Saturday, January 29, 2011

How Michigan Destroyed Itself with Segregation

I have lived in the Detroit area most of my life. As a child my parents constantly argued so I didn't get very much sleep and I would often lay in bed awake for hours. Sometimes I would read by flashlight, but, usually not since the batteries would wear out after a few hours and then my father would punish me for wasting batteries.

I remember laying in my bunk bed above my brother listening to the tanks drive down 8 mile during the 1967 riots. Did that really happen? Did I hear it or is it a memory my mind created after listening to my parents describe it. I was only 6 years old. My life was totally unstable with an abusive father and an alcoholic mother.

During the 1967 riots in Detroit my father organized a neighborhood group to protect our suburb from the gangs of marauding blacks. My father didn't use that word at the time. He used the N word and later, after our maid quit because my father was a racist, he beat me once for using that N word.

Psychologists tell us that kids typically grow up to be the person they are raised to become by their parents. The life of a young adult in their 20's is typically defined by the way they were treated by their parents as a child and an adolescent. The basic rule of thumb is, the worse the young person behaves the worse they were treated by their parents. (Not quite exactly on point, but close and interesting because it compares the States to other nations)

I behaved pretty badly in my early 20's. By my late 20's I had dated a few women who were either majoring or had majored in Psychology and I had spent about a year in therapy discussing some of the issues that led to my marriage, my break-up and where I was in life. I had also accepted Christ as my savior.

My understanding of biology and psychology tells me that people have genetic predispositions toward some behavior and that those predispositions can be actuated by environmental situations. In other words, you can treat two people exactly the same and if one has a genetic predisposition and the other does not the one with a predisposition will begin acting out.

That was not my problem in childhood. My father loved my brother more and treated him much better than he treated me. My mother divorced my father, primarily to protect me from him, and spent the rest of her life loving him and hating him. My mother tried to offset my father's abuse with rewards. My Dad would beat me, my mother would reward me. I became a modern day human Pavlov's dog.

When I joined the Army at 17 I began learning that I was not the loser my father had convinced me I was. This is also when I figured out my father was racist. My father once asked me how many blacks were in my unit. I have always been proud of the fact that I didn't know and couldn't even guess. He told me that there were more blacks than whites and I should count them sometime. I never did, primarily because I didn't think it mattered and to believe it mattered meant race mattered and I am not a racist.

But I was raised by a racist father and so I had racist ideas shoved into my head at an early age. As I became older I realized that where I was very upfront with people, very out in the open about my ideas and beliefs because my mother created the belief in me that open dialog is the most important factor in developing a relationship, my father and my brother were very different. They would create situations where they were alone with someone before they would express their true feelings or beliefs.

I realize now that this is the way it is for 99% of people, black or white or orange or purple.

I suck at bluffing in poker. My mother raised a son who is about as up front about their opinions and ideas as they can be.

Over the years I have occasionally made stupid remarks that were taught to me by my father in the presence of others and some people have labeled me racist for those remarks. Sometimes they just make me look stupid.

Once when I was in Army I was talking to a black guy working on their car. They had a really great car and there were black mechanics in my unit. We were drinking beer and I was helping. I said something like “this is a really great car, I didn't think blacks did this kind of stuff”. He stopped and looked at me funny and did something really amazing, he turned back to working on the engine and asked, “why would you believe that?”. I said “I guess my father told me once that blacks make lousy mechanics”. He shook his head and said something like “You need to get rid of those racist ideas”. I said “I'm not a racist”. He said something like, “You are if you believe racist things like that. Hand me the ratchet.” I was insulted.

Over the years I have looked back at that and thought about it. He was right of course. As children we believe things our parents tell us and don't even understand how racist they are. We become insulted and we make up excuses for why we should segregate people based on race or religion or culture or even economics.

Quite often I will talk about this and other people, white or black, will engage in a Relativist Fallacy argument. Essentially people will say that may apply to you, but, it does not apply to me so I reject your belief.

As if people do not accept stupid things their parents say.

As we grow older many of us reject many of the ideas that we were taught as children. I have found that quite often people who “rebel” in their 20's end up being very much like their parents in their 40's. Sometimes we grow to reject some of the things our parents teach us.

Some people will claim that I am saying that this idea of learned racism is true because I say it is true when what I am actually doing is offering evidence from my own experiences. There are papers that describe the results of studies on this issue. You are welcome to hunt them down.

In the 1950's and 60's blacks moved into the city of Detroit. By the late 1960's the majority population in Detroit was black and the '67 riots occurred. White Flight ruled the next few years. Without the traditional white people “guarding” voting booths more blacks were able to vote and Colman Young was elected Mayor of Detroit.

Coleman Young was and may still be a Segregationist. As a Michigan Congressperson he presented an education segregation bill. Coleman Young was black and his politics taught me that some blacks wanted to be separate from whites as much as whites wanted to be separate from blacks.

There are differences though and I want to point out one of the essential differences.

In the 1980's when Detroit was trying to develop a metropolitan public transportation system the white suburbs refused to co-operate with the leadership in Detroit.

The leadership in Detroit built the People Mover, a very small system that runs around in a small circle in downtown Detroit. Basically a train chasing it's own tail.

Most of the white people in the suburbs were too stupid to understand the complex metaphor. A mass transit system built in such a way because white people refused to co-operate with blacks. I didn't get it until a black guy I worked with pointed it out.

You see, the Whites had isolated the Blacks in Detroit and were forcing them to chase their own tail around in a tiny little area. This is typical of white segregationist policies. In my experience Black segregationists typically want to maintain their own culture AND associate with Whites on a professional level. White segregationists typically do not want anything to do with Blacks.

If you go back and read about the People Mover there were plenty of “reasons” not to build a metropolitan Detroit public transportation system. I look back at them now and see them for the racism that it is. Ideas that spring from the same stupid well as the idea that “blacks make lousy mechanics”.

I came up from the shop floor. I have worked in many shops. Like many blacks I know I have held two and three jobs at a time. The difference between me and the blacks I know is my race. Because I am white I had opportunities to advance in manufacturing that do not exist for blacks. The higher up on the food chain I have risen the fewer black faces I see.

My father's question of me when I was in the Army taught me to notice when blacks are absent, not count them when they are present.

That isn't the point of my blog though. This has all just been lead up and explaining the experience that leads me to believe what I believe.

The primary economic draw in any area is and always will be the major Urban area. Without access to the resources that an Urban area provides, the population density and labor force, you cannot industrialize. Industrialization and urbanization come hand in hand.

The state of Michigan destroyed it's own industrial economic future by doing everything it could to isolate a black community which also happened to be it's primary urban area and primary area of industrialization.

Across the United States Michigan is known as a hotbed of racism. NAZI's publish their filth in Michigan. McVeigh developed his plan of action in Michigan. Michigan Militia. People in Michigan wonder why and I can tell you right now that a lot is because of Detroit. People all over the world recognize Detroit for what it is, a deliberately segregated and impoverished black community.

It is not because Detroit is a primarily black city. It is because of the way the rest of the state has isolated Detroit, segregated Detroit and left it to die after it became a primarily black city and in doing that Michigan cut it's own industrial economic throat.

Some areas in Michigan have tried to build up enough of an urbanization to support industrialization. The Tri-City area of Grand Rapids, Holland and Grand Haven for example. I won't get into the logistical issues that make this a terrible idea and reduce the economic potential of the region as well as jeopardize the ecology of the Lake Michigan shore line.

I will just point out that fifty years ago Michigan was a thriving industrial state with one of the highest standards of living. Forty years after segregating Detroit and leaving the black community to chase their own tail in a tiny little region Michigan is a “third world” state.

We did it to ourselves. Not with the kind of bigotry that lynched Detroit Red's father in Michigan. We did it with an insidiously evil kind of bigotry that hides behind a thin veneer of acceptance and prevents blacks from leaving the poverty stricken shop floor, from moving into skilled trades and eventually into the white halls of industrial upper management.

We did it because our parents taught us stupid things like “blacks make lousy mechanics” or “it isn't because they are black, we just don't want hoodlums running around our little white oasis”.

We segregated Detroit and Detroit Red made an excellent observation of the why, prejudice is so ingrained in the white culture that white people can't even recognize it when they help build monuments, like the People Mover, to their own bigotry. Prejudice is so ingrained in the white culture that whites would rather destroy their own state than help blacks achieve economic prosperity.

Martin Luther King Jr. grew up in the South where blacks and whites often worked together in the lowest jobs available, picking. For hundreds of year land owners and their families have worked side by side with pickers. Martin Luther King knew Blacks and Whites COULD work together. Detroit Red grew up in the North where blacks worked FOR whites and not together WITH whites. Northern Segregation vs Southern Segregation.

Detroit Red made another observation near the end of his life. The same observation that Martin Luther King made. It is possible for blacks and whites to work together in harmony to accomplish a common goal.

We as a people have to start by working with segregated communities to integrate them on a professional and industrial level. First we learn to work together. Then we learn to live together.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

need to check