BY ERIC G. CZAJKA, Staff Writer
Kevin Boyle, the award-winning author of the book Arc of Justice, spoke about racism in Detroit to a packed audience at Kochoff Hall on Feb. 17. Boyle was the event’s featured speaker.
The event, A Conversation on Race, is an ongoing series of open-forum panels aimed at encouraging discussion about racism. Friday’s event focused on racism in Detroit – both contemporary and past.
“Racism is no longer accepted,” said Boyle, opening the discussion. “But (it) still exists.”
The forum’s moderator, Marshalle Montegomery, invited the audience to ask questions. Montegomery is a senior program associate with New Detroit, an organization that created the Conversations on Race series.
“How can we frame race beyond black and white?” asked an audience member.
“The first step to addressing the problem is admitting they exist,” responded Boyle. Boyle said that change starts at an intimate level. Before the racism of large institutions can be addressed, one must first address racism at a personal level.
A second audience member walked to a microphone to ask another question.
“Why are issues of race more intense in Detroit?” he asked.
Addell Anderson, the director of the UM Detroit Center and a member of the three person discussion panel, responded first. Anderson expressed her belief that de facto segregation and the practice of redlining is why Detroit is such a racially tense and segregated city. Anderson also believes that outsider fear of Detroit stems from racial tension.
Boyle added to the discussion.
“Detroit was the greatest industrial boomtown,” he said. Boyle talked about how Detroit boomed during a period when segregation laws still existed. Because of this, much of the city was built around these laws.
While de jure segregation ended decades ago, Detroit is still a highly segregated city. In 2010, the U.S. Census ranked Detroit as one of the top 10 most segregated cities in America.
Evidence of segregation can be seen in the African American and White population of Detroit and Livonia. In 2010, Detroit was 82.7% African American and 10.6% White. In 2000, the
racial makeup of Livonia was 95.5% White and approximately 1% African American. The cities are less than two miles apart.
Even though Detroit is segregated and racism is still present, Boyle is hopeful for equality.
“I don’t believe that there is something innate in humans that make us racist,” said Boyle. “We can learn – transform the way we act and behave. We can change it.”