Finley: What Bedrock got wrong, and right

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Bedrock, the real estate arm of Dan Gilbert’s empire, is taking some well-earned heat for a clueless window wrapper it placed on the Vinton Building in downtown Detroit.

The Vinton, a long vacant 1917 Albert Kahn-designed structure at the corner of Woodward and Congress, is being renovated by Gilbert into much-in-demand apartments.

While work on its properties are underway, Bedrock typically dresses them up with colorful and inspirational window graphics.

This time, the multi-pane wrapper showed a party scene at a downtown hot spot, along with the message, “See Detroit as We Do.”

The first thing passersby saw was that nearly all of the happy young people featured in the photograph are white.

Naturally, in a city that is 90 percent non-white, that raised the legitimate question of who the “We” is that is doing the Detroit seeing.

Gilbert didn’t even try to justify the snafu, that came as the city marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 riot. He called the graphic “tone deaf,” ordered it removed, apologized for its insensitivity and promised to do better. Give him credit for quickly getting in front of an embarrassing and hurtful episode.

The outrage was justified, but at the same time disingenuous. The truth is you don’t have to shade in many of the faces in the offending photograph to get an accurate depiction of the way downtown Detroit looks.

It remains an enclave where the workers, diners and residents are disproportionately white.

In fact, the photograph apparently was not staged by a dim-witted creative team. The website reports it appears to be from an actual party last summer in The Belt, the hip entertainment alleyway that runs behind Bedrock’s Z Garage.

If so, there is nothing remarkable about the scene. It’s re-created every night across downtown.

We aren’t getting much better at inclusion in Detroit’s rebirth. Walk into any of the hip, new bars and restaurants in the central city and the crowd looks as if it were drawn from Grosse Pointe or Birmingham (though suburban nightspots often boast more diversity than those downtown).

We’ve talked, written and agonized about this for years, and still haven’t found the answers.

Every time I bring it up, I’m deluged with messages from those who assure me there are plenty of black people downtown; I’m just not looking in the right places.

I accept that. But I also think it proves my point. In a city with Detroit’s demographics, you shouldn’t have to hunt for diversity. It should be organic, and everywhere.

The Daily Detroit writer Khalid Beydoun reports the Bedrock graphic as an example of “psychological gentrification,” the presentation of the city in a manner that makes African-American Detroiters feel marginalized and excluded from their own city.

It’s worse than that, because the photograph didn’t have to be altered to convey an alternative reality. It is the reality. Black Detroiters feel marginalized and excluded from downtown for good reason: They are.

As I’ve written before, we may not have got to this place intentionally. But we darn sure won’t move past it unless we are intentionally aggressive at inclusion.