Monthly Archives: March 2012

Let’s be a little frank about race

Last week I had a conversation with a hard-working and pretty influential guy about race in Metro Detroit (it’s kind of a big deal right now) and how difficult it is to talk about race, especially when the parties in the conversation are on opposite sides of the spectrum.

He’s an older white guy and I’m a young black guy. That alone, even before the nationwide Trayvon Martin conversation, can make someone nervous. I’m honestly nervous talking about anyone. I think about my words too much before speaking, I “talk with my hands,” I don’t always make 100% eye contact and, as a reporter, I have to choose my words  and contexts carefully — one, to not show bias, two, not to sound like a wet-behind-the-ears dumbass. But in front of a white person, you don’t want to — what some of us black folks say in some circles — “embarrass the race.”

“Embarrassing the race” involves many things. Some would say that the Real Housewives of Atlanta, god love them, embarrass the race because of their reality theatrics. On the other hand, a well-spoken commentator like Roland Martin would be embarrassing the race because he chooses coded language to bash gays. I’m not on Bravo or CNN, though, and my fears of accidentally embarrassing the race come from a place of self-awareness. I don’t know how many black people that this white person, or any white person, has talked to today, this week, this month — so I have to do my duty to show that we’re competent, we’re capable, we can hold a conversation and, as of this month, not suspicious.

All this aside, the conversation went well and it gave me the confidence to be a little more frank about race in all conversation — and that it’s possible to talk about it without berating or preaching. So…there are white people moving into our neighborhood.

White people have been coming (back?) into Detroit, we know this. It has been alarming to the old-guard Detroiters who are concerned that Starbucks will eventually drive up their property taxes. Based on my observation, though, white people have only been flocking to Midtown, Corktown, downtown, Lafayette Park, the Villages…(I have some thoughts on this I hope to share later). But rarely anywhere else in Detroit –’til now.

I live in a very un-trendy neighborhood between Linwood (gasp!) and Dexter (double gasp!) with solid brick colonials and a hell of a lot of black folks that moved in when the Jews moved out after the riots. The pages of Central High’s yearbooks get blacker year by year after 1967. But black folks moved here when they were young and have maintained their homes all this time, and they’re much older now and still here. In many cases, their children have worked to continue that tradition — though, like all Detroit neighborhoods, we have some blight and we’re not immune to crime.

A white family moved on my street this month and they actually — wait for it — let their kids play outside and walk their dog up and down the street. I honestly don’t care who moves in as long as they cut their grass and don’t sell drugs, but I must admit I was shocked. That they’d come here — to Linwood! — and not flock to the trendy -towns or Villages.