Detroit and America’s Racial ‘Exceptionalism’
June 11, 2013—The picture is of Diego Rivera’s mural Detroit Industry, 1932-33, Detroit Institute of Arts.
The great American dissolution of electoral democracy is playing out in Detroit, where last Monday the state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager explained to a crowd at Wayne State University how he would compassionately go about the business of breaking their city into buyable and sellable parts. The people and their elected representatives would have no say in the ultimate result.
The corporate media, and white folks in general, view the process as an inevitability—a kind of crude justice—not because they have rejected the principle of self-government, but because Detroit is overwhelmingly Black, and Blacks have always been the exception to the American rule. In fact, all of the Black population centers of Michigan have been divested of the right to govern themselves.
There has been no national outpouring of solidarity with Michigan’s Blacks over the loss of their citizenship rights, which can only mean that there exists an effective white consensus that African Americans are not fully deserving of those rights. Uncontrolled concentrations of Blacks are seen as pathological, by definition.
The same race-based exception was made to public education, for Blacks. In New Jersey and localities across the country, public schools in largely Black areas have for decades been under state control, denying Black parents any effective voice in their children’s education. By and large, white suburbanites supported the state in making Blacks an exception to the general American rule on local control over education. It is a right Blacks are not thought to be qualified to exercise.
The same racial exception to the rule led to massive privatization of inner city education, through wholesale imposition of charter schools and private school vouchers. When education secretary Arne Duncan declared that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to public schools in New Orleans because it allowed most of the city’s schools to be converted to charters, there was no national condemnation of his remarks—since it is accepted that Blacks cannot run their own school systems. They are the great exceptions to the American rule. Corporate solutions can justifiably be substituted for democracy, when it comes to Blacks.
The problems of drugs and crime were framed as Black phenomena, requiring a more flexible interpretation of civil liberties and the creation of a vast police state. Just as the Founding Fathers actually intended, Blacks were an exception to the Constitution.
Blacks, and their alleged “pathologies,” were considered the nexus of poverty and social disintegration in America. Therefore, the social safety net was kept at the absolute minimum.
And now, all these exceptions that have been made for Blacks, are to become models for America as a whole, in the age of austerity, corporatized education, undemocratic governance, and the National Security State. In places like Detroit and New Orleans, America has been busily creating the pilot programs for the rule of the rich, by systematically undermining social democracy for Blacks.
The great exception is becoming the rule.
—Black Agenda Report, June 11, 2013