I was disturbed by the story coming out of Eastpointe this week where police are investigating racial threats against African-American residents on the city’s south side. The black residents received letters demanding that they move “back across 8 Mile,” and were threatened with violence.
While 8 Mile is no longer a barrier for African Americans moving to many of the area’s northwestern suburbs—including Southfield, Royal Oak Township, Oak Park and Lathrup Village—it has remained a significant barrier to the migration of African Americans into southern Macomb County. Recently, however, that has begun to change. During the 1990s, African Americans began to migrate into Harper Woods, Redford Township, Hazel Park and other Macomb communities previously perceived as “racially hostile.” They were seeking affordable housing, lower taxes, lower insurance rates, better city services, better schools, safety, and retail opportunities.
Recent population estimates show that Macomb County’s African American population has tripled during this decade, from 21,320 to 66,834. Macomb County’s Eastpointe—a city that changed its name from East Detroit in 1992—was 92 percent white during the 2000 census. Today, it’s estimated that one in four of its residents is African American.
Even those Macomb County cities that have not experienced a significant influx of African-American residents are experiencing dynamic changes in their school systems. Open enrollment policies have encouraged Detroit residents to take advantage of schools of choice in other cities without actually moving. As a result, the racial composition of these school districts is changing dramatically and quickly.
We must come to the realization that we do not live in a post-racial society. We may have elected a President who is African American, but the racist political and social rhetoric has increase. We read of verbal attacks, even in the halls of Congress, which have a racial tone to them. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks domestic hate groups, the number of white militias has shot up from about 170 to more than 500 since President Obama took office.
City-suburban relations in our region have long suffered because of our racial history. Many are tired of hearing about the rebellion and racial segregation. They say it’s a new world and race is no longer an issue. But the evidence is quite the opposite. We must face the issue head on and get some honest dialogue going. The letter in Eastpointe might be an isolated incident, but there are, no doubt, others who are harboring similar feelings. We will never be the region that we can be until we recognize the treasure that our diversity provides us.
Please let the dialogue begin NOW!