Against the Current, No. 74, May/June 1998
New Gulf War? Just Say No!
— The Editors
Keeping the Rich Invisible: How Census Bureau Hides the Super-rich
— Michael Parenti
English, Vanguard of the Fast-Food University
— Cary Nelson
Despite Defeat, CAT Workers "Vote Solidarity"
— Kim Moody
Transit Workers Try a "New Direction"
— Marian Swerdlow
Australia: War on the Docks
— The Editors
Confronting America's Military Today: A Lethal Behemoth
— Tod Ensign
The Rebel Girl: Girl Power—The Best, the Worst
— Catherine Sameh
Random Shots: Skating on Thin Ice
— R.F. Kampfer
- The Crisis in Chiapas
The Context for Autonomy
— Dan La Botz
Autonomy vs. the Mexican Party-State
— Hector Diaz-Polanco
A Youth Media Project for Chiapas
— Phyllis Ponvert
- War and Sanctions in the Gulf
— Edward Said
Contradictions of Empire
— David Finkel
When the U.S. Rescued Saddam
— Stanley Heller
The Media, The War, The Bottom Line
— Michael Betzold
- Palestine/Israel: 1948-1998
What About Palestine? A Statement on "Israel At Fifty"
— The Michigan Committee on Jerusalem
Reflections of A Daughter of the "'48 Generation"
— Tikva Honig-Parnass
On Literature and Resistance
— Betsy Esch and Nancy Coffin Interview Barbara Harlow
Who Said Detroit Died?
— Eddie Hejka
History Does Matter
— Heather Ann Thompson
- Letters to Against the Current
Letters to the Editor: Postmodernism and History; Prison Labor
— Tyrone Williams and Alex Lichtenstein
- In Memoriam
Natie Gould, As I Knew Him
— Morris Slavin
I LIVE IN a racially-mixed, predominantly African American, community-oriented safe neighborhood. We know all our neighbors. Our children attend good public schools. They participate in neighborhood little league, soccer, art classes and various other activities.
Our oldest child has autism and is looked after, not only by family but also by caring children and adults throughout our community. We couldn’t imagine a nicer place to live and raise a family.
Where is this place, you ask? It’s in Detroit. Despite Heather Thompson’s declaration of Detroit’s death (in ATC 72, January-February 1998, 39-41, reviewing Thomas J. Sugrue’s The Origins of Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit), the city continues on with dozens of thriving communities, rising property values, declining unemployment, lower crime and a sense of optimism that she and others who “romanticize” oppression fail to share.
Aside from differing with her pessimistic perspective on Detroit, I disagree with her recounting of the facts. The nearly quarter million white residents of Detroit (1990 census) would be surprised to learn from her that “virtually all whites had fled Detroit” by 1980.
Her quote of Professor Sugrue saying Detroit was “dominated by rotting hulks of factory buildings closed and abandoned” by 1960 is equally ridiculous. Likewise her own statement, that “whites experienced…[a] devastating and irrevocable loss” when Mayor Coleman Young was elected in 1973, overlooks the significant percentage of white voters who supported him in that first election.
None of this takes away from the factual recounting of the resistance of many white homeowners to integration, or the pervasiveness of racism then and now. Thompson’s choice to group all white residents into stereotypical homogeneous groups, however, contributes to the racism we’d all like to see erased.
White residents are described by Thompson in militaristic terms throughout: They waged “block by block trench warfare battles” over neighborhoods and “finally withdrew their troops from the battlefield for good” with the election of Mayor Young.
African Americans are equally stereotyped. Black residents of Detroit are referred to either as members of the “underclass” (a term I despise as inaccurate and demeaning) or underestimated “challengers” of the status quo whose “power, activism and resilience” and militancy are de-personified and admired.
These stereotypes are bolstered by Thompson’s use of “whites” and “Blacks” as nouns. None of us are simply “a white” or “a Black.” Undoubtedly in this racist society our color affects nearly everything. But is not all that we are: men, women, husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, neighbors, family, friends, enemies and all the other roles that all people play.
Sadly it seems that even with all our good intentions, “progressive” folks are just as likely to believe racial stereotypes as conservatives.
I think that if we want to fight racism, as Heather Thompson surely does, we should begin by looking in our address books. If nearly everyone in there is the same race as ourselves, then it is we who are contributing to racism’s continued strength (not some evil person or persons “out there).
We each have the power to make our communities stronger, and racism weaker, by reaching out and seeing one another as people. Though it seems simple and naive, we’ll find that the next time we look our circle of friends, our communities, our unions, our employees, our churches and our coalitions are more racially-mixed and thereby stronger.
I feel, in my heart, that the racist stereotypes that hurt Detroit and the rest of our communities have to first be addressed personally, because if individuals change then institutions will follow.
ATC 74, May-June 1998