While this article is a review on a new play in New York, it focuses on longstanding and very important issues in Detroit: race relations and integration (and all within the context of theatre!). As we finish up our classroom studies of Detroit in the 60s, it is important to reflect on race and racism as it exists today.
This week’s reading for our history class is a few chapters from Coleman Young’s autobiography, Hard Stuff. As I read the assigned chapters, I felt myself getting a little defensive. Young very blatantly asserts that white people are uncomfortable with black culture, and are therefore afraid of Detroit. He goes on to suggest that if suburbanites felt more comfortable with “black” Detroit, then public transportation would be better, corporations wouldn’t have left, and the city would still be thriving. That’s not true! Who is he to say that I am afraid of black people? And how would that change how I view an entire city? While I still do not think his claims are the whole truth, I agree that a major part of many white suburbanites’ disinterest (or even disdain) of the city is related to race. But I can’t help but think that there is a mutual disinterest. On a whole, predominantly white communities don’t understand predominantly black communities. And vice versa. With misunderstanding comes fear. And with fear comes rejection and separation.
From my adventures as a SiD student in the city, my identity as a young, white woman from the suburbs has been on the forefront of my mind. There is no denying that Detroit is predominantly black, so naturally, this question of white discomfort with black culture continuously haunts my mind. Yes, Detroit culture makes me uncomfortable sometimes. But it is a discomfort that I want to endure. I want to dig into my awkwardness of not understanding certain lingo or social interactions. I want to relish in the slightly too long of gazes I get when I walk down the street. No, I am not inspiring mass integration by living in Detroit, but I am helping myself grow into a rounded, understanding, and accepting human being. And hopefully, I can inspire others around me to adopt this understanding attitude as their own.
I guess you could say that living in Detroit is my minor attempt to encourage integration between two cultures who have lived side-by-side and separately for years. And even if these communities found common ground, would that really mean a more flourishing Detroit? Maybe. It wouldn’t hurt to try.