable doing what I did if I were a person of color? Probably not, but because of who I am, I know that I can position my own talents my own existence to lift up others,” said Bliss. “I think it’s important for people in a position like mine to think about how they can use their own situations help others.”
Bliss says the video only shows a fraction of the hundreds of reactions he and his team filmed. He says a large portion of the reactions were negative or blatantly racist. But there were some who encouraged him to keep going, including the person who handed him a letter at the end.
Bliss previously worked for News 8.