Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

May the (Insidious) Force Be With You by Pete Saunders

Google Earth pic of the boundary between Detroit and suburban Grosse Pointe Park, MI. Alter Road (cutting from upper left to lower right) is the boundary between the two. Take note of the differences in vacant land between Detroit (on the left) and Grosse Pointe Park (on the right).

Too many people think today’s “de facto” segregation in metro areas is the result of personal preferences expressed by individuals, when the fact is that public policy has created the conditions we live with today.  In fact, I see the demise of Jim Crow through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act corresponding with the immediate rise of an insidious, “non-racist” racism that shapes our metros today.  Our metro areas have never dealt with this.

In the aftermath of the Donald Sterling controversy (which, if you aren’t aware of, you truly are under a rock), the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates posted an on-spot critique of how racism is viewed and how racism is really working in today’s society.  It is a truly beautiful piece on the perception of racism versus its realities — the perception being that racism is the purview of dunces like Sterling (and Cliven Bundy before him) who get caught making inelegant statements that shed light on their true feelings, and a reality that is far more insidious and receives far less attention.  Coates describes how “elegant racism”, that insidious force, shapes where we live, what jobs are available to us, how we’re educated, and who is incarcerated and who isn’t:

“Elegant racism is invisible, supple, and enduring. It disguises itself in the national vocabulary, avoids epithets and didacticism. Grace is the singular marker of elegant racism. One should never underestimate the touch needed to, say, injure the voting rights of black people without ever saying their names. Elegant racism lives at the border of white shame. Elegant racism was the poll tax. Elegant racism is voter-ID laws.”

And to better describe how “elegant racism” works, he cites Chicago as its key implementer:

“Throughout the 20th century—and perhaps even in the 21st—there was no more practiced advocate of housing segregation than the city of Chicago. Its mayors and aldermen razed neighborhoods and segregated public housing. Its businessmen lobbied for racial zoning. Its realtors block-busted whole neighborhoods, flipping them from black to white and then pocketing the profit. Its white citizens embraced racial covenants—in the ’50s, no city had more covenants in place than Chicago.

If you sought to advantage one group of Americans and disadvantage another, you could scarcely choose a more graceful method than housing discrimination. Housing determines access to transportation, green spaces, decent schools, decent food, decent jobs, and decent services. Housing affects your chances of being robbed and shot as well as your chances of being stopped and frisked. And housing discrimination is as quiet as it is deadly. It can be pursued through violence and terrorism, but it doesn’t need it. Housing discrimination is hard to detect, hard to prove, and hard to prosecute. Even today most people believe that Chicago is the work of organic sorting, as opposed segregationist social engineering. Housing segregation is the weapon that mortally injures, but does not bruise.”

(Let’s parenthetically stop here for a second; the symbolism in that last sentence is incredible.  The implication is that victims of elegant racism “die” from internal injuries, which are often believed to be sustained from a lifetime of poor personal choices.  But elegant racism made those choices for them.  Absolutely incredible).

I don’t know if Chicago was the innovator of this type of racism, but I do believe it was something created in Northern industrial cities — i.e., the Rust Belt.  I suspect it has its seeds in the antebellum North, whose cities had small African-American populations prior to the Civil War and immediately afterwards.  I imagine at that time, when blacks comprised maybe less than five percent of, say, Buffalo’s population, it was relatively easy to isolate blacks without necessarily singling them out, as in the Jim Crow South.

But the Great Migration changed everything.  The need for industrial labor in the North, and rapidly declining conditions in the Jim Crow South, pushed African-Americans into Northern cities.  Once there they encountered competition for jobs and housing from both longtime “nativists” and more recent European immigrants.  The ten years from 1910-1920 were fraught with racial conflicts in Northern cities, culminating with the Red Summer of 1919.

But Northern cities did something that Southern ones did not.  They sought to limit and stigmatize the places where blacks lived, instead of limiting or stigmatizing the people themselves.  Out of this a whole set of policies emerged.  Racial covenants.  Redlining emerges during the New Deal.  Blockbusting came about as a tool to clear room for a growing black population, accelerate suburban expansion, and enrich real estate speculators.  Public housing was concentrated where blacks lived, and infrastructure investments ground to a halt.  Investments in education fell behind that of suburban schools, or couldn’t keep up with growing social challenges.  “Tough-on-crime” measures like mandatory sentencing and the “War on Drugs” were effective in removing potential workers from the workforce, reducing competition.  Taken together, these “non-racist” racist policies, often grounded in sound, rational economic thinking, created deeply ingrained patterns within metros that shape them today.

This position is further buffeted by research done by Nancy DiTomaso, a business professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.  In her book, The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism, she says this:

“Because whites disproportionately hold jobs with more authority, higher pay, more opportunities for skill development and training, and more links to other jobs, they can benefit from racial inequality without being racists and without discriminating against blacks and other nonwhites. In fact, I argue that the ultimate white privilege is the privilege not to be racist and still benefit from racial inequality.”

There are other strong claims made by DiTomaso in that interview; it (and the book, which I loved) is worth your attention.

In my opinion the practice was perfected in the Rust Belt but has spread everywhere.  Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is doing a series on political segregation in southeastern Wisconsin, and found that its roots are in the state’s residential segregation legacy.  Lee Atwater’s famous quote about the abstraction of racial policies, uttered in 1981, possibly signaled to Southern metros that there was a way to accomplish the separation that Jim Crow had earlier provided.  I see a correlation between the number of blacks within a metro area, and the impact of insidious policies on residential and job patterns.  In some metros, the impact, while there, is not as strong (New York, Boston), because of lower relative numbers of blacks.  In some Sun Belt metros, Jim Crow likely enforced similar patterns but subsequent post-War growth and the new policies altered things a little (Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville).  In other Sun Belt metros with more recent growth the numbers of blacks has hardly been enough for full-on “elegant racism” implementation (Phoenix, Las Vegas).  But insidious racism is a critical feature of today’s Rust Belt cities.

This is in part why I’m skeptical of new calls from urbanists to increase affordable housing in cities, when I see vast neighborhoods that have suffered from policies that simply removed them from the consciousness of the majority of the housing market.  I’d prefer to address yesterday’s mistakes before creating new ones.

Plus, I keep thinking about that saying that the only thing necessary for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing…

This post originally appeared in Corner Side Yard on May 9, 2014.

Topics: Demographic Analysis, Public Policy, Urban Culture

35 Responses to “May the (Insidious) Force Be With You by Pete Saunders”

  1. Eric Fazzini says:

    I’m very familiar with Grosse Pointe Park and you should’ve panned down a bit to Alter and Jefferson. GPP and Kercheval in this location is a somewhat depressed area. Jefferson would’ve been more appropriate as this is where the Detroit streetcar line was blocked by a Lakeshore boulevard. There should also be a reference to Milliken v. Bradley when discussion metro Detroit segregation.

  2. Riley says:

    The article and photo make me chuckle. As a former resident of Greater Detroit, I recall driving along Jefferson Avenue and passing the sign that announced one was entering Grosse Point. The abrupt change in architecture and land use was so abrupt it was like a cinematic special effect.

    Note, too, that one of the more amusing ironies in American history was that the city of Detroit, “Motown”, was destroyed by the automobile. The so-called Greater Detroit Area grew and flourished, at least for a while, as a result of the automobile-centric way of life. But the city itself was hollowed out by the mass migration to the suburbs both enabled and mandated by Detroit’s primary product…

  3. Eric Fazzini says:

    @ Riley Yeah, look at the engineering of Jefferson Ave through downtown. Detroit’s midcentury wealth and big plans attitude was it’s demise, it was death by a thousand Robert Moses’.

  4. Matthew Kuhl says:

    I too was gobsmacked the one time I drove down Kercheval from Grosse Point Park to Detroit. It was as if you crossed a DMZ of some kind to another reality. There is none of the slow transition in housing and building stock you would typically expect from a prosperous neighborhood into a less well-heeled area. It’s BAM!, you are in another world altogether.

    But can you really single out Chicago as the innovator of this type of institutionalized racism? Coates states that “most people believe that Chicago is the work of organic sorting”. In fact I think most people think that all of our cities have come about in this fashion – especially the fact that post war sub-urbanization (and the white flight that started it), was just market factors at work, and not the result of local and federal policies picking winners and losers for who would be left inhabiting cities.

  5. Chris Barnett says:

    Matthew, you can’t ignore redlining policies, blockbusting, urban highways, and the institutionalized disinvestment (or outright demolition) in African-American neighborhoods. That was most certainly not “market factors” at work. There was a big fat thumb on the scale…massive market distortion.

  6. Matthew Kuhl says:

    Chris – you misinterpreted my post (although in looking it over again, I admit it doesn’t read that well). I said (or meant) most people think that the ‘burbs just came about on their own everywhere, and not as the result of governmental policies and elected official’s collusion with private enterprise.

    I just don’t think that Chicago was any different than any other municipality in doing what every other city did – albeit on a smaller scale.

  7. George V. says:

    Would the author of this article ever move to the middle of a severely impoverished neighborhood that’s over 90% black? Would any of the commentators? Would I? Does that make us classists – or worse – racists?

    Pointing fingers at others for racism is, in fact, often a cover for the finger pointer’s own “nuanced racism”. After all, how could someone that decries racism be racist? And therein lies the rub.

  8. George, I don’t know his entire previous address history, but Pete is black and grew up in the city of Detroit.

  9. urbanleftbehind says:

    -wkg in Birmingham, if this was a tag team wrestling match its a good time to tag in. And Jon Seisa might bring the bucket of cold wolder on the immigrant-as-ideal entrepreneuers lovefest.

  10. urbanleftbehind says:

    “cold water”

  11. John M (Indy) says:

    George, I think you are missing the point. The issue isn’t so much who would live in a neighborhood like you describe but how it came to be that there are such heavily segregated neighborhoods. Ta-Nehisi Coates, cited by Aaron in this post, is an excellent if uncomfortable read on these topics, and made the point a few weeks ago that northern cities were much more segregated in the 1960s than they had been in the 1920s. This had less to do with individual attitudes about African-Americans than it had to do with specific institutional decisions that created such segregation.

  12. Chris Barnett says:

    Matthew, I did indeed run right over the “I think most people think” phrase. My apologies…we are both saying the same thing.

    My very first reaction to the photo at the top of the post was the view from 5,000 feet depicts the exact opposite of how urbanists generally characterize cities and suburbs? (Obviously the street level view is dramatically different.)

    I realize Detroit is a special and extreme case, and that this is an edge, but the knock on suburbs is low density/large lots…and that is exactly how this corner of Detroit looks from above compared to GPP.

  13. George V. says:

    Aaron, I was referring to the author of the article I just submitted a comment to, not the article you linked to (wow, that was pretty meta). Also, I’ve lived in Detroit, too, for whatever that’s worth.

    John, I don’t see how you could view the two issues – how neighborhoods become segregated and the types of neighborhoods you’d like to live in – as separate. There’s obvious link there, but it’s uncomfortable, so all the better to couch in abstract analysis.

  14. George V. says:

    I’ll just make a few more comments and then I’m out.

    “…northern cities were much more segregated in the 1960s than they had been in the 1920s.”

    The “integration” of the ’20s was a byproduct of the high population densities of the time, and in some sense, the overcrowding that represented. In the ’20s, if you wanted to be part of the urban economy, you lived in or close to the city. There was still segregation (ask your grandparents), but you could only get so far away.

    Enter the suburbs and the subsequent decreases in density, and now you could seriously distance yourself from people you didn’t like. Suburban development patterns supported prejudices, allowed people to isolate themselves in ways they’d always wanted to. For Pete’s sake, that’s why people bought the houses!

    To blame the segregation we see in modern society on the suburban house, however, is ridiculous and egregious. People wouldn’t have bought the houses if they didn’t want to live that way. Watch this documentary on Levvitown, PA: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp22YlJlfHo .

    The government didn’t force whites to move to the suburbs. Whites wanted it, and they voted for officials that supported it. It’s simple. Our government represents the will of the people.

  15. pete-rock says:

    George V. said:

    “The government didn’t force whites to move to the suburbs. Whites wanted it, and they voted for officials that supported it. It’s simple. Our government represents the will of the people.”

    First, I do want to follow up on Aaron’s point that I am black and did grow up in Detroit. I now live in the Chicago area, where I’ve lived in city and suburb, south, north and west sides, at various times in my 27 years here.

    You are right that the government didn’t force whites to move to the suburbs. Suburban style living was indeed what people wanted. But the policies I outlined — and I didn’t even mention the Interstate Highway Act or the GI Bill — certainly incentivized suburbanization.

    Look at it this way. Let’s say you are a white homeowner in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood circa 1956. You love your home, you love your neighborhood, and you legitimately harbor no animosity toward blacks. Yet, you see what’s happening in Bronzeville to the north of you, Park Manor to the east of you — blacks are moving in and property values are going down.

    Bronzeville and Park Manor are beginning to fall apart because homeowners there lack access to credit for improvements (redlining) and the city does not prioritize infrastructure investments there. Real estate agents are coming by your house, doing their blockbusting best by saying it’s a great time to sell (to them, so they can sell it “on contract” at an exorbitant price to a black homeowner — but that’s another story).

    You decide that it’s time to take up that offer from the real estate agent and move to suburban Oak Lawn. Why? Not because your dread black neighbors. But because the very policies meant to restrict the black population have affected YOU — and perhaps caused you to make a decision you did not want to make. Indeed, the way the policy structure was (is) set up, you’d be foolish not to do so.

    So yes, the people voted in elected officials who represented the will of the people — don’t be overt, but maintain the policies that give us an advantage.

  16. Derek Rutherford says:

    It is worth noting that neighborhood segregation is a much bigger issue than just black/white. Pre-WWII, most northern cities (and there were hardly any southern cities at the time) had distinct neighborhoods that were Italian/Irish/Polish/Jewish/Armenian/German/etc.. When blacks moved north during the “great migration”, they formed their own neighborhoods, just like every other group had. There was nothing unusual about this.

    After WWII, intermarriage and cultural assimilation had reached a critical mass among Americans of European heritage such that no one cared about the old distinctions. That is what ended the old intra-anglo segregation. In most northern cities, the old white-ethnic neighborhoods play up their heritage largely to attract tourists (Boston’s North End is an excellent example).

    The reason black/white segregation still exists is because the level of intermarriage and cultural assimilation between blacks and whites has not yet reached that critical mass. One can write a book on why that hasn’t happened yet (many people already have), but until that happens, we should assume that some level of segregation (mostly voluntary) will continue to exist. What we should strive for is to not have our various governments be part of the problem, and to ensure that comparable public resources are allocated to the different neighborhoods.

    BTW, if anyone wants to see the best examples of black/white integration and de-segregation, visit a military base. The rest of society is playing catch up to the military.

  17. Chris Barnett says:

    Derek, the military is a whole different ball game. In general the volunteer enlisted military is poorer and less well educated than the population at large, so it tends to skew toward minority groups. (I have some firsthand experience on military bases as a military parent.)

    This may be an effect of what Pete describes in this post: minority populations have been isolated geographically and socially from local work opportunities. When the best option is getting out of the neighborhood, joining the military is one way to accomplish it.

  18. Benjamin Boyajian says:

    Derek Rutherford: This is not entirely correct. Read this article: http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/apartheid-american-style/Content?oid=881920

    “The most segregated ethnic group ever in any American city (Milwaukee’s Italians in 1910) was segregated to the same extent that the least segregated black neighborhood anywhere, north or south, was in 1970 (in San Francisco).”

    Although many neighborhoods were considered to be “ethnic,” this usually meant that 50% of the population belonged to one ethnic group, contrasting with the >95% black neighborhoods that existed at the same time. Furthermore, black-white segregation was not the result of organic sorting as you suggest – just read Pete’s article to learn about the social policies that have encouraged segregation. I might even argue the converse of what you argued – racial residential segregation has discouraged cultural assimilation and intermarriage.

  19. George V. says:

    “Look at it this way. Let’s say you are a white homeowner in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood circa 1956. You love your home, you love your neighborhood, and you legitimately harbor no animosity toward blacks. Yet, you see what’s happening in Bronzeville to the north of you, Park Manor to the east of you — blacks are moving in and property values are going down.”

    And you really believe that was the stereotypical case? I suppose it’s all in how you want to frame the cause and effect here.

    Americans have always viewed moving out of the city as an aspirational goal. Historically, the wealthiest tended to live on estates on the edge of developed areas. The new interstate highway system (which about every American with a car WANTED) finally opened up that dream to the middle class, and real estate speculators pounced on the opportunity and extorted it for every penny they could get. That meant redlining, playing off prejudices, and the other dastardly practices you mentioned.

    None of that would’ve worked if there wasn’t pent-up demand and the prejudices didn’t exist. You make the same false assumption that plagues too many modern urban thinkers – you think that Americans were in love with their urban cities, and that it was only because of the big bad government programs that they left. Did you ever stop to think that a lot of Americans with money wanted out of the city, and that the government catered that to get votes?

    What you and I view as marvelous density, many Americans see as overcrowding. That’s why we are where we are.

  20. David Steele says:

    Delete that last comment. It should read:

    These are both African American neighborhoods within the same political boundary of Buffalo NY. The change is stark and I can’t explain it.


  21. George Mattei says:

    The author assumes that public housing was originally designed primarily for minorities. Actually when it was first built it was designed for and primarily housed mostly whites. In places where they anticipated a strong minority demand, they often built two separate developments nearby, one for whites and one for blacks.

    Public Housing only got the stigma it has once minorities began moving in in large numbers. Unfortunately this is the “soft racism” that the author describes.

  22. George Mattei says:

    I remember stories when I was at planning school at Ohio State about how Realtors would use the ingrained discrimination in FHA programs to make money. They would find a more well-off black family, and move them to a block, selling them on “making it” to a good neighborhood. Then they would go to the white neighbors and tell them “FHA won’t lend to whites in an area where a black family lives. This block will be all black soon, you better move now.” They would move them to a new subdivision on the end of town.

    Now whether this was 100% true or a stretching of the truth (seems like there was a lot of interpretation in FHA’s rules), some realtors used this practice to make a ton of money, and segregate our neighborhoods in the process.

  23. wkg in bham says:

    I think the linkage of suburbs and racism is incidental. The suburban model was the overwhelming preference in the 50’s. My father grew up in Washington D.C. For working class and low middle class folks the prewar city was no attraction – more than that; the memories were negative. They couldn’t wait to get out.

    This was not just an American phenomenon. I lived in Tokyo area in the early 70’s. Of course the city was flattened and burned to the ground during the war. But Tokyo sprawled in every direction it could (very similar to L.A.). Aside from a very small population of aborigines known as Ainu (or something like that) there were no racial minorities (except for us Gunjin). Australian cities are also very sprawling.

    I don’t think the GI Bill and the Interstate Highways were planned segregation plots. It reflected the will of the people. The will of the people is perhaps blowing in a different direction and perhaps we’ll see some new policies.

  24. Matthew Kuhl says:

    But wkg, you’re forgetting the fact that not everyone could go out to the suburbs and buy their little slice of the ‘american dream’ Once the blockbusting/redlining took hold and white flight (they call it that for a reason) was in full force, there were a lot of black suburbs being built for those folks to also move out to.

  25. Stephen Popolizio says:

    In Chicago, the Daleys – all good Democrats, mind you – did their level best to keep the city’s main ethic consistuencies – not just black and white – at bay, pitting one against the other while doling out political favors to keep them in line (and the Daleys in office). The leaders of the black community played along as long as they got their share. (The Italians never had much clout, their near west side neighborhood got carved up by UIC, the expressway and Cabrini-Green, and they moved out. The Chinese, though numerous, minded their own business in Chinatown, while the Koreans, also a sizeable community, remain invisible.)

    Yes, no question segregation has been a matter of public policy, if not political strategy. Curiously, such divide-and-conquer by racial and ethnic differentiation seems to be a tactic openly practiced by Democrats (as were Jim Crow laws), the very people who are loudest to decry racism.

    Divide-and-conquer remains a Democrat political strategy to this day, whether the tactic is women vs. men, poor vs. rich, uninsured vs. insured, labor vs. management, gay vs. straight, secular vs. religious, public vs. private, and so on, each with its predators and innocent victims.

    In Detroit, the regimes of Coleman Young and his successors (again Democrats) also gained ascendancy through race, by exploiting it, driving businesses and middle class whites (and eventually middle class blacks) out to the suburbs. Whether we should call the separation of groups by policy “elegant racism” (which is a rather elegant bit of sophistication in itself) is debatable, but it is disingenuous to suggest that the residents of Grosse Pointe somehow benefit from the social and physical disintegration of Detroit, any more than relatively prosperous white communities benefit from struggling black ones.

    Neither racism nor the fixation on racism really benefits anyone, white or black. The only beneficiaries would seem to be politicians who garner the votes of aggrieved groups (while collecting financial contributions from the bankers and corporations they profess to oppose); pundits like Coates and DiTomaso who further journalistic and academic careers by publishing fashionable social theories; and of course advocacy groups like the NAACP which occasionally get embarrassed when they honor bigots like Donald Sterling for their generous support.

    I sense that talk about “elegant racism” is for some a form of status-seeking. For others, it may be the expression of guilt over being successful, or to make others who are successful feel guilty. Coates, after all, is a successful journalist whose race has been anything but a barrier to his position with The Atlantic. DiTommaso’s assertion that successful people somehow benefit from racial inequality is entirely perplexing. Where’s the benefit? In not having to be racist? And how would she view a successful Coates, who is black, as benefiting from racial inequality? Bizarre.

    The people who are in positions of power and influence today are not the sons and daughters of blue blood robber barons. They are people who did well in school and on aptitude tests, got accepted by elite universities, earned advanced degrees and were hired by major institutions and firms. They are a meritocracy, with names like Ta-Nehisi and DiTomaso, not an aristocracy. If they are journalists or professors they earn comfortable salaries but not the big money of people in finance or banking. They work hard and have sacrificed but, as David Brooks has pointed out, perhaps are resentful of their wealthier compatriots who can afford homes in Grosse Pointe (nearly 94% white), Potomac or Greenwich. And it is easy to understand why they might see a demented, bigoted basketball team owner as symbolic if not symptomatic of status in American society, and the residents of Grosse Pointe as elegant racists.

  26. Michael H (@ComplxBlackness) says:

    George V.,

    The author of the piece in question was born and raised in Detroit. He’s lived his formative years within the mass disinvestment Detroit – as have many black communities in our inner cities – has experienced as a result of public policy and neglect.

    The ironic point of your comment is that you are reinforcing the ultimate moral of this. Point to individuals as racist is easy. Pointing out actions and systems of wealth, privilege and power as racist is hard when most people – naively or untruthfully – assume they don’t exist.

  27. AIM says:

    George V. – I can share with you articles about what happened to a black family that wanted to move to our suburb back in the 1950s. After being beseiged by a hostile neighborhood mob, they were “encouraged” by local elected officials to sell and move somewhere else because the officials couldn’t promise that the family or their home wouldn’t be harmed. This was for a family that had the courage to actually make an attempt to move to suburbia. You can be sure that word got back to other families considering a similar move. But according to you, “It’s simple. Our government represents the will of the people.” You got that point correct – the power of the government was used to ensure that the suburbs didn’t include the presence of minorities.

  28. George V. says:

    “The author of the piece in question was born and raised in Detroit.”

    So? I still think my point stands (though I initially didn’t notice the “…by Pete Saunders” tag when I wrote my first two comments, unfortunately). If I’m wrong, why is everyone moving out of Detroit?

    I lived in Detroit for awhile. Do I get brownie points in the discussion, too?

    “Pointing out actions and systems of wealth, privilege and power as racist is hard when most people – naively or untruthfully – assume they don’t exist.”

    I accept that those actions and systems were racist. I object, however, to acting as if the policies mentioned superseded the will of the people. It just codified what white people wanted. After all, Detroit had a white riot in the ’40s – but you want to blame the white exodus that began in that area in ’50s on the government? Whites constituted the broad majority in America then and voted for people that represented their values.

    “You got that point correct – the power of the government was used to ensure that the suburbs didn’t include the presence of minorities.”

    Exactly! Like I wrote earlier, it’s all in where you apply the cause, and where you apply the effect. I don’t buy that the government policies were the cause. I believe those policies were the effect.

  29. Michael H (@ComplxBlackness) says:

    George V.

    “So? I still think my point stands (though I initially didn’t notice the “…by Pete Saunders” tag when I wrote my first two comments, unfortunately). If I’m wrong, why is everyone moving out of Detroit?”

    First, who is EVERYONE? Detroit is 85% black. There is a very specific group of EVERYONE leaving, but there is only a specific group that still lives in Detroit at this point, period.

    “I lived in Detroit for awhile. Do I get brownie points in the discussion, too?”

    I give brownie points for intellectual honesty. If you wish to confuse a black underclass that has been captive to Detroit’s decline to a largely white metro area and society at large that has been disinterested to their suffering, you’ll get none from me. There is a difference between living something and watching it from afar.

    But let me get to the reason why I responded to your first post, which was the idea that nobody can be held accountable for their racist actions. White people not wanting to live near black people is one thing, but the G.I. Bill not going to black veterans never went up for a vote as least to my knowledge. Neither was the lack of or disinvestment of public transportation throughout even legacy cities. Creating suburbs as an option is not the same as making them the best or the only option for someone who wants to live in a safe and productive space. And indeed the government and the billions it spend towards these ends, has to be held accountable.

  30. Eric says:

    If a few blacks move into a white neighborhood, and the white population are “forced” (socially speaking) to sell their homes quickly and move to the suburbs – they will have to sell for well below market rates. That means a large transfer of wealth from white homeowners to blacks and/or real estate agents (given market forces, probably both). So in this common situation, racism in fact does a good deal to benefit blacks economically.

    And when we compare successful white Grosse Pointe Park to bombed-out black Detroit, we have to remember that both cities start out on a similar footing economically. Each city maintains itself via the tax base of its residents, and in fact Detroit is better off because its tax base includes offices downtown and factories in addition to residences. So why is Grosse Pointe Park more successful? Because its residents have more successful careers and because fewer of them choose lives of crime. To the extent that blacks have less successful careers due to racism, this is something that should be fixed on the societal level. But it has little to do with the built environment.

  31. Matthew Kuhl says:

    This doesn’t really even justify a response, so I’m going to sit back and enjoy the show.

  32. George V. says:

    “Neither was the lack of or disinvestment of public transportation throughout even legacy cities. Creating suburbs as an option is not the same as making them the best or the only option for someone who wants to live in a safe and productive space. And indeed the government and the billions it spend towards these ends, has to be held accountable.”

    If voters had truly been upset with that, they would’ve voted for representatives that would’ve reversed those decisions. We didn’t, for example, vote on the Affordable Health Care Act, but it’s going to have a major influence on who we elect the next time around.

    The problem is that view the government as a monolithic decision maker, when in fact it’s comprised of elected officials that have to answer to their constituents at the end of the day. If “Whiteman Sixpack” wanted funding to go to quality urban environments, he would’ve voted for someone that held those ideals.

  33. Eric says:

    Using the GP-Detroit boundary as a juxtaposition is common but shouldn’t be distorted into being representative of Detroit vs. the suburbs. You’ll find that areas outside of Outer Dr, Detroits old boundary, are not substantially different in housing stock and neighborhoods than the adjacent first ring suburbs- Redford, Southfield, Dearborn, etc. Detroit proper is just as suburban in some places as the actual “suburbs”. GP was a wealthly enclave that people that lived in the upscale Indian Village and other areas of Detroit moved to to get away from factories, have larger lots and better lake access. It’s also way upstream of all the nasty industry just south of Detroit that exists to this day.

  34. Nathanael says:

    OK. Ignoring the article for the moment, *what the hell is actually going on in that photograph*?

    This has nothing to do with racism. The racist neighborhood boundary lines in Chicago were always “softer” and vaguer than this.

    If Detroit had lower taxes than Grosse Pointe Park, you’d expect childless people to cluster on the Detroit side of the boundary, but take advantage of the Grosse Pointe Park services.

    Does Detroit have *higher* property taxes than Grosse Pointe Park?

  35. Nathanael says:

    Aha. Grosse Pointe Park is an explicitly and blatantly racist town and employs police to try to chase away non-residents.


    They’re specifically trying to prevent people from living across the border and using the city services.

    This isn’t “elegant racism”, this is straight-up ugly racism.

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