Given the strong negative reaction by a number of movers and shakers against expanding the dialogue on Detroit’s transformation to include more people of color even before I’ve tried to do it, a few things must be addressed.
First, what I’ve consistently argued, and what many others are arguing all over the city, is that the conversation on change in Detroit is being dominated by a very small number of people. Whether or not this is their fault, is questionable, and largely irrelevant. Chances are, they are merely responding to a media and political system which privileges their voices over all others. It is more than clear that I am making a broad argument about the media’s (and our own) unwillingness as white gentrifiers (I consider myself one of them) to notice the work of black and brown people; in a sea of people of color, sometimes the media has focused mostly on the only white person they can find, or the most interesting one. Despite recieving threats and personal attacks myself, I have never personally attacked someone in my writing. I used one specific example of a controversial figure who is popular in the media spotlight. No matter ones loyalties, this should be a common sense observation.
It is also more than clear that I am not throwing around the word gentrification as if I am against all neighborhood change. I am glad people of any color and background are opening new businesses and are bringing new development to certain parts of the city. There’s no want for space here. I’ve hardly even used the word gentrification. The problem, I will continue to argue is that in some places gentrification is also accompanied by a desire for removing old residents (even when there is space enough for everyone), and homogenizing the space. Alot of people seem to think that while this happens in every large city in America, it could never happen here (ironically, in the most racially backward place in the country). As Bill Wylie-Kellerman’s article in the Metro Times three weeks ago and comments from other neighborhood and city leaders point out, however, it can and is happening to various degrees right here in our city.
These are nuanced topics, which most of the time cannot be approached without an appreciation for discussion in the grey. If good and evil were all we were contending with, we could get to the bottom of things much quicker. Instead of talking about good and evil, right and wrong, I am talking about power: Who has it, who doesn’t, who abuses it, who doesn’t, who’s trying to get it, and what all of this means for people in their daily lives. In apartheid America, power is distributed based on race to a sickening degree. It is much easier to get angry and attempt to shut the conversation down when one strips the nuance (indeed, entire paragraphs) from an article, discredits the individual rather than the content, and makes it a matter of who the author likes or is “jealous” of.
Anyone trying to push the conversation about urban revitalization onto less comfortable ground, and seeking to engage more voices, will face staunch and sometimes intimidating opposition. The hysterical and intensely personal reaction in this case, however, is commensurate with the threat that engagement poses to a particular vision for the city, where a small number of people are considered leaders and all others are marginalized and ignored. Critics comfortable with the status quo recognize that their control over Detroit’s future is tenuously held, if held at all yet, and pointing this out causes anxiety.
This “stupid white kid,” is asking the supposed leaders of our long overdue central city rennaissance to grow up a bit, keep the conversation mature, and realize that as we reach a tipping point in Detroit, multiple voices are going to collide. There are other movers and shakers who have other visions. With a black city council whose loyalties lie in black communities (despite their persistent inability to really represent anyone), a virtually all non-white population in the city, and huge, broad-based, globally recognized networks of black and brown progressive activism-which are there whether or not some people are willfully blind to them.
Now back to the work I set out to do. Enough introduction.