Week 9 – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

Week 9

In Chapter 8 of The Origins of The Urban Crisis, Sugrue expands on the racial profiling of blacks in Detroit through the media and even classrooms. One portion that struck me the most was when Sugrue wrote of an event in the mid-1940’s, where a teacher named Mary Conk at an all-white school in northeast Detroit asked her students to write essays on “Why I like or don’t like Negroes”. The list that the teacher compiled was extremely distressing to read, (page 218), but what was more distressing was the following paragraph that spoke truth in regards to this event. Sugrue explained that most of the students at this school had never even lived near a black person and very few spoke from experience. The children’s opinions were merely echoes of the sentiments of their parents and friends.

“As white Detroiters continued to fight against black movement throughout the city, they ensured that subsequent generations of children and adults would share Mary Conk’s fears about blacks”. 

The repercussions of those years makes it so blindingly clear that we have to be very careful with how we carry ourselves around young ones, because the words we say today dictate the actions of their tomorrows. Are we sowing the seeds of bias for a bountiful crop that may only feed a select few? Are we carrying down our parent’s fears and reacting against these unfounded fears in our lives?

I am reminded of a conversation I had with the son of a lady who shared the same office space as I did here in Detroit. He was only seven, and the conversation went like this :

A : All Asians are mad.
Me : What do you mean?
A : All Asians are mad.
Me : What do you mean by mad?
A : I don’t know.
Me : Who told you Asians were mad?
A : YouTube, and my friends.
Me : Well, you’ve met me. So do you think I’m mad?
A : I guess not.

If racism, discrimination, fear, and love can be learned, does that also mean that they can be unlearned?


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