Detroit is Haiti: unforgivably Black

Time Magazine has decided to zero in on Detroit. It kicked off its project last month with an article headlined "The Death - and Possible Life - of a Great City."

As a lifelong Detroiter and an African American, here's my reaction.

The Detroit rebellion of 1967 had the impact of crystallizing an economic blockade on the city that had then been developing for 15 years, a blockade by the bourgeoisie - big capital - something like that on Cuba.

There was the bullet and then the ballot, a la Malcolm X in reverse: the rebellion and then the 1973 election of Coleman Young as Black mayor extraordinaire. For this, and really for now being 85 percent Black, Detroit is still under economic blockade punishment by the powers that be.

These were the culmination of a socioeconomic historical shift which was marked by segregating of residence based on race through white flight to the suburbs especially beginning in the 1950s, escaping the move toward integration represented in open housing law. (See Thomas Sugrue, "The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Politics in Postwar Detroit," and Coleman Young's autobiography, "Hardstuff.")

It was also part of a relative scattering of some main points of industrial production from a concentration in the city of Detroit ( and neighboring Dearborn) to the surrounding suburbs. It was a breaking up of the World War II era Arsenal of Democracy, which had many left-wingers, naturally.

In a way, it seems to have been a shifting of the location of basic production from the Midwest to the South, from the U.S. to other countries, in what gets termed post-industrialism, post-Fordism, restructuring. The concentrated proletarian powerhouse was busted up and racially resegregated, on the typical American model: Black vs. white.

The bourgeoisie cannot really undo what they have done. They are hoisted on their own petard. Detroit is a pariah society in the national media still, as the latest Time article shows. White masses are shy to move back into Detroit, desegregate. The bourgeoisie will not invest in an African town like this, with so few white people to benefit. They must blockade us like Cuba, or Haiti. Like the great heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Jack Johnson, Detroit is unforgiveably Black and Proud.

Wait, I take that back. They will find ways to invest "in" Detroit, but so that most of the local population will not benefit. They will exploit and "skate" - in other words, con and run, get away without being held responsible for their wrongdoing.

So, Time has a cover story saying that poverty in Detroit today is in part due to the rebellion of 1967, cause and effect, politically and economically - case closed.

Actually, it's true. The bourgeoisie are still punishing the rebellion, among other things. Perhaps, Time is making a confession.

Photo: The Spirit of Detroit statue, outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in downtown Detroit. (


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  • I have this crazy dream for Detroit, that as someone who has only visited I have no idea if it's feasible. I'd love for Detroit, having been dealt a dirty hand by Corporate America and the abandonment of the Auto Industry, to somehow attract jobs for solar and other green/natural technologies. Can you imagine if companies like Suntech or Tesla began calling Detroit home, investing into the community, and into job training programs that would help native Detroit residents find jobs in their factories?

    Can you imagine what a flourishing Detroit, having once again become so because they attracted the investment of Green Companies, and partnering with urban farming organizations like are starting in Chicago and DC, and ending the food desert by getting companies like Whole or Earthfair involved, could turn the entire nation on it's ear?

    I admit, this is probably just a pipe dream, but the idea of Detroit getting the chance and turn around it deserves while thumbing its nose at so many who have treated it unjustly, makes me smile.

    Posted by EmCR, 04/07/2014 8:15am (2 years ago)

  • Sadly, the recent disaster in Haiti explains the title of this article

    Haiti has suffered the most horrific mass death imaginable due to an earthquake . This earthquake has caused such an extraordinary lose of life due to the centuries of racist colonial oppression against the first Black revolution against slavery which has resulted in extreme poverty and poor building construction that killed many

    Posted by Jack, 01/22/2010 9:47am (6 years ago)

  • Viewpoint: Two sides of the same Detroit

    By Diana Flora On September 22nd, 2009
    “This is an exciting time to be in Detroit,” said Grace Lee Boggs, a 94-year-old activist. “We’re engaged in creating something new.”

    As I sat in the dimly-lit upstairs of the Boggs Center, where many social justice activists had sat before me, I looked to the other participants of Semester in Detroit and saw women who were as deeply moved and inspired by Grace’s words as I was.

    This was April, and we had all spent the past four months living, working and taking classes in the city. Many of us had been challenged by the harsh reality that Detroiters live with daily, but beyond that, we had spent the past four months having our preconceptions of Detroit shattered.

    For this self-selecting group of liberal arts students (and one arts student), the opportunity to live in Detroit meant a variety of things. For me, it was a way to connect with a city that I was interested in on both an academic and human level. After the program had finished, we had collectively spent 3,000 hours volunteering for social service agencies, community development corporations and community arts organizations. I chose to work with Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), the state House of Representatives member for Southwest Detroit and one of the few state legislators with an active district office.

    Largely because of my positive experience in Semester in Detroit, I decided to take root in the city after I graduated in May, and chose to live in the district that I once served. Nestled in the heart of southwest Detroit, I have more daily interactions with my neighbors than I did even in Ann Arbor. There’s a community garden two blocks from my house where I can go pick a head of broccoli that I know was tended to by neighbors and friends.

    Though I’m still involved with Tlaib’s office, I now work as an AmeriCorps member for Gleaners Community Food Bank on the east side of the city. I set up nutrition education and cooking classes for low-income folks in southeast Michigan through a national program called Operation Frontline. These classes are facilitated by volunteer chefs and registered dietitians who teach participants how to eat healthily on a limited budget.

    After living and working here for nine months, I can’t deny that there is some truth to the media’s negative portrayal of the city. Violence and institutional corruption are painful realities that result from a history of racial segregation and deindustrialization, which has divided Detroit's population for more than a century. This history is like a scar — physical proof of the trauma the city has suffered and yet evidence that there has been healing.

    There is this Detroit, the one that people fear, but the Detroit that interests me is the one that is realistic about its own potential. I see this in perspectives like those offered by Boggs. These visionaries go beyond the idea of “saving” the city. Rather, they recognize that a complete restructuring is needed not only of the city’s infrastructure, but of what we think a city is. Given Detroit’s scars, revitalization will necessarily be painfully critical and rational, and people have already begun to think creatively about it. This is the “something new” that Boggs and many other Detroit residents are engaged in.

    I see a lot of hope in this kind of realistic pragmatism. This is an exciting time to be living in Detroit because the moment has come for its re-imagining and restructuring. Detroit residents have both the unique privilege and the responsibility to engage themselves in this revitalization. I’m happy to be part of this in some way as a new resident of the city.

    For those interested in learning more about the program and our work in the city, come to “Engaging Detroit — A Panel and Discussion on Doing Community Work in Detroit” on Wednesday, Sept. 23 from 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. in Dennison HAll, Room 110.

    And a reminder — Semester in Detroit applications are due September 30. Get the application online at

    Diana Flora is a University alum.

    Printed from on Wed, 02 Dec 2009 13:58:33 -0500

    Posted by Jay, 12/02/2009 2:05pm (6 years ago)

  • November 21, 2009
    An American Catastrophe
    In many ways, it’s like a ghost town. It’s eerily quiet. Driving around in the middle of the afternoon, in a city that once was among the most productive on the planet, you see very little traffic, minimal commercial activity, hardly any pedestrians.
    What you’ll see are endless acres of urban ruin, block after block and mile after mile of empty and rotting office buildings, storefronts, hotels, apartment buildings and private homes. It’s a scene of devastation and disintegration that stuns the mind, a major American city that still is home to 900,0000 people but which looks at times like a cross between postwar Berlin and the ruin of an ancient civilization.
    Detroit was the arsenal of democracy in World War II and the incubator of the American middle class. It was the city that taught mass production to the rest of the world. It was a place that made cars, trucks and other tangible products, not derivatives. And it was the architect of the quintessentially American idea of putting people to work and paying them a decent wage. It’s frightening to think seriously about what we’ve allowed to happen to this city and what is now happening to the middle class and the American economy as a whole.
    I was in Detroit with Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in labor issues. He grew up in Detroit and his love for the city and its people are palpable, as is his grief for the horrors the city has endured.
    The popular narrative of what happened to Detroit contains a great deal of truth but its focus is too narrow to account for the astonishing decline of this former industrial colossus. Yes, there were the riots of 1967, and white flight; and political leadership that was not just shortsighted but at times embarrassingly incompetent and corrupt. And, yes, the auto industry was a case study in self-destruction.
    But as Mr. Shaiken points out, Detroit was still viable enough for the Republican Party to hold its convention here in 1980, when it nominated Ronald Reagan. And it was not the riots, but the devastating recession of the early ’80s that really knocked the city senseless. “That’s when the place really cracked,” said Mr. Shaiken, “and that was about aggressive globalization and the lack of an industrial policy, not the riots.”
    Detroit and its environs are suffering the agonies of the economic damned because of policies, crafted at the highest national and corporate levels, that resulted in the implosion of crucially important components of America’s manufacturing base. Those decisions have had a profound effect on the fortunes not just of Detroit, or even Michigan, but the entire U.S. economy.
    “We’ve been living with the illusion that manufacturing — making things — is so 20th century,” said Mr. Shaiken, “and that we could succeed by concentrating, for example, on complex financial instruments while abandoning the industrial base that sustained so many American families.”
    The idea that the fallout from the wrongheaded economic concepts of the past 30 or 40 years could be contained, with the damage limited to the increasingly troubled urban areas while sparing prosperous suburbia, has now proved as phony as Bernie Madoff’s fortune. Americans, whether they live in big cities, suburban towns or rural areas, need jobs, and when those jobs are eliminated (for whatever reasons — technological advances, globalization) without being replaced, the national economy is guaranteed at some point to hit a wall.
    Professor Shaiken and I drove past vast lots filled with rubble and garbage and weeds, past the old Michigan Central Terminal, which was once Detroit’s answer to New York’s Grand Central Terminal but which has long since been abandoned; past a onetime Cadillac manufacturing plant that is now an empty lot.
    We stopped at an old Ford plant and stood in a stiff, cold wind, reading a plaque put up by the Michigan Historical Commission: “Here at his Highland Park plant, Henry Ford began the mass production of automobiles on a moving assembly line. By 1915 Ford built a million Model T’s. In 1925 over 9,000 were assembled in a single day. Mass production soon moved from here to all phases of American industry and set the pattern of abundance for 20th century living.”
    Professor Shaiken’s grandfather, Philip Chapman, took a job at the Highland Park plant in 1914, earning five dollars a day, and worked on production at Ford until his retirement in the mid-1950s.
    We’re at a period no less significant to the U.S. than Mr. Chapman’s early years at Ford. We need a revitalized industrial policy, including the creation of whole new industries, if American families are to prosper in the coming decades. If there is any sense of urgency about this in the hearts and minds of our corporate and government leaders, I’ve missed it.

    Yes, it was a great old city.

    You might mention, too, that from the days of FDR to those of JFK the Dems always kicked off their every-four-year presidential campaigns on Labor Day, in the genteel heart of Detroit, Grand Circus Park.

    You might mention the great books on the city, from Harriet Arnow's "The Dollmaker" to Joyce Carol Oates' "them." And the poetry -- lots from Philip Levine on the factories -- my choice his on summer night swimming off Belle Isle, that jewel of an island in the Detroit River, when Levine himself was a high school kid.

    And, speaking of kids, there's wonderful little novel, oddly-named "Snakes," a glorious look at being a teenager and Black back in the late '40s and '50s when Detroit's neighborhoods were all ethnic, and all ethnicities had some pieces of the pie of prosperity -- or its tool-&-dyes. And Robert Hayden's great short poem about waking up -- a poor Black boy -- on "Those Winter Sundays"?

    And Motown. And Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum. The Diego Rivera murals at the art institute -- which volunteers protected with their bodies during all-night vigils when Father McCoughlan's right-wing goon squads threatened to destroy them -- in an era when they -- Rockefeller himself -- did actually destroy the similar murals he'd installed in the 1930s-new Manhattan center named for his family.

    And those Life and Look magazine double-page spreads every early September in the '50s, when we boys (and girls) could thrill to first views of the next model year's chrome, tail fins, and grilles.

    Yes to American energies -- or, do we say funereal post-mortem?
    Recommend Recommended by 222 Readers

    Posted by Jay, 11/23/2009 3:02pm (6 years ago)

  • On the other hand, given that GM and Chrysler have just gone bankrupt, maybe the auto companies were not able to scatter the points of production and still maintain profits in the long run.

    Posted by Jay, 11/06/2009 3:27pm (6 years ago)

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