I tend to tread very carefully around jim and Lisa's place these days. I try and avoid getting folks' ire up over there. Still, I check in every once in a while and so it was just the other day that I caught jim's two posts on the current devolution of the City of Detroit.
I don't have much connection with that sadly diminished place. I only know largely what you know; it's become a byword for the Third-World-in-the-U.S., it just went officially bankrupt, and it's something of a touchstone for everyone, black or white, with a theory (crackpot or otherwise) on race, society, and the current state of the Nation.
However; Mojolicious DOES have a connection with the former Motor City, and a close one. Her thesis work in "Urban and Regional Planning" was funded by grants from the City and a variety of social agencies and was intended to provide some ideas, and, hopefully, solutions to one of the most blighted areas in the city.
I know my bride is a tough woman, but it took some pretty big stony ovaries for a young white woman to walk around that particular part of Detroit back in the late 1980s talking to people, taking notes, and gathering statistical information on things like demographics, employment, crime, marriage and pregnancy, and personal and family histories. She has some pretty hair-raising stories about encounters with the local gangsters. She also has some pretty amazing stories about what she saw and did there.
The result was a 300-page description of the neighborhood, where it was, how it had gotten there, and where it was headed. The whole macguffin culminated in a presentation of her thesis, methods, data, analysis, and conclusions before the Detroit City Council and the agencies that had funded her.
Before the presentation Mojo went to her thesis advisor, presented her data, and then summed it up. Had Joseph Conrad ghosted her thesis he might have expressed it thusly:
"Exterminate the brutes."
Mojo didn't gloss over the outside factors that had played an immense, often critical role, in the devastation of her study area. The lingering effects of slavery (broken families, poverty, poor education, social fragmentation) and racism. Brutally oppressive policing. Official disinterest. The loss of paying jobs as companies closed up or fled, and the massive, vicious white flight (and educated, middle-class black flight to a lesser extent) that robbed the City and the area of the most capable and engaged citizens.
She reminded her advisor of Detroit's white community's role as massive dickheads who refused to consider their black fellow Americans as, well, fellow Americans.
She also didn't let the black residents off the hook for the problems they had caused themselves, particularly the 1967 riots that had turned white flight from a torrent into a flood and the endemic gangsterism, school dropouts, early pregnancies, and overall assumption of victimization and passive laying about.
But her conclusion wasn't primarily about the past or the present but the future.
And she concluded that the neighborhood as then constituted just didn't have any.
The place was simply a wasteland. There were few paying jobs, and so few residents actually worked a regular job that most of them had no experience or acquaintence with the notion of just getting up five days a week, getting put together, going to work and working eight hours.
There were few parents who were parenting, and even fewer who could parent effectively.
The handful of people who were actively pursuing some sort of enterprise were largely criminals; ironically, drugs and crime were the "job-creators".
Her recommendation would be familiar to any commander confronted with a broken combat outfit; break it up, disband it, discharge the truly wrecked troopers and spread the saveable survivors out as individuals or tiny groups into more confident, successful units in hopes that they would regain their confidence and become soldiers again.
Her advice was that the neighborhood needed to be razed - she left out the part about sowing the ground with salt but knowing my bride it was probably implied. The people had to be parceled out into better neighborhoods, with close supervision and direction from social workers and agencies, where they could be overwhelmed by the mainstream habits of their neighbors and their dysfunctional outlook on life - as with the whipped soldiers - replaced with confidence and the skills to succeed. Many of them would literally have to be returned to life's Basic Training and rebuilt with a completely different attitude if they were to have any hope of even breaking even at life.
And many of them were simply beyond hope. They were doomed for prison, or death, and there was little anyone could do at that point to change that.
Mojo's thesis advisor was horrified. She flatly refused to present Mojo's thesis to the Council or the agencies. Instead she skimmed through her data, omitted the most damning conclusions, and added some (in light of Mojo's hard statistical analysis) pollyannaish conclusions that suggested that some tweaking here and a program or two there would help the neighborhood recover. The Council and the agency reps nodded sagely and proceeded to move on to the next item on their agenda.
Mojo left Michigan that year with a sick and sour distaste for the entire business; her department, her advisor, the people who commissioned her study and had no interest in the actual conclusions enough to actually read it. Oh, and for the entire "science" of "planning", which apparently considered the collection of actual hard data superfluous to their discipline...
Needless to say, her study area is worse off now than it was twenty-something years ago.
Here's the thing; Mojo actually had a working solution to the problems of the City of Detroit. It was hideously expensive and would have created massive hardships both for the governments and organizations involved, the residents of the blighted neighborhood and the residents of their "gaining units" that would have had to pitch in to fix these sorry bastards. It would have required a complete alteration of the ideas and prejudices of veryone involved, black and white, and an acceptance that a) the "culture" of the ghetto neighborhood was broken beyond repair and had to be discarded while b) the "culture" of the white suburbs - hating and fleeing the blacks of the urban core - was broken and had to be discarded, too.
Everyone would have hated it.
The optimists on the Left would have decried "blaming the victims" and "disrespect for African-American culture"; the pessimists on the Right would have snarled that helping negro gangsters wasn't their job and whined about losing their purity of essence.
(And from the wingnut Right there would have been even loonier loons shrieking and flinging poop, loons whose "solutions" would be based on their "life experiences" in suburban malls, intellectual ideals culled from Ayn Rand novels, and an ignorance of actual power vacuums that would have made Thomas Hobbes into Snake Plisskin, but, shit, that's the state of the Wingnut Nation these days...)
And, anyway, who are we kidding?
There was never a hope in hell that anyone was going to spend the time, money, effort, and risk the chance of spreading the negro virus out of the containment areas to "do something" about the people in that neighborhood. In their ghetto the blacks were quarantined.
Doomed, yes, but safely away from the healthy people.
To try and "do something" - something that might have actually worked; changed those people's lives, given them work, culled the herd to separate the sheep from the goats, saved the saveable and exterminate the unsalvageable - would have risked "us", the nice people, the good hard-working, tax-paying Americans, the salt of the earth.
Would have required us to do more than roll up our windows on our Subarus, lock the doors, and drive on.