Stupid old white men 

There are way too many filters in Detroit for anybody to get a clear signal. Take reader Eric Raymond’s e-mail that poured in Monday. First congratulating Metro Times columnist Jack Lessenberry for having the cojones to express himself in blunt terms on Detroit, its leaders — even fallen ones — “and other woes,” Raymond made his main point in clear words assembled in a fairly short declarative sentence:

“Suburbs and city working together and blacks and whites leaving behind the racist rhetoric will benefit the whole region and state.”

But in Detroit, clear, simple, unvarnished words aren’t sufficient. The messenger has to pass a battery of tests peculiar enough to the city and its region, that we reign above all other metropolitan areas in the country in racial segregation.

No, Raymond’s words must be rejected because they came from Bolivia. He’s not in Detroit, so he has no legitimate platform, no basis for an opinion about the city. Never mind that he’s a former Grosse Pointe Woods resident. That’s one of those “hostile suburbs” Mayor Coleman A. Young referred to way back when, so in terms of having standing to talk about Detroit — well, he might as well be from Bolivia. And we can probably infer from his former address that Raymond is white, can’t we? We know what that means, don’t we?

So forget Raymond’s message, if you even remember it. The messenger is unacceptable.

Both Lessenberry’s column and mine of the last few weeks kicked up a dung-storm of invective that was equal to — I admit it — our own. Some people were damn mad that we criticized Detroit voters, those they elect and re-elect, and our suggestions that as long as it stays thus, thus it ever will be. City Council President-for-Life Maryann Mahaffey got damn mad because I teed off on her noble colleague, Barbara-Rose Collins, and she said so, while gliding by the fact that Collins’ name is in reference books on shelves and online across the country and around the globe as one of the most inept, ineffective and irresponsible members of Congress ever to hold office.

Still, that was just fine because they focused on the message and how it was relayed, not on who was writing it. But of course there were others, many of them, who were happy to get in the faces of guys they regard as stupid old white men, for no other reason than that. That’s not fine. Racism is racism, no matter the color of the racist. And for all the long overdue, spectacular things that are happening in Detroit these days, the big picture is hardly peachy.

Those who would immunize the city’s black leadership against white critics, for no other reason than that, aren’t doing themselves, the city or the region any favors whatsoever. We’re frozen in our tracks on so many fronts out of a mutual, time-worn hatred that casts a bilious pall over the good, hard work and humanity of those who never participated in it, or have moved beyond it.

Try it for a while. Listen to, look at, hear and see the messages, and divorce the messengers and their assumed or actual motives from your considerations, just to see if there’s anything there. You’ve done it before. To do otherwise would mean you’d never read Hemingway because he was a misogynistic, psychotic, violent drunk. You’d never puzzle over or wonder at a Picasso painting because he was abusive to many, and women in particular. You’d never enjoy Alice in Wonderland because Lewis Carroll displayed a very unhealthy interest in children. And for the same reason, you couldn’t possibly dance to a Michael Jackson tune.

Few of us possess that genius. But all of us, living inside our own skins, have something to say.

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