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Unease With White Return To Detroit

Posted to MichiganNow.org on Tuesday, February 19, 2013

INTRO: The first annual Equity Network Conference will be held in East Lansing March 14-16. People will hear about contemporary racism. A Flint hospital is accused of letting a white father forbid black nurses from touching his newborn baby. There’s the school to prison pipeline and insurance redlining. Gentrification is when whites move into cities and disregard the black residents.

In part 4 of the series on the Detroit Truth & Reconciliation Commission, Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus hears why African-Americans are uneasy about whites moving in.

(Audio runs 4:22)

The Detroit Truth and Reconciliation Commission began in November 2011. If you never heard about it, consider this. A senior radio and television news producer told me she wasn’t sending any reporters. “Could be trouble,” she said. The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity launched the TRC to fight housing segregation, though media bias is on their list too. The Roundtable and the TRC hold public discussions on the first Friday of each month. The poet and activist known as Honeycomb came to one.

Turning on Stove to Keep Warm

“Nobody’s saying we don’t want white people in Detroit. Nobody’s saying that. We recognize the economic benefits to that. But in the same token it’s not fair that you can come in on the block and build up and buy this lavish house and mine’s is falling apart and I’m trying to get illegal cable and water. I’m not even going to say cable. I’m going to say basic water and electricity and heat and I’m rigging up stoves and opening up stoves to be hot at night. But you got a loan to pay off your house?”

Last year, local blogs said there was a 59% increase in whites moving into Detroit. Kurt Metzger of DataDrivenDetroit calls that an exaggeration. But the white population did go up from 75,000 to 85,000. The poet Honeycomb wants whites to sound like this:

“How can I help you get what I got? How can I help you and your neighbors get the same privilege that I have? What can we do together as a community to make sure that I have three meals and you have three meals? How can we restore community? That’s what I’d like to see.”

On February 15th, I walked along Woodward Avenue in front of the newly renovated Broderick Tower… looking for new white Detroiters. 27 year old Alisyn Malek and her mom were walking by. Alisyn’s parents raised her in Brighton. She was carrying a bike lock.

“Yeah actually I’m taking it up to my boyfriend. I live up in Brush Park. He works down at the riverfront off of Jefferson. We’re meeting for happy hour so I’m bringing him is bike lock.”

“So you guys are used to moving around by bike.”

“Yeah our primary mode of transportation in the city is either on bike or on foot. If it’s really cold out we take the people mover.”

Wilkes moved to Detroit 5 years ago after graduating from the University of Michigan. She spent 3 years on Seward St. Notorious for an abandoned high-rise apartment, a Burger King and a liquor store where someone was shot dead 2 years ago. I asked Malek if whites are displacing black Detroiters.

“I don’t think they’re(whites like her) displacing in all cases. I think that we do need to work together on an open dialogue. In our last neighborhood, we had a lot of friends of every type. We actually have an art gallery over in Corktown where we take a strong approach to try to make sure we have an open dialogue because it can be uncomfortable. Anything that is unknown is uncomfortable. So you want to make sure that you’re talking about it. But I think Detroit has enough space right now for everybody. We just have to be smart and conscientious of what’s already there and appreciate and celebrate that too.”

“What do you do for work?” McCarus asked.

“I work at GM. I am the business manager for the electrification group that works on hybrid technology. I actually commute to Warren. My boyfriend is an architect for GHA Design that’s up on Jefferson Ave now. And I’m taking my mom out for her first bar crawl in the city.”

“Yeah,” says the mother. “So we’re outta here. Have a great night.”

Gentrification was brought up at the first convening of the Detroit Truth & Reconciliation Commission. 57 year old activist Sandra Hines said gentrification is real.

State of the Art Schools

“All you gotta do is look on Woodward and as you ride out of Woodward you see the beginnings of it, all over in Brush Park there it is.

You mean gentrification where rich white folks move in and push out the black folks that have been holding down the neighborhood for 50 years.” McCarus said.

“And that’s what’s happening now. And as white folks move in they do not want their kids going to them old dilapidated schools with black kids. They want brand new campuses that is modern and state of the art.”

“It’s re-gentrification. It’s the old model that they are being able to play out because most of the houses have fallen down because they wouldn’t give people money from banks to rehab their home or keep it going. They redlined it. So it was a deliberate plot and we know that.”

Sandra Hines remains opposed to white privilege. She does it with a sense of humor.

Hey Bob! Hey Christy!

“I think they’re gonna return. I don’t really see that as a real issue. They’re coming back. If you look you see them rollerskating. They’re walking their dogs. They’re bicycling, walking hand in hand.

“Now you’re smiling but does it unsettle you?” McCarus asked.

Hines continued,“It’s gonna be a trickle. No it’s not going to be any big wave. It’s going to be in increments like anything else. The natural process where they return from where they’ve left. You won’t even know it until you look up and it will be 50/50. It’s happening now.”

“But you’re worried.” McCarus said.

Hines kept talking. “Just look up. You’ll say hey Bob. How you doing Cindy… Christy….hey Christy!”

One Response to “Unease With White Return To Detroit”

  1. Rebecca Jones says:

    Any healthy community, especially a major American city, is one where there is diversity. I feel sad for the past, slightly bemused by the present, and very certain Detroit is becoming a place where there is energy, communication of ideas, differences of opinion, compromise, innovation, pride, misunderstanding, rich, poor, diversity in every way. Like every city on earth. How can it be any other way?

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Photo by Susan Frikken, September 15, 2012 on Belle Isle during the Tour de Troit bicycling event. Young whites are more and more visible in greater downtown Detroit, often on bikes. The expression of triumph for some comes from the need to prove to other whites 'look. I can go wherever I want and not get mugged.'

Photo by Susan Frikken, September 15, 2012 on Belle Isle during the Tour de Troit bicycling event. Young whites are more and more visible in greater downtown Detroit, often on bikes. The expression of triumph for some comes from the need to prove to other whites 'look. I can go wherever I want and not get mugged.'

Tawana "Honeycomb" Petty performing poetry. Photo courtesy of Rob St. Mary/WDET

Tawana "Honeycomb" Petty performing poetry. Photo courtesy of Rob St. Mary/WDET

Alisyn Malek, 27, lives in Brush Park. She grew up in Brighton. She and her boyfriend walk and ride bikes in the city. She works as a business manager for hybrid car operations at the GM Tech Center in Warren.  Grand Circus Park is in the background. Photo taken February 15, 2013.

Alisyn Malek, 27, lives in Brush Park. She grew up in Brighton. She and her boyfriend walk and ride bikes in the city. She works as a business manager for hybrid car operations at the GM Tech Center in Warren. Grand Circus Park is in the background. Photo taken February 15, 2013.

Sandra Hines, 57, learned her activism from her mother who also trained hundreds of other people in Detroit.

Sandra Hines, 57, learned her activism from her mother who also trained hundreds of other people in Detroit.

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