Let’s make a simple resolution for 2015. Let’s not whitewash Detroit’s media coverage, imagery and other presentations more than it already has been.
It’s an issue that, sadly, we still need to talk about. Of course no one wants to talk about racism. It’s not like you wake up in the morning and say, “hmm, which oppressed minority group will I have a conversation about before lunch?” But maybe if people weren’t so clueless or obtuse about race, then we’d have no need for these conversations.
The year is still young, and twice already we have examples of Detroit, an 83 percent black city, shown as a place where that 83 percent is nonexistent. It’s not the first time it has happened. As Detroit continues to climb out of its hole, several in the media have turned its eye to its revivalists, solely focusing on young, white (and far too often male) ones and leaving out anyone over 30, and anyone not white.
Vulture, an online arm of New York magazine, recently published a piece about artists who chose to move to Detroit and why they live here as opposed to, well, New York. Of the nine artists profiled, all are white, again reinforcing a false narrative that only white people are capable of saving Detroit.
The author of the piece later apologized. But there’s no reason a New York media outlet should have pulled this crap; after the New York Times acknowledged problems with an all-white depiction of Corktown last summer, there’s no way anyone could have missed it.
You’d think the media are the only ones capable of making these mistakes, especially from outside the state. But from a second example, a hometown favorite can be just as short-sighted, and it’s disappointing, considering the source.
By all accounts, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Pure Michigan campaign, with 10 years in the game, is a success. That unmistakable tinkling piano at the beginning of each ad does hit a soft spot for me, and I’m happy Tim Allen’s calming voice has drawn many to our Great Lakes.
But a recent ad that debuted just before the New Year, ironically titled “Soul,” had me asking the same question Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley has been asking lately: Where are the black people? In fact, where are any people of color?
In it, we see shots of downtown Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids, and – maybe if you squint hard enough in one or two shots, I could be wrong – all white people frequenting establishments in those cities.
The ad encourages people to visit Michigan’s bigger-city downtowns, but I can’t help but wonder if the ad was really saying “see, it’s safe enough for white people!” Because even with shots of Campus Martius, Punch Bowl Social and Michigan Central Depot, Pure Michigan somehow managed to wipe Detroit clean of all its color.
(Grand Rapids and Lansing should be just as offended as well. Granted, the demographics are flipped compared to Detroit, but it’s not as if racial ethnic minorities are nonexistent.)
Again I ask, how are we making these mistakes over and over? For years now? We know things like these, be it an article or a video, are seen by multiple sets of eyes before going public. How is it that people are still not saying, “Hey, wait a minute?” Is it that people are trying so hard to be race-blind that they’ve become ignorant? Is it laziness? Or is it just plain stupidity?
To be clear, I’m not on the bandwagon that there is a big machine at work to make people of color here in Detroit and elsewhere invisible. I’m not big on conspiracy theories, never have been. But I’m leaning toward thinking that people are just really, really stupid. And I’m learning – gradually – to not compromise my visibility or worth because of someone else’s stupidity.
It’s 2015. There are no excuses anymore. Please do better.