Anti-Racism Housing & Community

Incapacity, White Supremacy, and the Destruction of Detroit

By Mike Kolhoff

The destruction of Detroit continues according to the plans of Michigan’s Teapublican-controlled state government. Their racist intentions are obvious. They want to drive out the existing African American population, and replace it with one more to their liking. The recent proposal by Governor Snyder to offer financial incentives to encourage high-tech workers to relocate to Detroit is only the most blatant, while cutting off WATER to thousands of current residents is certainly the most despicable. The parallel to the post-Katrina depopulation of New Orleans is brought to mind; New Orleans, that other major American city with a majority African American population.

Disaster capitalism is a euphemism for pillaging and looting, and it has hit its stride in Detroit. The $175 million in tax breaks given to Marathon Oil to expand their refinery was supposed to mean good jobs for local people. Instead, only 15 local people got any of the 200 jobs created by the expansion.

Meanwhile, just a few days after the announcement of Detroit’s bankruptcy, governor Snyder announced that approximately $250 million in taxpayer money would be spent to help a billionaire build a new for-profit hockey arena in the city.

The attack on Detroit is an odious expression of the reassertion of white supremacy. It clearly presents the racist roots of the hard right turn of the Republicans under the so-called “Tea Party” banner. In the same way that the racist Republicans (and Democrats) of Louisiana were asking “why rebuild New Orleans?,” the racists of Michigan are fighting any attempt to help Detroit that doesn’t involve brutalizing and removing the current population.

The recent re-opening of Belle Isle Park by the emergency dictator further underscores their plans. Now policed by Michigan State Troopers (the governors private paramilitary force), their first action was to target any and all African American drivers entering the park for searches and tickets, the purpose being to deliver the message that they weren’t welcome there.

The working people of Detroit are the people getting punished, and like the working class of Memphis or Miami, it is multi-racial. But as in both of those cities the people occupying the most precarious positions are usually not white, and are by overwhelming majority the direct subjects of white supremacy. The pro-capitalist African American middle class, committed as they are to the dull fantasy of boot-strap “entrepreneurialism” that has infected that class forever, has proven itself as corrupt and selfish as any other bourgeoisie. But the attack on the working class that began in earnest after 1980 is only the backdrop for what is happening in the Motor City.

Detroit in the 1950s was the engine that drove the automotive economic wave that seemed to lift ALL boats. Well-paying jobs were plentiful and available to everyone, whatever their race. The fact that, even in this prosperity, African Americans in Detroit were still treated like sub-citizens, denied equal access to housing, to credit and education, and were regularly abused by the Detroit police, is what fueled the outburst of rage that became the 1967 insurrection. This was not in the former Confederacy, it was in the heart of the industrial Midwest, serving as undeniable verification that the civil rights reforms being demanded in the Southern states could only raise African Americans to the level of “legal equality”; alone they would do nothing to destroy the structure of white supremacy that continues to rule, seriously challenged but still as powerful as it is hateful. And white supremacy sinks ALL boats, now as it did in the last century.

Two anonymous critics of my last Detroit article complained that I focused too much on white supremacy, implying that it would alienate white workers. I believe the low-waged white workers of Detroit understand what’s happening to them better than that. There are surely many racists in Detroit, and even the headquarters of two nationwide white supremacist organizations, but these people are not worth appealing to, and make up only a tiny fraction of the white people in the Motor City. Most white people are well aware that their city is being targeted out of racist vengeance.

One anonymous critics even complained that there was “no syndicalist analysis at all” in the article. This is true, and I apologize. To satisfy the need for a syndicalist viewpoint on Detroit I give you the following quote from Georges Sorel in 1906:

“Before the working class could accept this dictatorship of incapacity, it must become as stupid as the middle class, and must lose all revolutionary energy, at the same time that its masters will have lost all capitalist energy. Such a future is not impossible; and a great deal of work is being done to stupefy the worker for this purpose.” (from: Reflections on Violence)

We now live under a “dictatorship of incapacity”. The non-response of the Michigan labor movement to this and other outrages would say that we are. Sorel was writing in reference to what a total disaster it would be if the social democrats ever achieved their goal of taking power via the ballot box. Are many workers now as “stupid as the middle class”? The limp propaganda of the labor movement and the electoral left has consistently termed the war on workers as an “attack on the middle class”. And truly many workers, whatever their job or income, happily self-identify as “middle class”. Sad to say, it would seem that many workers have been thoroughly stupefied.

As for capitalist creative energy, that is over and done. Contemporary capitalism is only concerned with extraction, not creation. I’m reminded of that hokey science fiction movie “Independence Day”, concerning a race of aliens that roamed the universe destroying planets by stealing all their resources. These aliens represent degenerate capitalism in its most destructive form. When the president asks the alien if there can be peace between them, the alien says there can be no peace. Then the president asks: “What do you want us to do?” to which the alien replies: “Die”. When we think of humanity, we can no longer include degenerate capitalists in that group; they are an alien species concerned only with its own prosperity and preservation.


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