Of America’s cities, none seems to have risen to such dizzying heights to then be hollowed out in shambles as the city of Detroit. A symbol of America’s might during WWII and of America’s engineering marvels in the muscle car, glory years afterwards, Detroit now has the distinction of having lost half its citizens through exodus, of having the largest unemployment rate of America’s large cities, and of having been deemed America’s most dangerous city for the past four years.
While no one expects Detroit to return to its heydays, why do most Americans believe it only a dream that Detroit and other’s inner cities could ever return to a prosperity where jobs are plentiful, neighborhoods flourish, and families are safe in their homes? China showed the world in dramatic fashion how cities can rise from poverty to abundance. Why is it that America cannot show how Detroit can be transformed to a similar path toward prosperity?
Certainly Detroit is no Shenzhen, its citizens having experienced an entirely different historical path. Yet, is Detroit’s history so damaged that no path to revitalization exists? Is America so defeated that it is willing to give up on the investment we made in Detroit? And if we are, can we really expect to survive as a nation while choosing to let our inner cities languish?
America seems blinded by our history. We may be incapable of seeing our inner cities’ potential as vital resources to America’s recovery. Having been prejudiced by our ambivalent past, our leaders may not be capable of inspiring America to chart a path forward. Yet, once again, China may offer lessons.
China’s leaders rose from an earlier regime that had devastated tens of millions of its own citizens. From the midst of this tyrannical regime, leaders finally emerged to reverse China’s economy through what is now deemed a miraculous “four modernizations” strategy. Yet their vision was created and then executed with discipline through four decades to achieve this miracle.
A strategy does exist to reverse even Detroit’s trajectory. Following China’s example, where is America’s future leadership within its political ranks that is prepared to break through our nation’s historical prejudice to establish a unique, thriving path forward for America’s inner cities and our nation?
The Constitution – a Brilliant Document Unable to Shake the Shackles of Prejudice
China’s path was to create order out of disorder through development of an educated workforce and infrastructures of law, industry, and finance. America also created wealth from order. Upon the foundation of a land blessed with natural resources, European colonists adopted centuries old laws, religion and financial structures that were the cornerstones of our new industries. America’s commitment to investing in order created the most powerful hegemony in history.
Yet, if investing in order can bring wealth to a nation, can divesting of order lead to its impoverishment? America’s founding ideals were the beacon of the highest aspirations of order. The Constitution created a means to provide sharing of power between the elites and the masses, between the majorities and minorities, between factions and between states. It created protections for property and asserted a financial system. Through the Constitution, America agreed to a system of governance of growth.
Why then in founding our country through the establishment of such rational compromise as the Constitution did our ancestors capitulate to a reality that fell far short of our ideals. In agreeing to establish our nation’s wealth on the backs of slaves and to force them to cultivate land that the colonists forced from natives, they set the stage for a period of America’s rise, but could they have also planted the seeds of disordered demise?
Slavery – Upheld the Walls of Prejudice that Separate Mankind
What if all of humanity is a connected organism? And if we choose to nourish some of the organism, but isolate the wholes in the swiss cheese from any nourishment, what then?
Why in America are we at least beginning to understand the Nazi Holocaust as a human condition, as the Jewish nation stirs us to try to understand, but how is it that no such understanding has been able to penetrate the American psyche of the American holocausts? How was it that colonists accepted the extermination of Native American races and absorption of their land? How was it that colonists accepted subjugation of African races?
And when colonists overtook the Native Americans as the holders of land and began the domination of slaves to cultivate the land, culminating in an economic expansion that engulfed America, how did a new paradigm of anti-slavery emerge? And as this abolitionist movement took hold, how did the destruction of Native Americans continue unabated? As late as the Civil War, genocide of Indians in the West was acceptable. Forced integration and domination of Native Americans could not be achieved so removal and isolation became the solution.
As today with Latin American immigrants (illegal aliens), as abolitionism advanced prior to the Civil War, a debate began over what to do with Africans that had become forcibly integrated in the Americas now occupied by European settlers. Reservations had become the answer for Native Americans. Now Liberia seemed the potential solution to achieve abolition while separating freed slaves from others.
In 1860, the Republican platform stated that the African slave trade was a crime against humanity. A crime….against…..humanity…..
Yet Lincoln himself was for repatriation to Liberia. To many in America, deporting people whose ancestors had been captured from multiple parts of the African continent, colonized as slaves in the Americas, produced offspring who only knew an oppressed life in the States, deporting these offspring to a single country in Africa, Liberia, to start a harsh new life where most died within twenty years of landing, was a solution to freeing slaves without having to accept integration of those that had been freed.
An American concept emerged that one group of people, whose forefathers chose to occupy America, belonged to America’s interconnected mass of humanity, but other people, whose ancestors were forced to immigrate to America, should not become interconnected. Additionally and simultaneously, some agreed that Catholic immigrants should not be able to join the interconnected mass of humanity in America as well. The “know Nothings” as they were called, suspected that Catholics were invading America in zombie like fashion to follow the Pope in subjugating American humanity in religious tyranny.
So the time leading up to the Civil War influenced a mass prejudice in American society. Even as we wrestled with the inhumanity of human subjugation, Americans were not ready to accept the interconnectedness of the human race. How did this struggle contribute to the inner city collapse we are experiencing now?
Prejudice – Cements America’s Horrid Path Forward
What is this prejudice, this seeming innate compulsion of disdain for others that are different?
To this day, it drives public sentiment against reason, the quiet mob that feigns decency, hides behind the shield of family, stands firm in defense of civilization, yet underneath usurps power through prejudice.
It turns us on one another, nation against nation, in the pursuit of wealth at the cost of the fallen.
Peace…All that we obtain in its absence is wrought with prejudice, bigotry, racism, hatred…how are these qualities born in men?
Today, we turn a blind eye as thousands of immigrants break a fragile law each day to brave the desert and cross into America. Our law is liquid, seemingly amorphous, as it is held up in some locales while ignored in others. It is pulled like taffy and stretched to suit our prejudices.
Our business leaders, civic leaders all, bring newly huddled masses inside their factory doors as objects to ease American business’s labor load against a competitive world. Our government leaders shake their fists at the porousness of our borders, yet they carefully measure their words to balance public sentiment. The public instinctively knows that undocumented workers ease our daily burdens, but American workers’ disdain for this modern offshoot of slavery is escalating, if only as a measure of citizen joblessness.
Yet joblessness sways votes and, therefore, quiet economic prejudice of business owners can be overrun by workers’ mob prejudice. Surely, public prejudice will direct upcoming Congressional debates, but they will be collegiately draped in reasoning, finding balance between justice and bigotry.
As the civil war finished its bloodletting, there was no draping of unfettered prejudice abounding at war’s end. Two centuries of bigotry had melded the country into violent stalemate and reasoning had been replaced by bayonets. Now freed slaves had to endure the hardships of Reconstruction in the South that had been burnt to the ground by Sherman.
In the southern economy that had rested on the backs of slaves, now devastated by war, most white men were barely economically any better off than slaves. They now had to engage a new paradigm of equality. What chance did freed men have in their new world to escape the great evil of prejudice? How would this step change in America impact their economic decisions? How would it forever shape the destiny of our inner cities?
150 years would pass before the economic implosion of 2008 would lay barren our inner cities in the midst of the hidden depression that would shape America’s direction for the remainder of the 21st century. As America’s recovers from this economic disaster, will we seize the opportunity that our inner cities present. Will we correct our past by defining our inner cities as paths toward economic prosperity? A vision awaits to be painted.