Letter: Reader responds to column on racial inclusion
Re: Nolan Finley’s Dec. 20 column “Black inclusion in Detroit’s comeback still lagging”: Finley included comments from Dennis Archer Jr., who noted that although the region is 20 percent African-American, one would be hard pressed to see the same percentage patronizing the new bars and restaurants recently opened within the city. Finley also included comments from Shirley Stancato, the head of New Detroit, and Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. Both spoke about plans and efforts toward inclusion.
However, it’s not about the absence of black people. Detroit is still 80 percent black. What white folk (and some blacks) won’t say is that African-Americans with money are the ones who are missing. Those are the individuals and families that people are most concerned about. They are the ones who fled Detroit on the heels of their white neighbors and have yet to return.
The notion of “two Detroits” isn’t new and there shouldn’t be a rush to try and “fix it” or prevent its occurrence. Good-natured and warm-hearted people are wringing their hands over the lack of diversity in bars and restaurants. But it’s always been that way.
Restauranteurs open eateries that appeal to a certain market segment. Here, it’s not about race. With food, it’s more economically driven. I guarantee that you won’t see black folk from Gunston and Gratiot lining up for the tuna tartare from Wright and Company or Selden Standard’s duck ragu. But you also won’t find too many white people from Taylor or Hazel Park in those places either.
However, on any given night, you’ll find a fair share of African-Americans in Green Dot Stables, Hopcat, Townhouse Detroit, and other restaurants that serve hamburgers, Philly cheese steaks, and other fish and chicken entrees at moderate prices. None of these establishments are minority owned; however, they are frequently patronized by minorities.
Finley and Archer talk about the need to have an African-American presence living in downtown. Finley correctly believes that young blacks should be part of the resurgent population in the central city. Archer stated that it is very difficult to get black empty-nesters to return from Canton, Troy and other suburban communities.
But black empty-nesters sent their children away to college, most often out of state and frequently to HBCUs. Their children never came back to Michigan, let alone to Detroit. I am very close to a millennial who often laments that she is the only one still living here locally. The majority of her friends live in Washington, Boston and Atlanta. While city officials and business leaders may long for young black professionals to live in Detroit, they first have to get them to return to Detroit.
Likewise, convincing black empty-nesters to come home to the “D” may present a challenge. White empty-nesters often state their rationale for returning is to be close to all of the activities they have always enjoyed, i.e., the DSO, the DIA, Red Wings, Tigers, the theaters. While certainly these pastimes are “race-neutral” on their face, they have never held the same appeal to the African-American middle class. As a result, black empty-nesters don’t have the same affinity for downtown Detroit as do their white counterparts.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves. There’ll always be two Detroits. Maybe even three or four if you count the rapidly growing Hispanic population and our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters.
Rarely is a city a true melting pot, where distinct ingredients go in and come out blended together as one unique flavor. Rather, municipalities are more often like a TV dinner: the chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and dessert all together on one plate, yet each occupying their own personal and private space.
In all my years of eating those Swanson frozen dinners, the only time that frozen chocolate brownie interacts with those frozen mashed white potatoes is after they thaw out and I purposefully join them together in my stomach as one meal.
I figure the same will work with people. Here’s to One Detroit.
Cliff Woodards II, Detroit