Forty years ago this summer, Detroit burned, leaving 43 dead, 467 injured, and 2000 buildings burned to the ground. Although some argue that this ended up being the impetus for white flight, the fact of the matter is that even as whites had the opportunity to leave in droves (and many did), it took a hard fought electoral victory by Coleman Young to seal the deal. Whites, fearing what a black run city would look like, in effect took their marbles and fled.Continue reading ...
I'm a New Yorker with over 10 years as a resident of the Detroit area. My introduction to Michigan occurred during the Malice Green trial – 2 Detroit cops, a 6 pound flashlight, and one dead black crack dealer in the back of the black and white. As a New Yorker, I matured in an environment that, while ignorant of black culture, was comfortably free of Jim Crow stereotypes. How very different was my first introduction to the rough-edged blue collar mentality of many Michiganders. White or Black, sensitive travelers can probably name several episodes where the level of racism was so overt, so muscular, so far in excess of what we had ever experienced in our communities that it shattered our long-held belief in the ultimate triumph of social progress. Welcome to Michigan: We’re now partners in Devolution with the likes of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Michigan’s inability to deal with checkered racial history will continue to jeopardize its transition to a 21st Century community of like minds. Michiganders need to learn that blacks have always had a “life of the mind” but it required their self-imposed exile to decadent Europe to satisfy their hunger for intellectual stimulation. In his seminal book Partisanship, Race, and the Public Intellectual, Gerald Early reminds us that “[T]here was virtually nothing in American society to support a black person who wanted to live a life of the mind, a life of ideas, except perhaps the Communist Party where most black intellectuals and thinkers cut their teeth in this country before 1970.”
Reconstruction of Detroit’s proud reputation as a tolerant, progressive promoter of individual freedom (1st state to eliminate the death penality, and home of the 8 hour work day) and liberty is threatened by the continued deterioration in Michigan’s economic climate. Michigan needs to nurture that intellectual, bi-racial, life of the mind necessary to recapture its position as a leading defender of human values. Unfortunately, preparation for this difficult task requires that we work through those malformed and crippled embarrassments we once believed to be ideas. Dostoyevsky wrote that, “Every man has reminiscences that he would not tell to everyone but only his friends. He has other matters in his mind that he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things that a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.” As decent citizens, let’s work together in developing a community where a “life of the mind” is available for all its citizens.