INTRO: The real estate and banking crises have hit African-Americans harder than any other ethnic group in America and in Michigan. The Detroit Truth & Reconciliation Commission is seeking testimony about housing discrimination and other injustices. They feel no progress will be made if stories go untold. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus has the 5th and final part of a series on the TRC. Two people are trying to set the record straight about which community destroyed the other.
Sandra Hines speaks to journalists about issues that affect blacks and the city of Detroit. She has fought alongside some of the truth commissioners. Here she’s talking about 1973.
White Punishment of Blacks for Electing Coleman Young
“When Coleman Young came in as the mayor and once they weren’t able to agree with him or deal with him, and I’m talking about the corporate community now the ruling class, once he didn’t succumb to what they wanted, that’s at least what I’ve always gotten from the people, my mother and them, then they took all of their money out. All of them: the business community ran out of Detroit to punish us. And we understood that. That was loud and clear.
“It was to punish black people because they wanted to live in a better neighborhood, not next to white people, but we wanted to live in houses that was decent and neighborhoods that was better than Black Bottom that had been completely raped and was falling down and looked like a mess. We want to live just like anybody else in a nice neighborhood with decent housing. You know we people. We PEOPLE.”
Racists think some people are less than human. Therefore, Sandra Hines is defending her people’s humanity.
“She says that we have been completely raped. And I use the term space rape in my book.”
The book is called Driving Detroit by George Galster. He is a professor of Urban Affairs at Wayne State University. He spoke from his living room in Palmer Woods, inside the city. Galster describes a blame game with folks like Sandra Hines on one side. Then:
“White suburbanites point the finger in the other direction saying ‘my childhood home’ the house where my parents grew up is all destroyed. You black folks don’t know how to run a city. It’s your fault. You have raped my space. We love to scapegoat in this region.”
Galster says metro Detroit has:
“ a distinctly awful history of racial violence.”
Federal troops had to be called out 4 times: 1833, 1863, 1943, 1967. Still it’s common to hear white suburbanites say ‘the trouble started somehow in ’67. Blacks rioted. So we pulled out.’
“We have perfected race riots in the city of Detroit and they have extracted the biggest toll on the black citizens both in terms of loss of life and loss of property. So there is indeed a long history which makes it perfectly understandable why many black citizens don’t trust white folks.”
Contemporary Structural Racism
In October, 5 black Detroiters enlisted the ACLU to sue Morgan Stanley Bank in federal court in New York. They believe their civil rights were violated when they were steered into sub-prime mortgages. Professor Galster says:
“Discrimination directed by corporations owned by white people continues today. And so, there’s plenty of reasons to point the finger of blame by the black population of Detroit at white folks trying to rip them off. Having said that, it’s absolutely foolish and self-defeating to paint all white people with the same brush just like it’s self-defeating for white folks to be prejudiced against all black people just because the color of their skin….”
The activist Sandra Hines admits that some whites are not racist. And she’s joked that soon the white and black populations in Detroit will be 50-50.
“We have a problem with, not a problem with the fact that they trying to build the city up and trying to bring people in and make the city more vital. But they still don’t want to include us. To build condos and all that. We don’t have money to buy it. If they would help us keep our neighborhoods and help home owners keep their property up then I don’t think we’d have the problem we have about people coming in. About building new structures and what have you. But they building new structures as they laying us off. They’re building new structures as they’re throwing folks off of welfare. They building all that stuff and we know it’s not for us.”
Hines warns about gentrification… when whites move in and push blacks out. Kurt Metzger of DataDrivenDetroit says the numbers of whites are too small to make a difference. His former colleague at Wayne State, George Galster says:
“There is a widespread opinion that Ms. Hines beautifully reflects among some black citizens and leaders that whites have indeed abandoned the city and now they see something of value and they want to take it back from the black community.”
Galster points out that most whites are moving into old warehouses and office buildings converted into residential space. They’re not moving into houses. Meanwhile, 60,000 properties stay empty.
Don’t Blame the Children for Parents and Grandparents Sins
“The inmovers by and large are the next generation. They bear no ostensible guilt for running out when Coleman Young was elected mayor. Running away after the riots. They shouldn’t be demonized for trying to see something of value in the city of Detroit and voting with their feet. These people should not be criticized even if they happen to be white.”
Professor Galster says Detroiters should welcome anyone willing to add to the property tax base and the income tax base.
“The only color which should count for the city of Detroit is green. This white/black dichotomy between folks is simply not serving anybody’s interests.”
Members of the Detroit Truth & Reconciliation Commission will hear more about racial equity at a conference at Michigan State University, on March 14-16.