Saturday, February 21, 2009

Old man wags finger at America

It appears as if losing touch with reality is basically a prerequisite for getting old. Attorney General Eric Holder, who should be busily trying to pull the DOJ back from the abyss, instead goes around talking about the United States like he hasn't been here in ages.

Listening to Holder speak really makes me not want to get old. I don't want to grow up to talk about America as if I were reading about it in a yellowed bit of newspaper, over at the retirement home. (And that's when I actually have time to read - life can be so full and rewarding at that age, what with having to constantly accuse the Filipino maid of stealing from me, or the endless yelling at "young punks" in their 40's to GET OFF MY STOOP.)

Despite Holder's assessment, America is not a "nation of cowards." Particularly not right now.

It is, of course, clear that putting a Kenyan-Kansan-Hawaiian-Magic-American person in the White House did not change everything (9/11 did that, I think we all know by now). This country has a lot of work to do in the social issues department. All that may take a back seat to the whole propping-up-our-universe thing we've got going on just now, but it's always great to look ahead when you have a free minute.

Anyway, no matter what Obama's election didn't do, it sure made it less stressful to talk race in this country. Since primary season, I've noticed an uptick in rather frank discussions about things that people generally like to tippy-toe around. It's actually a little disappointing. It was fun when people were more easily offended.

Of course, if you know anything about Metro Detroit, with its big fat sad pathetic race shame, you know there's little cowardice here, at least when it comes to talking . Never in my life have I been around Americans so eager to talk about race. (Michigan: Ahead of the curve in all sorts of surprising ways!)

In Detroit, any discussion re: the state of the city steers quickly towards how it all went wrong, and quite often, who is to blame. In polite company, you'll hear that it's the cost of doing business in the union-heavy, entitlement-happy Rust Belt. That the city rose too high and fell too fast, like that has never happened anywhere before. Everyone knows. Like, knows.

If doing business in the region has over the years been such a hardship, this does not explain how we have a Little Zimbabwe on the doorstep of a mostly-stable, first-world nation like Oakland County, filled with pretty-as-a-picture, all-American towns. It does not explain Alter Road, and how when you drive across it on Kercheval, you go from bombed-out hellhole to quaint Midwestern downtown in the span of seconds.

Of course, there's not a lot of explaining to do. It's pretty damn simple, unless you want to make it complicated, which lots of people seem to enjoy doing.

As I see it:

First there was settlement. There was also slavery. Then there wasn't. Then there was that whole thing where everyone was really pissed off at each other because suddenly everyone was supposed to be equal but the very thought of that made some people who liked to dress up in bedsheets feel strange and funny inside.

This came to a head in a magical time that happened yesterday called the 1960's that people around Detroit still live in.

And then, of course, there was what happened afterwards.

Every American knows the story. Riots. Busing. Flight. Blah blah blah. Most places, that's stuff you read about in history books.

Not in Detroit, the city that talks about 1967 and/or Ye Olde Belle Isle Riote of Eighteen Tickity Two like it all went down yesterday and they were totally there. You've never seen an American city so interested in its past, probably because it beats the crap out of pondering the present or future.

Anyway, as the nation moved forward, Detroit decided it might like to go in reverse. Instead of healing, everyone chose to to stay mad. We can agree this was all for the best and that things have worked out super-well.

(Of course, this is where things get really dicey for everyone, because it involves bringing up the fact that it wasn't all white people's fault. Uncomfortable!)

News man Charlie LeDuff recently interviewed a Detroiter (that's regional dialect for "black person," just as a PS) he met on Belle Isle. LeDuff was working a story about the fiftieth anniversary of photographer Robert Frank's book, "The Americans." Sort of a "then and now" piece.

This Detroiter and her family were barbecuing on the site where Frank took a picture of a happy-looking white couple back in the day. I don't know if you saw it. Anyway, there was this woman. Her words ring in my ears a couple of months later.

The sin of bigotry, she said. We're all guilty.

"We're going to have to figure out how to live together," the woman continued.

"If we don't, we're going to die together. Look around at the city and the suburbs. Lord, look around."

1 comment:

D-Tales said...

I have to stop rambling in your comments section. I'll leave it at this--I had a similar conversation about white people and race talk over the weekend which I'll eventually end up posting on and thus don't need to ramble about it incoherently here, and also: *applause* As always, well-said.