One year. One city. Endless opportunities.

Kwame Kilpatrick and Race Relations In Black-And-White

Nobody here argues about whether former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was monumentally bad for the city. We all blame the former mayor for a lot of things, from sex scandals to whistleblower lawsuits to perjury to this undying embarrassment of a probation hearing. And there'll likely be other accusations to add to that list when the FBI is done.

But there's another charge (I've even seen it in comments on our blog recently) that often comes up when his name hits the headlines, the one charge that I don't pin on him.

No matter how often it's said—and it's said a lot—I just don't buy that Kwame Kilpatrick "harmed" race relations in metro Detroit.
(And what people really mean when they say this is that he somehow added an even greater burden to the often-strained ties between blacks and whites. If there's ever been an argument for him harming, say, Arab-Latino relations or Asian-Native American relations in Detroit, it's yet to be raised to me.)

Why do I find the contention problematic? First off, when it came to Kilpatrick's crimes, the vast majority of the Detroit taxpayers whom he betrayed are black. And when it came to the corruption, to the pay-to-play politics of Detroit city hall during his tenure, the businessmen who did get in the game seem to have come in all colors and from assorted ethnic backgrounds. White folks didn't get cut out when Kilpatrick was riding high, and I didn't see any who got unfairly burned when the man was laid low. Cronyism and corruption seemed to be equal opportunity employers.

Meanwhile, I don't think there are many African-Americans who (any longer) believe that "the white man" got Kwame. No, Kilpatrick tripped over his own...um...ego. Sure, early on he may have found sympathetic ears among some black people with his cries that he was being hounded because he was physically imposing, wore an earring and seemed fluent in hip-hop culture. (And he may not have been totally wrong on those counts.) But that song got drowned out quickly by the sultry ballads served up as background music to his X-rated text message transcripts.

Most black people that I know will tell you that, yes, racism thrives in this, the nation's most segregated metro area. But they will also tell you that that racism is not why Kilpatrick is staring down a five-year jail bid. Few are defending him anymore, and most just want him to disappear for good.

So if blacks are fully cognizant that Kilpatrick's failures are of his own making, not the "fault" of white people, what harm did Kilpatrick's antics do race relations on that end of the spectrum?

Likewise, I've yet to hear from any white person saying, "You know, I was just about to really reach out to black people, to really embrace African-Americans as my brothers in humanity, when I received this disturbing news about the mayor of Detroit..."

Obviously, white folks who eschew racist thinking are smart enough to know you can't hold all of black Detroit accountable for the sins of Kwame Kilpatrick. And anyone looking fairly at how Kilpatrick crashed and burned realizes that, despite the presence of citizens who did try to defend the former mayor early in his last great scandal, the aggrieved officers who accused him in the whistleblower suit and the prosecutor who charged him with perjury were all black. (And many of the deep-pocketed benefactors who tried to save his hindquarters with jobs and "loans" were decidedly not.)

As for white metro Detroiters who would crazily tar all Detroiters with the brush Kilpatrick dirtied up? Well, I'm willing to bet their delusions weren't going to be dispelled even if Kilpatrick had turned out to be Rudy Giuliani, Tom Bradley, Richard Daley and Andrew Young all rolled into one. If you're the sort to fix your face to seriously argue that Kwame Kilpatrick made you hate another group of people a little more, or the type who thinks black people have to "prove themselves" to you to before being lumped with the likes of Kilpatrick, then your problems don't lie with that other group. They lie with you.

Oh sure, there's plenty to dislike about Kilpatrick himself, his lawyers, his slimy new "PR doctor." (Dude actually had the gall to ask taxpayers to donate money to Kilpatrick to help him repay the restitution he owes to...taxpayers.) So given this, how about we just keep it real and hold the ex-mayor accountable for the laundry list of wrongs that he really did commit? Because no matter whether you're white or black, whether you're fair-minded and worldly about race or a lizard-brained bigot, Kwame Kilpatrick's crimes and misdemeanors probably haven't moved the needle on your worldview one way or the other.

  • Print
  • Comment

Add Your Comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.
The Detroit Blog Daily E-mail

Get e-mail updates from TIME's The Detroit Blog in your inbox and never miss a day.

More News from Our Partners

Quotes of the Day »

NICHOLAS FISHER, expert at Stony Brook University in New York who took part in a study which found that bluefin tuna contaminated with radiation believed to be from Fukushima Daiichi were present off the coast of California just five months after the nuclear meltdown.