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The Return Flight?

According to new studies, white people are moving back into Detroit proper in increasing numbers for the first time in nearly 60 years.

The survey, more estimate than precise numbers, shows that the percentage of white, non-Hispanic Detroiters rose from 8.4% of the city's population in 2008 to 13.3% last year.

Much of the rise can be pegged to younger white people -- along with some empty nesters -- moving to the city, even as African Americans continue to leave for the suburbs.

Apparently, the city is "cool" again.

I'm sure the report will inspire any number of cynical sentiments, from the fear by blacks that whites are "taking back" the city to befuddlement by whites about why anyone (especially any white family) would want to move to Detroit. Me, I'm not sure what the real implications of the study are, if there are any at all. (I certainly don't mean to turn a statistical molehill into some grand philosophical mountain.) Hell, it's probably just reflective of how many more young white people realize how soul-draining suburbia can be — and just how broke many of these small municipalities are going.

But I do know that racial isolation and antipathy have done more to hamstring this region's progress than all of our failed public policies put together. It is at the root of our uneasiness about everything from a refurbished Cobo Hall to an authentic, big-city public transit system. Sure, we give a lot of lip service to working across the lines that divide us, especially race, but concrete investments like relocating to the city or buying a home here put teeth behind those lips.

In explaining white flight from Detroit, Coleman Young once said, "White people find it extremely hard to live in an environment they don't control." And I think he was right, too. But despite what others may believe, blips like these don't suggest that hard-fought black political power in Detroit is in jeopardy (unless it's from the black political power brokers who so easily sell out the city's best interests). Further, with declining population and tattered tax rolls, Detroit is fast slipping from anyone's control.

Given this, there's one word that immediately comes to mind as an adequate response to the reports that, even in the face of our festering problems, a few more folks of any stripe are embracing life in the city.


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  • 1

    Darrell....You have written a great blog today.
    What you have said makes sence.
    There are many reasons to return to Detroit. The young people and empty nesters can get along well enough. The other problems that plague Detroit can and will be worked out as more people of any color return to Detroit. Thanks for the information that it has started.
    Once people come to Detroit, they will spread the word that the city is a great place. A place to live, work, educate their children and enjoy life. So many places for entertainment and fun. So many good people who want the same things. So rich in history of many cultures and products. Motown with cars and singers and great people like all of us..
    Detroit can and will thrive and revive.

    From one Carsten grad to another.......
    Thanks Darrell.

    The Detroit Kid 51

  • 2


    I hate to admit it but I am also fully aware that the presence of white folks in America increases the quality of life , liberty and the pursuit of happiness for non-whites..

    My cultural dna will always reflect the imprint of our nation that codified the essence of white life over negroes,colored folks and other people who are not white...It is a reality I have confronted all my life as a Black activist....

    Yet I do hope the return flight is full....

  • 3

    What puzzles me is that these two groups seem to always move past each other.

    Why not move in unison?

    Living in diverse neighborhoods, is the best choice of all. Some of the most interesting and vital cities have various cultural and racial groups living together.

  • 4

    I really appreciate your comments Darrell in that you and I both see the positive aspects in this. We are split in this region and for too long the racial divide between city and suburbs has just exacerbated the issue. We are by no means post-racial in this region and race must move to the top of our agenda for discussion.

    As Liliana states, we do tend to pass by each other, and we must work to make sure we don't just resegregate ourselves in different geographies. I hope that as the city draws more folks from the suburbs, and the suburbs draw more from the city, that we can truly begin to see that we are "all in this thing together." We can rise together - but only together.

  • 5

    There is an interesting flip side to this subject and that is the number of African Americans and other formerly isolated ethnic groups that are moving to the suburbs. I have no data to support this but my observation of things over the past several years is that our burbs are becoming more racially diverse....not sure if the numbers support the concept of true diversity yet....but there does seem to be more people who would previously been shut out from home ownership in the burbs buying homes and settling in to life outside the city. This trend may be due to the fact that more suburban homes being offered as short sales or foreclosures mean more people can afford them or it may just be that we've gotten over the irrational fear that somehow home values will fall if "they" start moving in. Personally, I think that maybe we suburbanites have finally come to realize that we all share a common sense of values and beliefs about home, community,, and family. I don't know if we've finally overcome our fears and cultural anxieties and matured just yet, but I like what I see and I have to thiink it's a positive thing.

    • 5.1

      Napper1....I am not sure whether we have matured yet but hope so. The numbers are clear as to the large numbers of African Americans who have moved to the suburbs since 1995 or so. Just look at southern Macomb, Harper Woods, Hazel Park, Redford Twp. While we all have common values, we are now seeing the issue of class rear its ugly head. Folks are willing to deal with diversity if we are similar in class - truly share values. We are seeing this within race as Southfield is experiencing an outflow of higher income folks to West Bloomfield and Farmington Hills - away from folks whose "values" do not mesh.

  • 6

    As a Black suburbanite who has lived in Southfield, W.Bloomfield, and now Birmingham the racism often comes in diferent languages is it still quite real... Class has little to do with it..Bill Cosby once noted even Black millionaries get called a nigger and can't get a cab..

    Black families simply wherever we are must ignore the chatter from the media and the experts on how /where/ why we live in America..

    City living has been lethal to Black families in every index from education, crime , to breathing toxic air and worthless leaders in both the private and public sector...

    I will always maintain the most important group that shapes the ethos and texture of any community are white folks until that group matures and evolves minor pockets of Black success will always been the reality and that is not enough....

    • 6.1

      Agreed, gt. , racism is still a factor in the burbs. I live in Birmingham and have heard some of the comments myself from people whom I thought were above that kind of thing and frankly, it surpises me and saddens me as well. I had perhaps naively thought that economic class was the real dividing line between people and that if people shared a certain economic status and the common values that seem to go along with it, that race didn't matter. I guess we've still got a long way to go.

      My point was not that we've reached the end of the journey but that we seem to be moving in the right direction at least. I've lived here for 25 years or so and I can say that the reaction to an increased number of African Americans moving into Bham a generation ago would have been decidedly different than it is now despite the lingering racism that still exists in some people. I think that's a positive sign of the process of maturing as a society.

  • 7

    dd,...Good report. Especially appreciated was your last sentence!

  • 8

    ...ALSO!...I think Mayor Young put a very astute 'spin' on white flight for many people. I hadn't heard/read that before. Very true.

  • 9


    I agree with you in the larger context ...I am not the type of Black activist who is in denial about racial progress..I simply want to keep the dialouge and discourse candid and honest....

    To often the Black leadership has failed to be honest and candid with white folks in all kinds of venues and situations from the middle class professional Black class who felt a need to validate and illustrate to whites they were competent and worthy to the other extreme where many Black are still angry and frustrated over the racial inequality legacy of our nation..

    Part of the work my firm does is to monitor the web sites and offer up progressive and candid opinions without the pc and fear of offending whites...We have gone to far with phony cum ba ya exchanges the shelf life of racism continues to stain our nation is in part the failure of Black folks to do our part..

    Our nation deserves the full measure of Black folks genius and we don't need the consent or permission of whites returning to the city or presence to make this possible..Coleman was right sometimes...

    Hope to meet you in Birmingham one day....

  • 10

    I was born at Henry Ford main hospital and raised in Detroit, graduated from Mackenzie High and Wayne State, finally moving out of the city in my 30's for NYC and moved back to the Detroit metro area last year. I am a white male. My PERSONAL experience is that I never witnessed white racism but did repeatedly experience black racism in Detroit. I know that there has been far more white racism than black, and that racism engenders racism, but that has been my personal experience. Until the City of Detroit community puts racism behind it, of all kinds, and is willing to welcome into power all races, I will continue to live in the suburbs, thank you very much. I avoid as much as I can the intersection of Woodward and Jefferson because of the Sports Illustrated donated arm and clenched fist of Joe Louis as that sculpture, to me, is a clear Black Power racist symbol that blacks are in control of Detroit, whites need not apply and to get the heck out. The Coleman Young administration said black racism was OK and no administration since has yet to condem that position. It is though, as white, I have the original sin of racism and will never be forgiven, yet in all my dealings have not only not been racist but avoided even giving the appearence of racism. While living in Detroit I had my car stolen, bicycles stolen, house stripped of posessions and told by my black neighbors to get the heck out of Detroit because I was white, yet I was living in the house of my grandparents, who had lived there for decades, long before it was a black neighborhood. That was in the 70's. I recognized that the oppressed, once in power, often have rage to express and that I was merely a convenient symbol but it still hurt as this was the city of my birth as well as the city of birth of my parents and the city of the death of my mother. I grew up in a city that was known as the Paris of the Midwest, loved the city and wish it well but do not feel welcome in it at all because of the color of my skin.

  • 11


    Your confession and claims of being a white victim of black racism and the reasons why you avoid Detroit reads like an excuse for a very petty and myopic person..

    It is probably a good that a person with your twisted perspectives regarding racism and ideas about oppressed people not contaminate residents of the city..

    I hope you don't live in my suburban hamlet with your views about people..There is a part of me that is sadden by your tale and that people like you who harbor such myopic views about an entire city and racial group based upon the negative interactions with a few Black folks is tragic..

  • 12

    Hey Greg....let's all meet in Birmingham!

  • 13


    Let me know if some colored guys will be coming with you I will alert my neighbors and the fuzz....

  • 14

    For some prespective and depth about living Black in the burbs commentary I penned 7 years ago,,,,

    Maybe a demographer can study those trends:-)

  • 15

    Where black people move the crime rate skyrockets. For the good hard working black folks that want to move to the burbs. You are more than welcome but to the thugs and criminals please stay in Detroit. We don't need you.

    Don't bring your crime to my city. Pull your pants up, turn down the bass of your car radio. Nobody want to listen to that shit. Speak english so we can understand you. Obey the laws and respect people's property. Sounds easy to me.

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