detroit city is the place to be


I’ve long struggled to adequately explain the racial tinge of the animus toward Detroit prevalent in so much of Michigan. Mark Binelli taps into it pretty impressively. He reflects after realizing how a group of suburban companions seemed to relish littering in a Detroit parking lot before a football game:

A wave of exhaustion came over me, even though I’d only been awake for a couple of hours. The gulf between city and suburbs felt gaping and hopeless. Still, when one of the tailgaters asked about my reporting, I mentioned that things in Detroit felt different, better, knowing I risked scorn for being hopelessly naïve, a dupe. Predictably, the guy shook his head and said he’d been hearing that for the past thirty years. The main problem, he claimed, was leadership, that the city really screwed up by electing the worst people ever, that nothing would change unless you changed things at the top—a not uncommon assessment from white suburbanites, “leadership” often signifying “thieving blacks who demanded the keys to the shop, and now look what fucking happened.” If there was national schadenfreude about the failure of Detroit, regional schadenfreude was even stronger, and it hinged in large part on race.

In that moment, I thought of certain aspects of United States foreign policy—the practice of isolating enemy states financially and then watching the leader whom we’ve labeled a tyrant act more and more like one when his regime begins to crumble under the pressure of the embargo. The leader and his state must fail in order to confirm the triumph of our own ideology. And if his people do not rise up against him, their suffering is, at least in part, their own fault. Here, Detroit was the rogue state, defying the bullying hegemony of a superpower that (in the eyes of many Detroiters) wanted to install its own hand-picked leader, making the transfer of any remaining natural resources that much smoother.