a thousand words

Monday, August 12, 2013


A lot is being written about my beloved Detroit. It is sad, harsh and undeniably true. But what worries me is not what they are saying. It is what they are not saying.

They allude to it, using phrases like “racial issues,” “social conflict,” “underlying resentment” and the like. What they are really talking about is the fact that blacks and whites in Detroit have hated, resented and fought with each other for decades over the fact that God made us with different skin.

The wounds that have healed in other cities (or at least have scabbed over) remained fresh in the D for years. There’s a lot of blame to go around for this and naming names is just useless now. We all know the players and many of them are dead. What started as hot blooded odium turned into cold, impenetrable and muted antipathy over the years. And after a while, no one even talked about the history of it; it became axiomatic, a basic truth: the white people were racist and the black people were unworthy of respect.

Let me be clear: Detroit has fallen because black people and white people could not find their way to humanity over their history of violence, racism and oppression.

Don’t get me wrong; all the other factors are relevant, too. The economy, mismanagement, globalization and NAFTA all played a part but in the end, the choices that sacked the city were not made by political parties, laws or economic theories; they were made by men and women.

And what governs the hearts of people? Love, compassion or the lack thereof.

When blacks took the city by political process, electing its first black mayor, there was a sense in the community that we had won, defeated white people at their own game. We had suffered two riots and countless acts of bigotry, violence and legal discrimination. It was a victory won by courage, faith and built on the dead bodies of slaves, revolutionaries and sainted men.

And out of this grew pride and more than a little gloating. “And the white people will fight us, we thought. They will stand in our way, hope for our failure and do everything fair and unfair to see us fail.”

In white communities, there was panic, fear and anger. “How dare those inferior people take the city that we built, these workers who cleaned our toilets and shined our shoes just a generation ago.” The blacks would fuck it up they thought, they don’t know anything about running a city. In the end, their true nature would win out and Detroit would come to ruin.

They were both right.

Blacks could not find it in our Christian hearts to forgive the past and build for the future and Whites could not accept a shift in power to dark faces and turn away from a history in which they were superior to others.

Many of us tried. Some blacks and whites tried to work together but it wasn’t enough. Mostly, the brothers in Detroit waited for the whites to come back to the city.  And while we waited, we kept a man in the mayor’s office for 30 years who made sure that would never happen, a man who lacked the vision and the temperament to take us into the new millennium. 

But we had no idea that whites would rather build citadels out of farmland and forests than live and work with us. Oakland County grew to the nation’s fourth richest, while Detroit turned into a municipal husk.

And for my people, the black people, we have far worse things to worry about than who lives in Manoogian Mansion. We are at the lowest point in our culture since the Civil Rights Movement. Our families are destroyed and our children turned asunder. Much like a black President, our symbolic ownership of Detroit did nothing to stop our slide into our current social abyss.

So go on and think the black “city manager” means that race is not a factor in Detroit’s takeover. Go on and think Governor Snyder and his team did not set out to end black power. Keep denying what is before your eyes and we will be doing this again in 2113 when the black and whites lose the city to the Latin-Asian majority.

And for me who watched the tanks roll in ’67, watched the Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings become multiple champions, who loved Faygo and Better Made chips, Buddy’s Pizza and Bill Kennedy, I say goodbye to the town I grew up in. You were loved but love doesn’t keep a city alive.

Love for your fellow man does.

© 2013