Detroit, Racism and All American Insecurity
Recently the national and international media has reported about Detroit’s looming bankruptcy. It’s been presented as the largest American city to ever file for bankruptcy. Locally the Michigan Citizen Newspaper has provided eye-opening articles detailing events regarding the matter. Personally it’s all overwhelming.
Detroit resides at an International border to Canada which is one of the busiest ports in the world. It also is the second largest metropolitan (Chicago IL) for one of the world’s largest fresh water supplies. Detroit is one of the few places in the world you can take a 30 minute shower with full water pressure for less than $0.05. Detroit is also one of the largest salt suppliers in the USA. These natural resources are attractive assets to international capitalist. The unattractive asset is Detroit’s Black community and leadership.
Detroit was an industrial hub of America built from the innovations and subsidiary/ complimentary businesses formed from Henry Ford’s Ford Motor Co. This eventually created the Big 4. Chrysler, General Motors, Ford and American Motors from the 1930’s through the 1950’s established a strong hold on the automotive industry. These 4 Detroit based businesses manufactured roughly 70% of the world’s automobiles at the time. Henry Ford’s innovation of the assembly line required workers. Henry Ford welcomed the currently displaced ex-enslaved Black people of America’s South. Along with many Black families; Polish, Greek, Irish Catholic and Jewish peoples migrated to Detroit in hundreds of thousands. Detroit’s census populations doubled in 1920,1930, 1940, till 1950 where Detroit peeked with nearly 2 million residents. This mix of people, culture, lifestyle and class grew to take on the American institution of racism. The Polish, Greek, Irish Catholic, and Jewish families who were oppressed and restricted from the French, English, and German social order assimilated creating ‘White.’
“People fear what they don’t understand/ hate what they can’t conquer/ … guess it’s just the theory of man.” Nas Hate Me Now.
As families carried on through generations the ‘White’ race grew with many misunderstandings for Black people. In the beginning of the $5 work day hiring by Ford Motor Co murders of Italian, Polish and Greek workers were common. Even then no group was more ridiculed, harassed, harmed and murdered more so than Black people. Strikes were taken immediately upon the hiring of Black industrial labor. As Black labor made it’s way from janitorial positions to work alongside ‘White’ employees what history deems as ‘racial incidents’ arose. I deem it as insecure White men doing what they’ve historically done … violence. The German, French and English population which ‘settled’ Detroit (after the slaughter/ exodus of the Ottawa, Huron and Iroquis tribes) did not welcome the migrant and immigrant Detroiters at all. Membership in the Klu Klux Klan reached it’s largest in Detroit more so than any other American city north of the Mason-Dixon line beside Boston in the 1930’s. The 'resident’ Detroiters saw the migrant Black workers and immigrant European workers as threats to the American/ Detroit conservative way of life. This tension in Detroit over flowed into what’s now recognized by many as ‘race riots’ in 1943, 1947, and 1967. Many murders, assaults, damages and arrests all occurred where Detroit has since forever changed. After 1967 Black political, entrepreneurial, legal, medical and social leadership took control.
The likes of Milton Henry, Erma Henderson, Dr. Charles Wright and many more all blossomed. The foundation of a strong economic base existed from industrial labor and union support. This economic base was already prominent in many of the Black movements throughout the nation. Rev. CL Franklin’s work with Dr Martin Luther King and support of the Montgomery Bus Boycott eventually led to Rosa Parks making Detroit her home (side note: hundreds of thousands of dollars collected from and organized from Rev Franklin’s New Bethel Baptist Church supported Dr King Sr. and Jr. continuously. This is Aretha Franklin’s father and church home. Because Rev Franklin was the first Pastor to record and distribute his sermons/ choir this allowed Berry Gordy the advantage of having Black labor that knew audio engineering within walking distance from the Motown home studio.), Detroit’s the birthplace of Faud Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, Detroit’s the birthplace of the Shrine of the Black Madonna and Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman and modern Black Nationalism, Detroit’s the birthplace of Motown records and many other foundational Black businesses. From an economic perspective the advantage all Detroiters (Black and White) had financially has been unparalleled internationally. The idea of dropping out of HS and landing a job with health, dental, optical, 4-weeks paid vacation, sick leave, cost of living adjustment raises, union contract hire-fire practices and 5 to 6 figure salary was a Detroit reality. There were people in my lifetime I’ve known functionally illiterate driving hi-lo machines earning $85,000 salary annually. This excess of wealth sparked after the ‘collapse of Europe’ in WW2 and dawn of the industrial age provided Detroit with unforeseen opportunity that reached the Black community (side note: This same opportunity also reached criminal elements hence Black Mafia Family, Chambers Brothers-story where as New Jack City is based upon, and Young Boys Incorporated).
Detroit’s already financially capable Black community took leadership with the exodus of ‘White’ residents. The population decline from 1960, 70, 80, 90, and today is as dramatic and drastic as the population boom leading to 1950 was. The most enigmatic figure in Detroit’s Black history is Mayor Coleman Young. Born in Alabama his family sought opportunity here where his father and mother provided him that opportunity. Young rose to success in the unions alongside strong men like the late Horace Sheffield and Ed Vaughn. This led him to a successful Mayoral campaign in 1974 where he held office till 1994. His regime was disciplined and his office was strong. Coleman Young’s autobiography ‘Hard Stuff’ begins addressing racism in America and it’s strains on Black and White people. Young’s commentaries and stern stance about race, crime, business, Detroit and Black people was inciting. The many ‘White’ people who left Detroit resided in the region, but left the city. This created the economic mecca of Oakland County. Oakland County is a suburb of Detroit which throughout the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s (till the ‘economic collapse’) was one of the most-wealthy regions in the USA. Mayor Young along with other political leaders slowly witnessed the Federal and State government provide less and less of the resources owed to Detroit. Since Mayor Young took control of Detroit, the city nationally took on the view as the world’s most dangerous city. That’s why so many crime movies are based in Detroit.
Moving forward to today Detroit is facing ‘bankruptcy’ whereas the federal government is currently moving forward with legislation to make assisting municipalities in bankruptcy unlawful. The State of Michigan CURRENTLY OWES DETROIT Hundreds of MILLIONS of tax dollars in revenue sharing it has not received in years. Which is what makes the bankruptcy so ironic being led by Michigan.
I believe intention is essential in assessing a plan of action and/or reaction. Understanding the intention of my purpose in this nation as a decedent of an en-slaved Black family is something I seek daily. I feel the role for me is either submission to a social order without question(Clarence Thomas, Barack Obama, Jay-Z or today’s Uncle Tom) or repression to social order (Prison, see all Black men who have been arrested). Overstanding these facts I think it does not provide a limitation but it focuses the plan. Black leadership in America can work but America is not designed for Black leadership. In Example: You can use water as coolant for your car but your car is not designed to use water as a coolant.
For Black leadership to work in America the leverage must be given to our advantage and to expect or rely upon the structures provided to ‘White’ leadership is detrimental. You can read detail upon detail about fiscal responsibility, bad debt, bad deals, bad leadership etc, etc the reality of Detroit is when these same political ills were lead with ‘White’ people problems were seen more specific to administrations and consequences were not as punitive. Currently Detroit is being led by Kevyn Orr as a Financial Manager for the city appointed by the Governor of Michigan. As Financial Manager Orr approves/ rejects all city spending. The measure to appoint Orr was given with the said ‘public intention’ to avoid bankruptcy for Detroit. The one task that the Financial Manager took office telling the public he was put in this place to avoid … is now what he proposes as a solution. Since the appointment of Financial Manager Orr and his contracts to analysts, hiring staff and other expenses he’s totaled over 20 million dollars worth of expenses to a city facing ‘EMERGENCY FINANCES!’
Detroit’s challenges are America’s challenges: Racism, post-industrial instability, resourceful reliance and social awareness. The trouble in addressing these complex concepts is all are complex and all are not capital producing. America flourishes upon capitalism and the divisions of racism have led White people to relocate, along with Black people who like to feel ‘better than’ other Black people; that’s REAL ESTATE. Post-Industrial instability has flooded the college industrial system with person after person facing tens of thousands of dollars in debt without questioning the system itself; that’s BANKING. Resourceful reliance is the expectation that an organization, group, person, job, position can and will provide for me. The more a community can build together and rely upon itself it lessens the need for these infrastructures that continue to neglect us ie Government, Hospitals, Courts, Schools; that’s TAXATION. Social awareness is the kinship in realizing that all people seek a heightened quality of life in respect for one another. The threats lie in the fear of someone taking what we seek, being what we feel is unbalanced in us, and changing what we feel is best because that’s comfortable; that’s INSECURITY – Drugs, Guns, Self Help, Food, Gyms, and damn near all Marketing targets this.
Today this is my stance on it all, but like everything in life it becomes less polarizing with every moment.
Special Thanks to Shamako Noble of the Hip-hop Congress and Mark Mastropietro for the photograph.