Monday, October 15, 2007

Black Surburbia, Detroit-centrism and Consciousness

Once again, provocative and opinionated Detroit activist, Imhotep Bakara, begins an interesting debate. He forwarded this link to an article in the Detroit News called, "Many Metro blacks feel isolated in suburbs".
He prefaced the link with this message:
It's real interesting that the Det. News did this story. It's seems to me they are saying "our plan is working"! It seems to me that some Blk people love to be confused about their place in Amerikkka!

I only can say, this brother aint going across 8 mile!
If i got to leave, it's going to be to another "black city".
Since we moved to Michigan in 1999, my wife and I have lived in suburban Wayne County - Westland to be exact. A lower cost of living and a quieter neighborhood that is more similar to the area we left in Nashville brought us here instead of within the Detroit city limits.

I'm actually from a very small town in East Tennessee, so even Westland's population of 85,000 is a bit congested for my taste. I like living in the country personally, but enjoy the cultural richness that a big city offers.

That said, working class Westland is pretty devoid of culture, but is conveniently located halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor. We have the ability to explore diverse communities and experiences throughout the state. The biggest problem is that because Southeastern Michigan has no effective public transit, we end up driving too much.

Would we rather live in a predominately Black neighborhood? Yes, if that neighborhood is quiet, safe and affordable. These factors of security and economics helped us choose our location more than any desire to live in a "diverse" community, though I happen to enjoy the diversity of the region. I like the Indian restaurants and Middle Eastern shops and African stores and living within walking distance of a mall.

Eight years later, our neighborhood in Westland is becoming younger and more Black. Detroiters have been exiting the city looking for better schools, safer streets and a lower cost of living. What isn't here is cultural infrastructure or community gathering places where Black folks can get together. So even though we have more Black neighbors, we still have to go to Detroit for our African cultural activities, we still drive all the way to the Eastside (Harper Woods) for great soul food with no pork, and our best friend in Westland is still a conservative white dude.

Westland may soon become a "Black city" like Southfield, but until more Black businesses begin to open and the community develops, it will remain culturally an "All-American City" (the city motto). Incidently, it's also the home of the American Nazi Party, which creates the potential for an entirely different set of probabilities as the town becomes more racially and culturally diverse. Ain't that "All-Amerikkkan"?


On another train of thought, a lot of Black Detroiters are very "Detroit-centric". It is unthinkable to many that a Black person could live outside the city limits. Some equate a non-Detroit address with some lack of Blackness or consciousness.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Again, we moved to Michigan from Tennessee. Our cost of living almost doubled even in Westland. A Detroit address would have caused even greater financial hardship because of high city taxes.

I consider myself more of a Detroiter than I do a "Westlander" because the politics and economy of Detroit have a more direct effect on my life. I work mostly in Detroit, I do 85% of my business in Detroit, and most of that is with Black businesses.

Black suburbanites are contributing to the revitalization of the city. As gentrification begins to take hold, Detroiters need to think of ways to attract suburban Blacks back to the city even as whites begin to return. This means truly acting as a majority. We have a Black mayor, Black city council, Black school board, Black police chief most of whom are more beholden to property rights and corporate money than they are to their people.

Why is gentrification finally going to take control in Detroit? Because outsiders see vacant lots, empty storefronts and foreclosed homes as opportunities. Many Black Detroiters see them as evidence of racism and the flight of capital from the city.

The racism is there, but so are the opportunities and the capital. A recent Michigan Citizen article shows that Detroiters spend $1 out of every $3 they make at retailers outside the city limits. Much of this $1.7 billion could be helping the city's business community to grow.

And racial stratification doesn't help. Ethnic Arabs and Chaldeans in Detroit own a great many of the gas stations and convenience stores in the city, but they have no problem selling to Black Detroiters.

Don't criticize them. Learn from them. Pool resources. Keep businesses in the family by teaching your children how to run those businesses. Don't dog a man who takes advantage of an opportunity that you ignored.

It's time to stop complaining about all of the problems that Detroit has had for more than 40 years. It's time to stop complaining about ineffective public officials who don't work for the people. Now is the time to seize the opportunities that are so plentiful within the city, and to promote positive leaders like Council member Joann Watson and the few others who are looking out for the interests of the people.

At a Detroit City of Hope Gathering for Justice that we attended a couple of weeks ago, a speaker reflected on an observation by Grace Lee Boggs that the Chinese symbol for "crisis" can mean both "danger" and "opportunity". It's time for Detroiters to seize that opportunity. If we don't, someone else will.


Blogger Paul Hue said...

These black folks moving to white neighborhoods will surely feel isolated if they only want to have black friends and participate in "black" activities. If instead they open themselves up to a new culture and people assigned to a different racial category than themselves, then they will lose their isolation.

Nadir's other friend in Westland, Andrew, is black, as is Andrew's wife and two kids. Those kids are not "ostracized" in their school, and neither is my negro 13-year-old daughter in her private middle school, which only has one other black kid. Andrew's family doesn't not feel "isolated" in the least, as they have been fully integrated into the social fabric of their surrounding honkey neighbors.

What is the difference between Andrew's family and Nadir and the family in the newspaper article? I would say attitude. And I don't really believe Nadir's expressions of isolation because he has a bunch of white friends, more than me (I'm the white "conservative" friend he mentions). Andrew and I go to the local bar that's all-honkey, and we bring our other black friends, and we always get treated like regulars.

The only problem here that is real is that all of these people are accustomed to a special culture, and when they move into another culture, they miss that culture. Mixed into these feelings is the disappointment that not enough other black folks are making good enough choices to create what Nadir calls "safe and inexpensive and quiet" black neighborhoods in the Detroit area. I also would prefer such, because that is what I have been accustomed to. But I am learning to be diverse.

January 08, 2008 11:42 AM  
Blogger Paul Hue said...

Another black woman in this article says that she'd "rather face racism in the suburbs than a drug dealer in Detroit." But then as usual she provides no concrete evidence of racism visited on her in the suburbs, but describes how her black kids got "harassed and beat up in Detroit Public Schools". No such "ostracizing" at her new white school, except that she says some white "elders sometimes eyed her sons suspiciously." Yet black elders also are suspicious of young black males, and the crime statistics back up that suspicion: the behavior of young black males is creating a bad reputation that only they can fix... by their actions.

January 08, 2008 11:48 AM  
Blogger Paul Hue said...

"In Detroit they couldn't ride their bike around the block," he said. "You want them to feel safe when they go out to play."

And indeed in the "racist" suburbs, they do feel safe to go out and play. Maybe these kids will learn to love a culture different from that of their parents. What will be wrong with that?

My black daughter at a nearly all-white middle school here in Nadir's suburb is the most popular kid in her school. What's wrong with that? I don't have to take her any other place so that she "knows who she is", like the parent of this kid in the article who hauls her black kids accross town to spend time with other kids in the same silly racial category. My kid is "who she is" even if she's in China or India. When will Nadir and this parent learn this? Someday, I hope.

January 08, 2008 11:51 AM  

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