Desperate circumstances cause human beings to make questionable decisions.
Take the Detroit City Council, please. They recently approved by a
vote of 7 – 2, a proposal to purchase city-owned property with the
intent of creating an area known as African
Town. The purpose
of African Town would be to create an economic development zone promoting
black owned businesses. Detroit could do much worse. It could be like
Washington, D.C., which has just entered into an economically ruinous
agreement to bring the Montreal Expos, a baseball team no other city
wants, to a brand new RFK stadium. Taxpayers will foot the $440 million
bill for this corporate
The impetus for African Town and homes for moribund baseball teams
is the same. Black urban areas are in bad shape. High unemployment
rates, a dwindling tax base and a lack of community owned businesses
are all recipes for high crime, bad schools, and well meaning but foolish
In their infinite wisdom, the members of the Detroit City Council
added an extra dose of unneeded drama to an already bad situation.
It is true that Detroit’s city government created a Greektown and a
Mexican Town to promote tourism and economic development. The idea
of an African Town is equally legitimate, and yet it would have the
dubious distinction of recommending that immigrant groups be excluded
from enjoying any of its benefits.
The Council commissioned the report, “A PowerNomics Economic Development
Plan for Detroit's Under-Served Majority Population,” from Dr. Claud
Anderson. Dr. Anderson’s report makes statements such as this.
"For Blacks, immigration has always had negative consequences.
It has harmed Native Blacks in Detroit and across the nation."
Black American resentment of immigrants is not new, neither is it
unfounded. The group most subject to oppression and the resulting inability
to build wealth, watches again and again as people from every corner
of the globe move into their neighborhoods and accomplish what they
have been prevented from doing. To add insult to injury they are then
told that the newcomers’ success is proof of their own worthlessness.
Needless to say, the immigrants in question are not happy about taking
the blame for all of Detroit’s deeply entrenched problems. Asian, Latino
and Arab groups rallied against the proposal and demanded an apology from the City Council. The anti-immigrant sentiment in the
report begs another question. Would black Americans in Detroit and
elsewhere be better off if immigrants left? Would their businesses
suddenly become owned by black people?
Residents in those communities not already in business for themselves
would not magically turn into entrepreneurs. The lack of access to
capital is an ongoing problem that would not be resolved if Koreans
no longer sold black people their own hair care products.
The furor created by the African Town proposal raises another issue.
Detroit’s population is 80% black. In theory, the entire city
should be a boom town for black people. If a majority black
population and black political leadership can’t provide economic development
for Detroit, then the African Town discussion is a waste of time and
energy that might be better spent developing a real plan for that city.
Detroit is doomed if its elected representatives spend time and money
to commission reports that only result in made up terms like “PowerNomics,” hurt
feelings, and lots of back and forth in editorial columns. Perhaps
Detroit should have taken the Montreal Expos. Two baseball teams might
succeed where “PowerNomics” failed. Then again, maybe Detroit needs
Ebonics. The City Council could host an Ebonics/PowerNomics summit
that would bring millions of dollars to city coffers.
It is easy to make fun of all this sound and fury, but the rest of
the country is no better than Detroit. New York City just suffered
through major inconveniences and a mini police state in order to host
the Republican National Convention. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire,
promised a windfall for New York but the event may end up costing the city $309 million.
The corporate model for development simply does not work. It doesn’t
work in Detroit, in Washington, or in New York. The Detroit City Council
and city councils throughout the nation should think of these words
the next time they address this all important issue: