This post probably won’t mean much to those of you who don’t live in Michigan or – more notably – my hometown of Flint. But if you have ever experienced a social, economic, and/or demographic shift in your hometown, perhaps this post will have at least some level of significance.
The other night, a friend and I spent a very enjoyable evening in Downtown Flint. For those who have lived in Flint before, this may be a little difficult to fathom given the city’s history of being on the severely negative end of deindustrialization. But, believe me: we did. We had a blast. What started off as a quick trip to my office to grab a couple of items turned into a walk through the city and watching the Cavs/Magic game over dinner at the newly opened Blackstone’s Bar and Grill. The grand opening of Blackstone’s about a month or so ago is just one in the string of business ventures contributing to the city’s growth.
To my suprise, the restaurant was jammed packed. As we arrived, we were met with a 40 minute wait. The only place in downtown Flint requiring that kind of wait time is the Secretary of State’s office. But it was a 40 minute wait that we gladly accepted. After all, for the first time in as long as I could remember, downtown Flint was finally showing signs of life.
But as I looked around Blackstones and literally saw no people of color outside of my friend and me, a dark cloud of fear fell over my head. I began to wonder how long the economic and social resurrection we were experiencing would last before the segregated and highly racialized nature of the city started to surface. In a city mostly comprised of low to low-middle class blacks, how long can this small patch of Downtown Flint keep its perimeter secured before one of those folks start wandering that way? Right now, the city’s restoration efforts have been attracting predominately middle class whites; working professionals and college students mostly. But what happens when Laquanda and her six kids start frequenting places like Blackstones? What happens when a couple of fights break out in one of the neighboring establishments (last I read, a nightclub was being proposed for students. Fights will occur if that happens; make no mistake)? If too many lower-class black people stray too far into the Downtown, will we see another white flight?
For those of your unfamiliar with the phenomenon, “white flight” is when middle and upper class whites leave certain areas in mass numbers as that areas becomes equally attractive to other kinds of groups. The phenomenon has been researched extensively by social scientists, urban developers, and demography experts.
I’d like to believe that the new life given to this city can and will be shared by everyone, especially the residents of Flint. But, I suspect it’s not very likely. Given that many of the people who work in the downtown Flint area don’t actually live in Flint, I suspect they would be far less motivated to contribute to the city’s restoration (through their patronage, especially) should Flint residents appear more often. In a way, I can’t blame them. In fact, it’s at this point that I should emphasize that I DO NOT BELIEVE that white flighters are – in any way – racists. In fact, in many circles I’m often vexed by some of the behaviors of certain black folks myself. I certainly can’t fault our white brothers and sisters for being incensed as well. Still, I’m also reminded that true diversity (a cause to which liberal types are ostensibly committed) involves acceptance and tolerance of all types of people; not just the ones who neatly fit into the category of social sophisticates. I may get annoyed when black folks gab on their cell phones during the movies, or when the bass from their car steroes shatter my eardrums, or when the police have to break up a fight involving people having dumb “n**** moments“; but that comes with embracing all types. I can’t claim to be an advocate for diversity when I choose to disassociate with certain kinds of people.
All that said, I think the next year or so will be the ultimate test for race and social relations in the city of Flint. Will the fruits of the city’s restoration be shared by everybody or will Flint become the new “Chocolate City” after black folks start coming out?
What say you?