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
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
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: