Friday, September 27, 2013

From Al Jazeera: "Detroit: Closed for business"

The article, by Hasan Dudar,Here, presents a unique perspective. As a reporter of Middle Eastern descent, I think he was able to interview store owners in Detroit that appear to be mostly of Middle Eastern descent themselves, and get their perspective on things. Some things stand out, that are mentioned multiple times. For instance, the owner of a rare vitamin and supplement store reports: 

"Saba, whose customers come in for jugs of alkaline water and vitamin supplements, says part of the responsibility is on the storeowner to ensure that their business is part of the neighborhood and not just a corner store that profits off of it."

After outlining her hospitality to customers who go in there because it's a safe place,she says: "More stores, she says, need to create an atmosphere of respect and be part of residents' lives beyond their shop doors."

Talking about another store owner, "Maurice Jones, former president of a local community organization that looks after Dabaja's neighborhood, says the remaining residents consider Dabaja a pillar of the community and an advocate on their behalf for basic services such as lighting and policing.
"If Frank weren’t here, that gas station would be gone. That's the problem with Detroit: We won't work with the business owners," says Jones, a 63-year-old retired Vietnam veteran who has lived on the west side for 40 years." 
The thing is that, while I'm certainly not a fan of large corporations, the mentality that believes that businesses that are perceived as being not community based, which is often racialized, are parasites, is ingrained in the culture of the city of Detroit, and has been for quite some time. In fact, Coleman Young, the post-riots mayor for life who had no problem in continually alienating anyone who wanted to help the city, specifically mentioned small businesses whose owners weren't present in the city, who were mostly white, as criminals who should get out of town. The perception of absentee owners who were the wrong skin color went over to people who weren't absentee owners, who were part of the community, who also did not fit the bill. And they were alienated and left. 
The problem with the mentality that took over in Detroit after the riots was that this wasn't any sort of nice, thoughtful, one shaped by, say, thought out Marxist perspectives. Instead, you had a grab bag of folks who were pissed off who often had little insight into any larger context and instead reverted to seeing what was going on as a simplistic racial battle. And the riots themselves, it should be noted, even spilled into the schools, with several people who are anything but racist, who grew up either in the city or in integrated areas adjacent to it, reporting to me over the years as a matter of fact constant fights along racial lines and people being regularly stabbed. 
 Coleman Young did nothing to encourage a more nuanced perspective, and in fact played to the most base opinions in Detroit, all the while doing next to nothing to actually improve the city. When the machine that supported him really took over, other perspectives were pushed aside.
Detroit's problems, and indeed, the exodus of industry to the suburbs did start before the riots, as well as white flight, were exacerbated by an increasingly hostile atmosphere that did not distinguish friend from foe, or the people who were really exploiting others from those who were simply neighbors and community members. 
It's a story about how raw, popular, anger, isn't always right, despite what people might think. There's certain strains of anarchism that believe that the more raw and real, the less tainted by what are considered to be compromises with capitalist culture, people are the more naturally they'll do the right thing when the time comes. I don't believe that's the case, and that folks who complain about the supposed taint that critical thought gives to people are out of touch with the basic realities of life itself. 
Fetishizing a Rousseau like 'Noble Savage' pushes people who have more balanced perspectives aside, and leads to grotesqueries like putting faith in gang members and criminals, who have a patina of radical thought on them, on a pedestal. It should be noted that I'm not calling the people of Detroit, specifically African Americans, 'Savages', but suggesting that of the many different sections of the community down there, the ones that were not only tolerated but implicitly encouraged were some of the worst, to the exclusion of others. I expect, though, that some of those other sections would argue with this themselves, and see the relative self-determination they enjoyed as being somehow a nice prize. 

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