Saturday, January 17, 2009

Detroit: So Ghetto'ver It Already

For those of you hoping that Obama’s election, whatever else it might mean for the future of the Republic, at least will start to lower the sea levels of racial victim politics, I have to report the levels are holding steady in Detroit.

According to the Detroit News, (“Remarks topple Detroit's top lawyer”), Detroit’s corporation counsel, Kathleen Leavey, a white woman, has been forced to resign. Why? Because she mentioned that the city’s 36th District Court, affectionately known in the legal community as a “zoo,” was “acting like a ghetto court” in its sloppy handling of a legal matter it had with the city. Leavey said later she called the court that
“because of the way they treat people,” . . . referring to long lines for service that are common. “They treat people poorly ... whether you are black or white. You just get less service than you get in the suburbs. It's just a bad situation.”
Indeed, the 36th DC has a well-earned reputation for horrible public service, ticket-fixing judges, and general incompetence--and when County Prosecutor Kym Worthy was prosecuting Kwame Kilpatrick, she "tried to have every judge in the court barred from hearing preliminary stages of the criminal charges against Kilpatrick because she claimed they were too entwined in his political machine."

But the court administrator to whom Leavey made her "ghetto" remark was black, and, perhaps newly filled with the Holy Ghost after the election of Barack Obama, immediately decided Leavey’s comment was racist. And then Chief Judge Marilyn Atkins, who is also black, decided that the comment was both racist and unforgiveable. Atkins wrote a letter to Leavey, (so far not released to the public), in which she stated that:
she was offended and that she would not accept an apology from Leavey even if she offered one. She also defended the court in the letter, saying it has a “positive reputation” in the city and that judges are hardworking and dedicated.

“You should really think before you speak, especially when referring to this court -- a predominantly African-American court in a predominantly African-American city with an African-American about to become president.”

Clearly, Obama’s election accomplishment notwithstanding, Atkins still feels she needs to use her office to enforce a race-based administrative philosophy. (Were the racial mix reversed, Atkins’s letter would be exhibit A in a race discrimination claim against the city. You can't tell workers "because we're all one race and you're different, you aren't free to speak").

When Atkins warns Leavey that “you’d better think before you talk,” she uses as her basis the fact of dramatic African-American progress in both local and national government, the high-point of which is “an African-American about to become president.” So why the heavy hand?

It’s like Obama's election means the tables have turned, but we all have to keep playing the same damned game. Instead of hearing, “I’m offended and because we're victims, now you have to pay,” are we now going to hear; “I’m offended and because we’re on top now, now you have to pay”? This doesn't sound like change and progress. It sounds like getting even. (Did I mention Marilyn Atkins is a Chief Judge?).

Atkins’s behavior certainly doesn’t signal that she looks forward to greater racial harmony and a healing of old wounds. Obama’s election notwithstanding, she thinks it's her duty to increase racial hypersensitivity, not lessen it, and lay down more stringent punishments of white people for perceived racial foo-poos.

Even if I believed that Leavey’s use of the word “ghetto” was a sin, (maybe because it’s a scintilla of an emanation of the penumbra of the n-word--but then how come no one fired Elvis for using it?), even if it were, for the life of me I can’t imagine how Atkins decides she can refuse in advance to accept an apology even if one were offered.

After all, Atkins can afford to be big. Because she's absolutely right about the predominance of African-Americans in Detroit government. Leavey is one of the few, the very few, white people working in a high position in the city, and it’s ludicrous to imagine that, even if Leavey harbored racial animus against the race of persons she's been surrounded with her entire professional life (which I don’t believe), not the city nor the 36th District Court, nor the concrete interests of any black person in Detroit face the slightest risk simply because Leavey used the word “ghetto.”

This kind of maximum pique by Atkins is especially uncalled for from her position as a chief judge in, as she puts it, “a predominantly African-American court in a predominantly African-American city with an African-American about to become president.”

Don’t get me wrong and blah, blah, blah; but Atkins’s stubborn refusal to resolve this minor dispute sensibly is exactly the kind of behavior that leads to so much strife and violence and lost opportunities--in the ghetto.


Anonymous said...

To those who only get their vocabulary from mass media, the word 'ghetto' has come to mean 'that part of the city where black people live.'

The word was created to mean 'where one group of people live' and was first used to describe the part of the European city where Jews lived. I think it is only in America that the word has taken on a skin-color nuance.

You make a striking point. This should have been only a minor upset over a choice of words. Instead, a powerful black woman fusses to the Mayor's office, and the Mayor's office - especially because Shrek is running to be elected full time to the spot in a city where racial-victim/hatred politics has played a large role for decades - fearfully tells the white woman to resign, lest Shrek be seen as tolerating even the slightest mistake from a white person.

Anonymous said...

Just another day in the sun in New Mogadishu