Saturday, February 2, 2008

My Home, My Disappointment

I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, as most of you may know. But after graduating high school, I never had a true affinity for the city, having never felt completely at home there because Detroit was not my mother's home. Despite my personal unrest, I was a staunch supporter of my beloved city, and would go toe-to-toe with anyone who demeaned it in any way. But the last debacle with Mayor Kilpatrick not only saddens me but also reminds me of all that bothered me about Detroit, and this is particularly true of the mayor's mother's response to her son's indiscretions.

It is not that I am taken aback by congress woman Carolyn Kilpatrick publicly declaring her allegiance to her son, despite the fact that he possibly lied under oath about his affair with Christine Beatty, his chief of staff. One expects a mother to support her son at all costs. But perhaps it was the manner in which she chose to support her son in a public forum screaming loudly; referring to her grown son as, "my boy"; and vehemently insinuating that someone else, and not her son, is responsible for his current predicament.

The mayor and his mother embody the most negative stereotypes of African Americans: loud, uncouth, and indiscreet. I have noted that some Detroiters seem to live within a bubble that prohibits them from realizing that they are citizens of not only a nation but also a world. I do not fully subscribe to the belief that every Black person is representative of the race. However, I do strongly believe that Black public officials have an obligation to exhibit a degree of decorum and restraint within public venues. After all, whether Black public officials regard themselves as representative of the people or not, they are. And their public behavior and indiscretions ultimately do negatively impact on their predominately Black constituents.

How can people like Mayor Kilpatrick and his mother even profess wanting to help Detroit become a world class city when they are trapped within the myopia that has defined far too many Black Detroiters' lives and perceptions since the Coleman Young years?

The Kilpatricks' inability to see how their behavior only fuels a national perception of Detroit as an urban, postmodern industrial wasteland, governed by incompetent people, severely limits relocation of people and businesses to the city. There is one thing for sure, Detroit will never become a vibrant city again unless jobs and people are willing to relocate there.

Since I departed Detroit in 1987, I very rarely hear anything positive in the media about the city. I used to attribute the media's negative portrayal of the city to the fact that Detroit was majority Black. However, intellect dictates for me that race cannot be the panacea for all that is bad and wrong in the city. At some point, the buck needs to stop somewhere. Not only should Detroiters call for the mayor's resignation, but the citizens of the 13th Congressional District should strongly consider a new person to represent them in Congress, too.

Six terms sitting on the Hill have been too many for the congress woman, and two terms throwing parties in the Manoogian mansion have been too many for the mayor.

Detroiters, you deserve better.


ssascms said...

As I read through my daughter's comment, I've concluded there are no additions of value needed. So, I'll just take this opportunity to remind all that our "leaders" are a reflection of the citizens who voted them into office and therefore, the community they represent and serve(supposedly),no more and no less. As voters, we must learn to look far beyond the rhetoric that is the gift of most politicians. We must attempt to ascertain the values of those individual who are vying for our votes. We must realize that such individuals must be held to standards higher than the general public, because of their higher-than-norml level of responsibility and authority. To excuse a "leader" for personal blunders that are completely repeat, completely avoidable such as infedelity, such as misuse of public funds out of pure arrogance coupled with a total disregard for the financial conditions of a community, such as "loud" and "uncouth" public displays completely void of any discretion, just to name a few, is absolutely unacceptable. And to excuse these type blunders from our leaders just because "he/she is human subject to mistakes" is also totally unacceptable. Of course, we the voters must thereby possess a set of values from which we draw as we evalute those who either we have already placed in office or are vying for our votes. Citizens of Detroit, what is the level of your values? The eyes and the ears of the nation and of the world are focused on Detroit the Motor City and on you! Here's your opportunity of say "enough is enough", to show the rest of this nation and the world that the people of Detroit will no longer accept nothing less that the best in its leadership! This is necessary if Detroit is to survive and flurish again as an independent viable community.

M. L. Simms said...

I am happy that you expounded on the points that I am unable to articulate because I am so disappointed with what is happening in Detroit with the political leadership. Once again, thanks dad.

E. said...

What Detroit needs is a cultural and spiritual movement that allows people to feel regenerated and included while living in a world that honors their creative potential.

Detroiters need a spiritual leader who will show the people how to be neighbors again first.

The city needs a grassroots movement to clean up the dead buildings and bring those structures to life with new energy and entrepreneurship.

Ethics, economics and politics growth must follow the spiritual revolution.

JFlavente said...

I hope we are being careful not to blame the victims. Blacks did well in places like Detroit, Chicago, Dayton, Cleveland, etc, at one time, because there was plenty of blue collar work to be found. Their success was not based on being well educated and high class for the most part. Now those jobs are gone bye bye. Whites have flowm the coop. The tax base is fragile. And what is left is a people between a rock and a hard place. They have a lot to be loud about. It makes ME want to holler. With regard to the mayor of Detroit, what he did is much less of an issue than what Bill Clinton did, with his lies, play with words, lewd behavior, and general disrepect for everybody and everything. Yet we still tolerate Bill on TV, buy his books, and take pride in the fact that he has an office in Harlem (at least many of us used to). I know it does not make it right, but just lighten up on the mayor, my babies.

M. L. Simms said...

jflavente, I agree. I'm not blaming the victims, not the least. I'm just concerned that the leadership seems to lack a moral and ethical base from which to draw.

When the current mayor filled his ranks not with the most qualified people, but with his friends, family and political cronies, I was concerned. So it's not just the failing leadership, but the inability for the current leadership to see how their failing leadership and questionable behavior jeopardize the well being of people who are already between a rock and a hard place.

Perhaps it's time for the Black middle and upper classes to stop trying to lead the masses of people in Detroit whose class interests they do not share. I think that if you are concerned about which Versace suit you are going to buy next, it's very difficult to be concerned about the unemployed mother whose gas is about to get cut off. For far too many of the persons in positions of leadership in Detroit, it is truly about getting paid.

As E. wrote, perhaps it is time for grassroots organization, and not a movement led from the outside but from within. The Black middle and upper classes have never affected change that benefited the masses of Black people. I know that I am stepping out on a limb, and please do not tout the Civil Rights Movement as an example of change that aided the masses. History does not support this. Those who were middle class during the Civil Rights Movement elevated their class status or maintained it. Those persons who were lower or working class continue to be, nearly two generations later, working or lower class.

The Black middle and upper classes operate from self interests, and their interests are not the interests of the multitude of the residents of the city of Detroit. We need to recognize how these class differences really create a divide that positions the Black middle and upper classes as the economic gate keepers. Yes, the Big Three Automakers have some culpability in the demise of Detroit, but the tax abatements to these corporations were granted under Black administrations. Whose interests are being represented at the table? More importantly, who's not at the table when the negotiations are underway and the deals are sealed. Therein lies the problem.

JFlavente said...

Your response is very interesting and thought provoking. But let me say that the notion of a Black upper and middle class is, well--a notion. Bill Clinton recently reminded the nation of this with his comments toward Barack Obama. The comments had all Blacks in his mind's eye, of course, and that, as they say, even a blind man could see. What he was saying is this: "You are just another (you know what I want to say), and that Harvard Law Degree and winning smile don't mean (I want to say something else this time) to our folk." And I believe that he is sincere with that thought, as are most Americans. I know you are thinking “But they are voting for him.” Bill wasn’t really directing his comments at Obama, “who is that different guy”, as much as at the nation. He was giving a warning to the nation of the threat of giving too much freedom to the “jig-a-boos.” Hillary did the same thing with her Martin Luther King comment. Freedom is a powerful force with a life of its own. You can’t just let anybody have charge of it. But let me get back to the immediate subject. We Blacks have middle and upper "classiness" (stylish; admirably smart; elegant), but not class (a social stratum sharing basic economic, political, or cultural characteristics, and having the same social position). So we are all in this together, at the bottom of the bucket, whether we want to be or not-one low class. This is our lesson for the 21st Century. We did not learn it from the Civil Rights Movement, I agree. But, there is always the opportunity to learn. It is important that we begin to understand that we could have a map leading to the Tree of Life, and we would be that (You know what I want to say) with the map leading to the Tree of Life. We could discover the path to the Fountain of Youth, or how the universe began, and it would be the same. So a few Harvard degrees, a big house, a six or seven figure bank account makes us no more than that former auto worker, homeless family, thug, robber, etc, when it comes to the American caste system we call class. We are still thought of as the lower caste (Teddy knew what Bill was saying), sometimes even made to be the untouchables (ask Michael). And it is a number of systems that require being changed, the primary one being the system of the heart. That is the toughest. But also in need of change is a political system that was designed to work for the elite only. And all that good stuff that Reagan mentioned does actually trickle down. But it is just barely a drop by the time it gets to the people in Detroit, New Orleans, Akron, etc, if that. Our political system is designed to reward those who helped get the official elected, and that official can reward his/her family. There are job positions set aside just for that purpose in local, state and federal government. Who said they had to be best qualified? JFK was criticized for selecting Bobby Kennedy for a government position. Bobby was not the best qualified to do anything in government at that time, by most people’s standards, because he was JFK’s brother. But JFK did not care. So the mayor of Detroit is doing what any elected official does. He would be swimming against the tide to do otherwise. He is using the political system just as any elected official does. However, that is not the problem Blacks in Detroit are facing. Blacks’ in Detroit and elsewhere suffer from a system that has survived centuries of world social/political evolution, without being changed except superficially. The system that is causing us the most grief as Blacks is the system of slavery and its mother, racism. It is almost like a drug which we dearly love, and refuse to let go. We stratify ourselves as head house slave, house slave, and field slave. We create lines, walls, images, words and attitudes that divide us. We walk around our communities with a big chip on our shoulder. We shoot each other, drug each other, look down our nose at some, and up at others with our hat-in-hand. I am suggesting that the answer to getting started in the right direction is educating ourselves to who we really are, why we are our brother’s keeper, and how our collective minds can change any situation we are confronted with. Right now, to paraphrase Little Anthony, “We’re On the Outside, Looking In” trying to build a world with all the wrong tools.

M. L. Simms said...


Of course, your comments are on point and well taken. And regardless if there are true, economic black upper and middle classes (which I happen to believe strongly that there are), we must acknowledge that blacks are not homogeneous, have never been homogeneous, and will never be homogeneous. Possessing the racial marker of blackness, a marker produced by European and Enlightenment racism, and reinforced throughout the world through U.S. imperialism and commodification of blackness, still does not mean that one automatically operates in a manner that benefits the communities or group. Whichever way we cut it, until some African Americans realize that there are real, class divisions that separate us, and our class divisions create competing political, economic, and social interests, then we run the risk of continuing to vote in people like the mayor of Detroit and his mother whose interests are more self-serving than communal.