The threatening prospect of delimiting discussion… | December 23, 2010

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.


  1. I think you’re way off in this characterization of the dialogue that resulted from your phil cooley post. where are the “threats and personal attacks” you “recieved” (sic)? all I see is spirited discussion. and on the flip side, how is your condescending and derogatory reference to cooley as “the prince of corktown” not a personal attack?

    what I see is a bunch of people agreeing with your basic point, but upset by the way you conducted yourself in making it. it seems like you are using academic gobbledygook to make a very basic point so you can feel superior to the people in Detroit who share your privilege, i.e. the other members of your own race, class, and sexual orientation.

    you can try to paint yourself as one of the victims (as you did in this post), but you’re not. you’re one of us oppressors.

    I don’t think anyone disagrees that the mainstream media sucks and always misses the point. I don’t think anyone involved in the last discussion doesn’t want to see more attention paid to minority-owned businesses. I think your points are good ones, just made awkwardly and divisively.

    also, the conspiratorial nonsense about suburban gays targeting black neighborhoods seriously undermines any point you want to make. I think maybe you need to meet some of your gay elders who were living in neighborhoods like Palmer Park, Indian Village, Corktown, and Boston Edison
    Detroit’s history is full of sudden and radical neighborhood change. you might be surprised how similar you sound to the racist whites who didn’t like the way their neighborhoods were changing in the 1970s.

    I think you should investigate things more. And maybe try to focus on the things you’ve learned from experience. A lot of what you’re saying sounds like it was learned from an academic text rather than something you’ve observed in real life.

    Comment by bear — December 28, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

  2. Regardless of what ‘Bear’ has responded with up above, I know that you’ve recieved remarkably antagonistic responses to your previous posts about media representation of Detroit.

    The over-the-top negative responses that you got did not indicate that people merely thought you were awkwardly and divisively making a point that they agreed with. Those responses showed that bringing up white privledge makes those benefitting from it fly off the handle.

    I’m anxiously awaiting more posts, research, and work to come. Keep it up. For everyone trying to stifle you and other boat-rockers, there are those of us that are willing to shake things up with you. Props.

    Comment by christy — December 31, 2010 @ 4:10 am

  3. “over-the-top negative responses”


    This is the internet, christy! As far as discussions on the internet go, that was like a meeting of the Huntington Woods book club.

    no one is trying to stifle Jackson. we’re calling him out on his bullshit. if, say, you believe someone should be able to make wild and unproven conspiratorial accusations about “gay bus tours” without someone questioning it, then maybe you should stick to some head-nodding panel at the US social forum. if readers of this blog aren’t allowed to question Jackson’s ridiculous point about gay suburbanites scoping out and displacing poor, black residents of neighborhoods like INDIAN VILLAGE, then you are saying false and wholly inaccurate statements are somehow above critical rebuke.

    christy, I was living in detroit in the 1980s well before the critical race theorists Jackson cribs from fully developed the idea of white privilege. hearing some provincial academic pup and his internet sycophant prattle on about white privilege doesn’t make me fly off the handle; neither do his ridiculous and false statements. the only thing that’s going to make me fly off the handle is the idea that criticism of certain factual statements isn’t welcome. Jackson is wrong about some things. Suggesting he educate himself about certain matters is not “delimiting discussion.” it’s bringing his arguments out of the black and white and into the gray where he says he wants to be.

    Comment by bear — January 3, 2011 @ 11:03 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: