City Transformation, Opinion

Black Detroiters lack power, influence


As the complexion of Detroit continues to change, the question of black influence, clout and control is becoming as commonplace as it once was in the 1970s.  Today, in a city where nearly 80 percent of the population is African-American, there is an undeniable void in the influence and clout of black Detroit, but no one wants to talk about why.

While there are myriad reasons why African-Americans continue to lag nationally and locally in education, economic and social influence and impact, I have a theory that goes back to desegregation.

Karen Dumas

Karen Dumas

Once upon a time, black support, patronage and loyalty were synonymous with the black community. There was a shared agenda and collective goal with mutual benefit. Black folks supported black businesses, black people and black causes if for no other reason than they had no choice. It was good for the race, individually and collectively.

The early days of Detroit had a collective fight for equality and diversity at all levels from elected office to the police department. The champions were for change, and those who supported them did so because the cause made sense. The input and outcome at least seemed to be sincere and a step towards equality in representation and access included in the promise by America.

Once desegregation hit, it was every man for himself, and few have since looked back.

Most seemed anxious to belong and fit in a place where they still are neither wanted nor welcomed. Yet they quickly worked to abandoned everything that reminded them of an oppressed life, replacing it for a shell of an existence that reflected a better way, but whose substance was little more than what they left behind.

Today, Detroit reminds me more of South Africa where people of color dominate population numbers, but whose numbers are not equally reflected in the social or economic columns.  Even facilitating patronage of black-owned businesses seem little more than masked begs disguised as campaigns, an effort that is embarrassing and should be unnecessary.

Black people hold jobs, but have little or no control or influence, even in the roles and responsibilities for which they are charged and titled. Few take the risk of speaking up, some out for fear of jeopardizing their spots. Others stay quiet because they acknowledge little will result, anyway.

Ownership is embarrassingly low, and the welcome mat is selectively extended. It feels strange. It’s almost as if someone has moved into your home, but doesn’t allow you access to all of the rooms.

Then, there are those who exploit the injustices and inequalities to a variable tune and at the expense of those who most need the assistance and support promised.

Activists are often limited to a march, sound bite or protest that is many times nothing more than for show, a photo op or face time. They are called and paid to engage in causes that have nothing more than personal benefit. This has reduced the legitimacy of any sincere effort or cause, as those who are targeted realize it takes little more than a photo or donation to quiet the storm.

Those who may have a legitimate gripe aren’t offered the platform, as the vocal minority rules, and businesses and organizations don’t want the negative attention that follows. Too many elected officials occupy seats because of their name recognition rather than the sincerity of their campaign platform.

As a result, those left without genuine leadership or sincere representation continue to blindly feel their way around an economic and political playing field that isn’t level and is spiked with minefields planted by those who promised to lead them across.

This isn’t to suggest there are not legitimate people and practices. It’s just that they are so few and far between and they are drowned out by those with competing and compromised agendas.

Interestingly, the solution is simple – unity on the pretense of collective benefit. The black community must return – in part – to the days where the agenda was a shared one and the benefits collective. We cannot move an agenda forward at the expense of another and the payment for a position or protest can’t come at the expense of an entire community, race and culture.

Shared support for the sake of equally shared success.

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4 comments on “Black Detroiters lack power, influence

  1. Excellent Karen, I totally agree with you…This new generation is about a personnel agenda…I've tried reaching out and the only way you get a reply if you say "donation" Politicians are wise, they gave us a piece of the pie (When we had it all) called the crust to keep the remaining few that had any voice quiet, (I call it forty acres and a mule)

  2. Karen Dumas this theory was fully articulated by Earl Graves, Sr., the late Black Enterprise magazine publisher. I think it is time we all realize the greatest economic opportunities of our times are in urban revitalization. I don't understand why you chose to say the "pretense" of common benefit. As a businessman, I am interested in things I can do to strengthen local communities where I do business and where I get employees. We must continue to dialogue because a peaceful, prosperous community is in all our interests.

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