History of Racism

In our current Detroit history class (led by the fabulous Stephen Ward), we started with studying the infancy of Detroit as a city, and we are now studying Detroit post- World War II.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but as a kid in elementary school, most of the teachers presented the topic of racism as something that was rampant in the South, but non-existent in the North. A few years after that, teachers would steadily reveal small tidbits of information that revealed pieces of our Northern racist past.

Prior to our Detroit history class, I intellectually knew of the racism in Metro Detroit, and could dig up examples such as the riots, or the KKK groups that currently surround the city. But within the readings we had in class, many of them contained accounts of people protesting Blacks from moving into their neighborhoods. And those accounts were consumed with pure racism.

Frankly, after reading those accounts, I could understand why the city is still largely segregated, and why so many issues haven’t been resolved. Because that kind of hate can’t be resolved in just 50 years.

What kind of role do you think racism plays in the city today?



3 thoughts on “History of Racism

  1. I’ve been having similar thoughts to yours, Dorothy. One potentially good thing (well, I don’t know if you could call it “good”) is that I think a lot of racist families left Detroit as a result of their prejudices. When we read some of those letters from racist homeowners protesting the arrival of black families in their communities, I shuddered to think that my own ancestors might have shared and vocalized the same views. Today, my dad’s side of the family lives in Mt. Clemens, and my aunts and uncles are definitely prejudiced, although it’s getting less blatant. (They tend to tell ignorant jokes.) I haven’t heard those kinds of comments from my cousins so I’m not sure what their views are. But I wonder if their prejudice has persisted more because they live in a white community.

    The white Detroiters that I know were raised in integrated communities. As a result, they were never instilled with the notion that the sight of a black person is strange or scary. They did not notice that some of their friends were white and some their friends were black until they were taught about different races. While I’m sure there are racist white Detroiters, especially among those who live in predominantly white communities, these kids managed to grow up with the strong idea that everyone is the same. This inherent perception of equality is one of the reasons I hope to raise my own children in Detroit. However, my view might be narrow – these kids also went to great, integrated schools and their parents are very liberal and into social justice. I want to get a better perception of typical white Detroiter and the role that racism plays within the city itself.

    1. Eleanor, I love your response! I agree with your rationale that many white Detroiters have a different experience than white surburbanites, but my only question would be, how can we help change the mindsets of people that have moved away?

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