Friday, February 17, 2012

It Ain't Halftime in Detroit for Young Black Men: Exploring the Church of the Black Madonna

I have been knee deep in grading, which in turn explains why I have been been light with my posting this week. Things will be back to normal next week.

Black men are the envy of the world, pathologized, perpetually in crisis and at risk, faced with binary life choices of slanging crack rock or having a wicked jump shot, lacking role models, one is President of the United States, and millions are inmates.

I was forwarded this documentary last week and thought it worthy of sharing with you all. In my circles of friends and colleagues we often talk about "the lessons of manhood," and how young black men are not learning them. However, I always offer the qualifier that this country is in a cultural crisis--intellectually, morally, philosophically, financially, and politically--such that pants sagging troglodytes, baby daddies, and baby mamas all flow from the same feted waters as robber baron capitalists, Sarah Palin, Tea Party white nationalists, and shows like Jersey Shore and the various "Housewives from whatever place."

Detroit is a much studied and discussed city. It is a model of deindustrialization and an inverted window into the future that is the opposite of The Jetsons. Ironically, during the late 1960s and 1970s Detroit was in fact the city of tomorrow...but most folks simply didn't realize it at the time.

She is the home of Robocop, a place where both the social contract and social compact have been broken, a community that can't afford to bury its dead, and where private security guards are now employed as one of America's formerly great cities is now a demilitarized zone. In all, for most of Detroit's residents it most certainly ain't halftime. This is doubly true for Detroit's young black men.

The documentary Black Nation examines the controversial Church of the Black Madonna and its efforts to save the young black men of Detroit. After watching the film, I was left wondering are things truly this dire? And channeling Cornel West, how did black people become cast as a problem people, as opposed to a people where some of us, like any other group, may have problems?


parvenu said...

Over 55 years ago my maternal aunt retired from her position as clerk of courts in Detroit. It doesn't take any imagination to make the statement that the "Detroit of today" certainly does not resemble anything like the "Detroit of her day". I really hate to share my observations with you on this score, because it is essentially very depressing.

The only urban renewal program that has been demonstrated to work effectively in turning crime riddled black neighborhoods into safe attractive places to live is what we used to call "Urban REMOVAL Programs". (This expression simply implied that the program was actually designed to remove Negroes from their homes.)

Back in the day when cities were laying out plans to route highway and expanded local traffic throughout its area; the city planners often chose to route major arteries and interstate highway connections through African American neighborhoods. This resulted in forced evictions of ALL of the residents to make way for the demolition of homes and subsequently the construction of the new super roadways. Later "urban Removal" was used to make way for new giant shopping plazas. In some instances, for example in Boston, the city stepped in early regarding the problem of urban decay and made many of the abandonded houses available to the general public for a fraction of the current taxes owed. (For example a three story brownstone house was sold for $6000 at the time is now worth over $1,500,000.) Most of these buildings were the classic old attached three story brownstone buildings. Hence even though the interior was trashed and destroyed, the exterior still provided an attractive majestic appearance against the Boston skyline.Simultaneously as rehab work was started on these newly purchased buildings, the city quickly doubled the POLICE PRESENCE in the area.

In Boston, these properties were located along Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street in the "south end" of Boston. These properties were also located on the respective side streets between Columbus and Tremont Streets. The distance of this area extended a couple of miles out from the center of downtown Boston.

This particular area as late as the early 1980's was a solidly black ghetto and had been for a century. With the help of the city, this area has now been successfully "gentrified" and is currently home to a majority of highly urbanized theater-going white residents. The homes are still the same old brownstone buildings, but the interior remodeling is breathtakingly fabulous.

Detroit lacks the classic brownstone architecture in their abandoned buildings. Therefore Mayor Bing's idea of bulldozing the empty run down single family buildings in order to make these cleared tracks of empty lots available to developers may be the only reasonable plan available for the future of the city.

It certainly is a shame but once all of the African American middleclass residents abandon any traditional black urban ghetto, for all intent and purposes that community is dead. It can never be reclaimed and renewed to once again reach the social achievements it was known for in the long distant past.

chaunceydevega said...

Par. Thanks for sharing that is such a common story from CT where I am from to Chicago to Detroit the story of the creation of the suburbs and the interstate highway system was the destruction of whole communities. There was so much history lost. And never mind the human losses too.

Maybe we should make a drinking game up about how sad Detroit is?

Parvenu said...

Chauncey, I am up the road and east of you in bean town, which accounts for my grousing about the "gentrification" of Boston's South End.

Unfortunately I'll have to skip the possible "drinking game" unless the beverages are limited to designer teas...

Brotha Wolf said...

I will definitely check out this film as soon as possible.