Specifically, our discussion centered on the commentary in the Focus: HOPE documentary “In Pursuit of Hope,” which features city residents’ reflections on the few-day-long 1967 Detroit riot, including what led up to it and what people in Detroit are doing now to help assure it doesn’t happen again.
The stark picture painted by the residents’ narratives really brought home the eerie similarities between the inner city and the reservations that the U.S. government forced Native Americans onto—Habitable patches of land from which the investment money, resources, and education that could help residents create viable businesses and prosperous communities have been removed, and given to the people in the surrounding areas which were deemed more deserving of them.
One point that really stuck out for me from the documentary was that all the attention (and judgment of Detroit as a failure) has focused on the people who fled the city, leaving abandoned, scary neighborhoods, burned-out buildings, and closed schools. Little attention or credit has been given to the people who stayed, and have been working to stabilize and help their communities prosper.
Focus: HOPE is one organization that has been empowering Detroit residents to help themselves rather than conditioning them to rely on “hand-outs” from “white saviors,” a term UrbanDictionary.com defines as “western people going in to ‘fix’ the problems of struggling nations or people of color without understanding their history, needs, or the region’s current state of affairs.” (For an informative analysis of this devastating socio-political phenomenon, please click here.) Another example is the Artists Village centered on Lahser and Grand River, which I’ve made a couple explorations into (and blogged about here).
The more dialogues I have with people who grew up in and/or still live in Detroit, the more I realize that Detroit is capable of restoring itself if we just let it.
By this I don’t mean cut all ties and just “let them figure it out on their own” in isolation; what I mean is that we need to let the people who live in Detroit have a chance to determine their own fate, rather than more affluent outsiders assuming what should stay and what should go in the city. What many people are lauding as Detroit’s supposed “comeback,” after all, is not so much a self-restoration that could truly be considered a comeback; much of what they’re actually referring to is gentrification—bringing in real estate, dining, retail, and entertainment that most long-term residents of the city can’t even afford to partake of.
That’s not saving Detroit, that’s taking it away from its residents.
All that being said, one thing that can help make discussions about interracial and intercultural reconciliation more productive is to stop insisting on the ideas of “blame” and “fault,” which have always gotten us nowhere.
If, because I'm mostly “white” (my Native American ancestry being invisible to most people), I treated myself like some kind of villain, or allowed other people to view me as a villain because the system favors “my kind” and not “their kind,” then I’m not going to come to any productive conclusions that will do anything other than make me feel defensive, ambivalent about my social position, and uncomfortable talking with anyone who isn’t in the “white” box.
On the flipside, I can say that, as a person who has something that many other people don’t, I have a social responsibility to share.
This mindset encourages me to think, What ways can I help my neighbors or friends who don’t have what I have? How can I encourage them, change my ways of thinking and behaving to help bring about a culture-shift that helps them prosper? What legislation can I support? What greed-based businesses can I boycott? What local businesses can I patronize and promote?
The way to finding these answers starts with dialogue, and sharing what we’ve learned from our conversations. That’s what I strive to do here, and I’ve got more to come next week.