Devil’s Night: Black Beneficiaries of White Racism

In need of a house? Affordable housing? Detroit has an abundance of housing with prices unimaginable to most Americans. You can purchase a large spacious home for as low as $100 or less in the underprivileged areas that span for many square miles throughout the city. You might lack public services ordinarily taken for granted in most places, such as police services and street lights. There has been such a surplus of vacant properties that Detroit’s been burning them down. In 2010 there was an estimate of 70,000 burned houses which does not include vacant buildings and those numbers continue to rise with each passing year. Where else in the world would homes that might be considered the picturesque of “the American Dream” be regularly set on fire despite the fact that this nation has its fair share of people who are homeless and/or in dire need of housing?

Devil’s Night in Detroit is when the most fires are set and typically begins on October 30th and runs through the 31st. People from other communities and states travel into the city to join forces with the local residents to help with their local adopt home and other property efforts against arson, as well as bolster local medical, safety, and first response services. In this light, the evening has been redefined as, “Angel’s Night.”

 

(Image from Flickr)

During the early 20th century, Detroit, “The Motor City,” was a growing industrialized city and predominately white prior to the 1920’s. In fleeing the Jim Crow of the south, Blacks began to migrate into the Detroit area during the late 1920’s on through the 70’s only to find they were equally unwelcome. Often met with violent racial hostility by the existing residents and police brutality, social exclusion from employment coupled with housing segregation, Blacks were blocked from equally participating in white society. With the deep seated feelings of entitlement, the settled whites who were already competing with each other for existing opportunities and resources in the Detroit area channeled much of their venomous fears and frustrations onto the Black communities who, like they, were seeking better lives.

The systemic racial issues bottled up coupled with rise of the Civil Rights Movements gave rise to race riots of the 60’s throughout the nation bringing down the racial apartheid. Detroit had the largest riots in the nation resulting in the enactment of Marshall Law on three different occasions. As the apartheid was being dismantled a Black middle class began to emerge where shortly after, the city fell into rapid economic decline. In direct response to desegregation, white flight took hold resulting in resegregation with the nation’s wealth and privileges being concentrated into the predominately white suburbs and higher social classes throughout the nation. In 1950 Detroit’s population peaked with 1,849,568 and declined to 713,777 in 2010. Rather than integrate, much of white society chose to abandon their business and residential property.

Nothing exemplifies white privilege more than with the abandoned properties throughout Detroit. Most of us are required to properly dispose of our unwanted belongings. Black Detroit residents are the primary beneficiaries of these major social problems and toxic environmental issues. In 2010, the population of Detroit was 82.7% Black and 10.6% white with the State of Michigan having 14.2% Black and 78.9% white populations with black inmates representing 55% of the total prison population. Detroit is the poorest city in the nation with 1 in 3 residents living in poverty and many others living near poverty. There are still some very wealthy residents in Detroit, but they live in segregation on the outskirts of the city.

Detroit has the highest murder and missing person rates. These issues may play some role in the highest arson rates as well. As noted by the Detroit fire fighters above, to some degree vandalism has been the culprit, but there are a combination of reasons ranging from desperation where residents set fires to polluted houses that have been abandoned with rotting trash or that pose other social and environmental threats (vigilante fires) to sometimes revenge. Arson is a mechanism the residents have resorted to as a means to correct their immediate problems since the city either will not, or cannot.

But further, some locals believe that the general public is deliberately misled on the level of arson carried out by the residents as some of the power holders of the city are believed to be financially vested with local demolition contractors. It is cheaper to remove burned down houses than those fully intact. This destruction is a form of social expression from abandoned and socially neglected voices. It is revolt as Feagin and Hahn (1973) outlined in their earlier work on Detroit riots, to the many forms of racism that have championed the abuse and neglect of Black communities throughout history on into current times. With the effects of deindustrialization compounded with ongoing blocked legitimate means of survival and societal abandonment, it is no wonder the thousands upon thousands of houses representing the very icon of the American Dream have been set on fire many times over. What American Dream?

What Do You See When You See Me? Students of Color Speak Out

Below is a collection of creative vignettes and poems from a diverse group of Sam Houston State University students who were engaged in projects that involved critical examinations of white racial framing and counter-framing. Their work contests and challenges stereotypes generated by the white racist and gendered framing often deeply engrained in both the minds of dominate group members and subordinate group members who have internalized features of the framing toward their own groups and unacquainted subordinate groups.

The first four vignettes were created by students for their in-class group presentation on “Extending the White Racial Frame” from The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Framing and Counter-Framing. The last two poems were created by two students for their personal projects that focus on racial and ethnic, and gendered marginalization:
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By Austin Campbell
African American

I think this is what you think when you see me, I don’t really have to ask. Sure I’m black so I must be a thug, full of ghetto love and talking like “yeah that’s my homeboy” or n-word what’s up? Yeah I’m black so the crack corner must be my throne, and yeah you think you got it all figured out thinking that I come from a really bad home. Oh and don’t forget to clutch your purse when I come your way because you know I’m black and looking for a pay day. So congrats to you for thinking that you’re all right, but I’m going to show you how that’s all a lie. Yes I am black and that true but let me make you aware of something new. No I don’t come from a bad home at all. In fact I may even be living next door to you. Yes my mom and dad got a divorce but my mom and step-dad raised me up too. Using the n-word, nah, that’s not my thing. Some rappers may say it but really that’s not me. And a crack corner or stealing your purse, phss, get out of here. Next time don’t believe every movie you see. You really want to know me then look around your own group and you’ll realize I’m just like you.

So next time you see me what will you say? All I want to know is after hearing me speak, is this what you will see or think when I come by your way?

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By Erik Jackson
Native American

Is this what comes into your mind when you hear my name Sky? When I tell you that I am a Cherokee and not a Native American, is this what you think? Or is it when you see me and my Native American hair that you think, “boy I bet s/he can put down the alcohol. They are known for drinking, hell they even have alcohol made after them.” Or maybe it’s a different thought, a thought about the history of how my people have come to be treated by “Americans” and the policies that have been “thankfully given” to us. You know about our lands and our casinos that barely make any money and that we must live on welfare because we spend all of our money on gambling and alcohol. In fact none of these are true about me at all. Yeah I do go by my Cherokee-American background because I’m proud of it. Another thing that might surprise you I bet would be in fact that I nor my parents or anyone in my family for that matter drinks, so no we are not able to “put them down” like you might imagine. Also, we aren’t on welfare, as a matter of fact I live in your basic residential neighborhood and once again no one I know of Native American background works at a casino.

I’m just one of many voices speaking out about Native Americans. In all honesty it’s up to you to believe what you want, all I have to question is this—is this what you will think when you see me, is this what I am to you?

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By Benjamin Prochazka
Asian American

Is this what you think when you see me? Yes I wear Sperry’s and I do tend to dress nicely on a regular basis but is this me to you? You think when you see me walk, sure thanks to my genes, I’m a little shorter, with my slanted eyes and jet black hair, and my calm quiet nature, this is me? Or is it my backpack stuffed with things weighing me down that makes you think “wow I bet he has a lot of sushi, and video games, and books in there. He’s probably on his way to study “ right? Well surprise! Most of this isn’t true. I’m an average student, C+ to be honest. You’ll find this hard to believe too that I don’t eat sushi. I’ve never really cared for it. As you can see I don’t have an Asian accent either, shocker right? I dress this way because I’m comfortable in these clothes. You know what I mean because y’all wear the same clothes as I do.

So is this what you think when you see me? Or have you always seen me as one of you?

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By Denise Castillo
Mexican American

Is this what comes to mind when I tell you that I am a Latina? Do you automatically assume that I can dance and move my hips really well? Or that I’m an amazing cook because that’s what we are known for? Or is it that you think all the men in my family are lazy and begging for jobs on a street corner and desperately taking any job they can get just so they can have the money to support their family? You probably think that we all live in a small house on welfare in some horrible neighborhood with gang members on every corner. Do you assume that any Mexican you see on the street is illegal? Or that I have some family in jail for doing some illegal activity? Do you think that I eat tacos and rice and beans all day every day? Or that we all have accents or can’t even speak any English for that matter? Well to be perfectly honest with you, none of that about me is true. I am definitely not the best dancer out there and the only one thing I’m really good at cooking is Ramen! All the Mexicans I know are actually very far from being lazy in any way. We work our asses off and a majority of Mexicans I know are very successful in the businesses they are in. I grew up in your average household with my mom and dad and only 1 other sibling. My family is not big at all and not a single one of them has been to jail or involved in any gang related activities. One thing that will be sure to surprise you is that I’m really not a big fan of Mexican food at all so there is definitely no way that I could eat that every day! I have lived here in the U.S. my entire life and English was my first language that I learned. None of the Mexicans I know have an accent and surprisingly most Mexicans here in the U.S. can speak English pretty well.

So is this what you really think of me when you learn that I am a Mexican? Is this how you’ll always picture me?

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By Lorin Perez

So Which Side of the Border Do I Belong?
I wasn’t brought up in “the barrio”
But I wasn’t raised in a white suburb either
I have never packed my car with relatives
But I would never just leave them to rot in a nursing home either
I’m not an amazing salsa dancer
But I’m not a lousy dander either
So which side of the border do I belong?

I’ve been called “illegal”
I’ve been called “gringa”
I was not born in Mexico but I am not white
So which side of the border do I belong to?

My mom makes turkey for Thanksgiving
But she makes tamales for Christmas
My dad works very hard every day of the week
But he is not a construction worker
My grandparents instilled American traditions in our family
But they didn’t let us forget our roots
So which side of the border do I belong?

I am a light skinned Hispanic
I don’t fit the stereotypical part of a Mexican girl
Yet I don’t fit the stereotypical part of a Caucasian female either
So which side of the border do I belong?

I can speak English
I’m not addicted to drugs
I have a passion for soccer
I love apple pie
I don’t want twenty kids
I like to put “chile” on my food
I enjoy country music
I don’t like PDA
I will graduate from college
I am religious
I am not racist
I would cry if my dog died
I am intelligent
I am not arrogant
I am unique
I am an individual

I am not only Mexican, and I am not only American
So which side of the border do I belong to?

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By Gilisa Walls

I decided to touch on the theory of labeling. In society today it has become the norm to place labels on those by what they wear, how they act, their skin color, and the people they hang around. I wrote a poem based on some of the things I have been labeled and how it makes me feel and how I respond to those labels. I also touched on the topics of discrimination and prejudice because whenever talking about labeling you will always run into those issues as well. Labeling can be anything from calling you or a group of people certain names because of race, gender, beliefs, culture, etc. Most people don’t live up to the labels society places on them because society usually receives their source of information through the media, family values and beliefs, or the people they hang around or admire. Once people label you they feel as if they know exactly what you’re going to do, how you are going to act and react in any given situations. They base this off of past experiences from other people they have labeled the same as you.

If You’re Going to Label Me. . .

Label me as a rare form of a human not lesbian, black, or a female.
There’s only a few of my kind and we are very hard to find.
I’m the one that walks strong with my head high not letting the stereotypes get to me.
The one that knows I’m more than what this society labels me to be.
I’m a rare form of a human that realizes that, labels are only what you wear and put on, but you, you are just pure beauty from the inside out.
Society has labeled me as this stud, this black female, this statistic that all blacks are the same.
They don’t even label me the name that my mom created for me after carrying me for nine months.
They fail to realize that I’m not a part of the African American statistics and that my personality and attitude makes the substance of beauty within, distinguishing me from the rest.
Only a few of us know how to be more than what we are said to be and know how to reflect on the external judgment that comes for us.
From that first breath we breathe, to the time society sets a description of who we are on our lives, to the moments we cherish from overcoming the boundaries and perceptions of what “my kind” should do or how we should act.
There’s going to come a time when we do show weakness, that we like the same sex or that our skin is darker than others; but we, No I, won’t allow myself to let the obvious overtake my greatness.
But if you ever find one like me, that one that is one of a kind, don’t allow your prejudice ways make you assume that I’m just like the rest.
Don’t let your discrimination take over and you attack those of my kind because they are proud to be who they are.
Don’t be about of statistics that acts on prejudice and discrimination and attack or label those that are black.
Be the one that is will to get to know that rare form of a human.
Be the one to make a change towards equality instead of labeling us according to the definitions they give us on TV.

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Michael Jackson and Barack Obama: Connections


Rarely does anyone enter the world and leave behind such a deep social imprint on the collective psyche as did Michael Jackson. Through his

Heart of roses at Michael Jackson Memorial

exceptionally gifted talents, Jackson broadened minds across the globe. He expressed creativity through the performing arts, where he also carried on the civil rights legacy of those many African Americans, musicians and others, who paved the way for him(Creative Commons License photo credit: talkradionews). He emerged out of, and was a product of, the civil rights movement and reinforced some of its most important themes, which gives his music more power. Throughout his career he challenged white racism, deeply embedded racist and gendered stereotypes, and social inequality. By doing so, he helped to shift the course of U.S. racial history. Because of Michael Jackson and others like him, today we have Barack Obama as our U.S. President.

Prior to Jackson’s entrance into the music scene, it was largely segregated by genre, social scenes, and groupings. During the disco backlash at the turn of the 80’s, Jackson’s innovative Off the Wall remained strong, though it wouldn’t be until the release of Thriller that he would become an overnight sensation. The racist and gendered socio-psychological barriers of U.S. society were shaken, and social (popular culture) changes were set in motion nearly overnight.

Jackson’s rise to stardom came when radio waves had recently switched over from AM to FM, and the few radio stations were not equipped to make way for the range of innovative sounds generated by this new pop artist. Jackson’s music was not reserved for a single genre, sound, or audience. Over the next decades, Jackson’s music went beyond radio and television, and entertainment facilities. It was played at weddings and other milestone events. Even as instrumental music, his tunes were in restaurants and other public spaces. He was listened to by young and old as he cut through generational boundaries; by black and white, and many others; by non-professional and professional; by national and international.

Considering racism, patriarchy, and masculinity, he managed to transcend both race and gender in ways that no other artist has done. Messages channeled through his work spoke to all people. With a combination of work done previously by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many civil right activists and of advanced technology, together with his being a gifted entertainer, Jackson was able to touch people worldwide and promoted changes associated with bringing forth social equality globally.

To a significant degree, the inclusive message and approach President Obama used for his presidential campaigning was in line with the orientation of Michael Jackson and of Dr. King. Like Jackson and King, President Obama was speaking to all people, calling for social change, and encouraging all people to step forward, honor the liberty and justice creed, and do what they could to make this world better. The difference between these three very important figures is that they were working from different societal angles: Jackson was channeling his message as a musical artist through popular culture; Dr. King as a minister working within the realm of Jim Crow segregation and on front lines with activists; and President Obama working within the political sphere competing for the presidency that might allow him to incorporate significant changes through his governmental position.

One crucial difference between the three, however, is that Jackson and King addressed racism much more directly and suffered many negative consequences as a result–such as damage to their psychological and physical wellbeing, and perhaps in the final years for Jackson’s own self and identity, and a premature life for both. While this society has taken a tremendous step forward in voting in the first president who looks like much of the global population, it is still much too racist in framing and practice for President Obama to address numerous major racial issues firsthand as was done by Jackson and King. Nonetheless, President Obama’s more subtle antiracist messages are now being communicated quietly through his actions and decision making.

Many of the new faces that participated in this last Presidential election and voted for Barack Obama were exposed to the influence of Michael Jackson in some way or another during their lifetimes. Had there never have been Michael Jackson in the decades prior, what would have been the possibility that President Obama could have come forth and won the presidency? Without Jackson’s profound antiracist influence on popular culture and society? Had there been no Michael Jackson and people like him, one could presume that the racism would have remained the way it was prior to 1960 where, despite its strides toward desegregation, society, including music, would have remained largely segregated. It would be a great overstatement to suggest Michael Jackson alone brought civil rights changes, but it is fair to suggest that his influence and positive messages touched people of different generations, as well as members of all racial and ethnic groups, and impacted the collective psyche of people so as to help in getting a black Presidential candidate elected.

Whether people are conscious of it or not, more people participate in popular culture than politics. President Obama, like Jackson and King, had a way of appealing to, and including, people of all backgrounds. If there were no Michael Jackson and those civil rights activists prior to him, no antiracist inclinations among the general population would have been well established—particularly among the younger nonblack voting participants in this last presidential election. Likely, the racist fear tactics generated by the media and contending parties would have quickly crashed Senator Obama’s campaign. Most certainly, without the prior exposure and conditioning of Michael Jackson’s music at the collective level that cut across different generations, Obama’s vision of “hope” and “change” undoubtedly would have been less contagious. Without Jackson there would be even more psychological segregation between peoples than we have. It’s a combination of groups that voted for President Obama that allowed him to succeed. He won the African American, Latino, Asian American, and Native American groups by large margins–and even a bare majority of the youngest white people, many of the latter also influenced by Michael Jackson.

As Jackson changed over the years, and became the center of controversies yet to fully unravel, there is no question his fans became saddened, confused, and concerned of what was becoming of their liberating icon. His sister, Janet Jackson, along with her gifted musical talents helped bring balance to her brother’s trials and difficulties associated with fame. The strength she has shown over the years allowed his/their fans to preserve their respect for important contributions both Jacksons made to popular culture.

We have Michael Jackson to thank for much. Music, protest music and spirituals, were the heart and soul of the civil rights movement, and Jackson’s music continued that long tradition. We all have to thank him for his never ending commitment to social equality. We have to value the courage he showed in directly challenging racist and gendered structures, especially in the music and recording industries, and in using his talents in positive ways that helped bring forth significant societal, even global, changes in popular culture and beyond. And Michael Jackson needs to be credited for the contributions he made to popular culture and society over decades that served to help make Barack Obama President of the United States. Thanks MJ, RIP.