Race Relations Slow Progress in Metropolitan Detroit
More communication, better understanding can tear down the walls
March 9, 2005 | By Charlene Crowell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service
Hart Plaza, Detroit, May 2003
Recent legislative activity demonstrates how poorly lawmakers from many Detroit suburbs understand this. Detroit Branch NAACP closely follows the Legislature and scores lawmakers’ votes on bills germane to Detroit. In 2004 Detroit Branch tracked 12 bills, including proposals about charter schools, public transportation, land banks, community development, and payday lending.
Payday lending crystallizes Detroit’s problems. The practice, which the National Association of Attorney Generals has long opposed, targets poor people who live from paycheck to paycheck, have little or no savings, and live far from legitimate financial institutions. Payday lenders typically charge annual percentage rates that approach 400 percent for two-week payday advances.
This practice hits hard in Detroit, where 82 percent of the population is African- American and roughly one-third of the city’s 375,000 households live on less than $25,000 per year. In 2004 the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 474, which would have granted existing payday lenders legitimacy through a new state regulatory process. The Detroit Branch strongly opposed the bill, but 12 state representatives from Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties, all adjacent to Detroit, voted for it and provided the exact winning margin. Three suburban Detroit senators also supported the measure. Fortunately Governor Granholm, a former attorney general, vetoed it.
This example goes a long way toward explaining the Branch’s legislative report card ratings. All Detroit legislators, 88 percent of whom are African-American, received either “A” or “B” grades, but legislators from Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, 95 percent of whom are white, scored low. Only one-third received “A” or “B” grades; almost half scored “D” or “F.” Despite the proximity and profound economic interrelatedness of Detroit and its suburbs, suburban lawmakers often vote in ways that are hostile to, indifferent to, or woefully misinformed about issues that affect poor Detroiters’ lives. The city-suburb difference is stark; too few suburbanites understand it.
But some people remain hopeful.
“Over the past several years race relations in southeast Michigan have come a long way,” said Dalton Roberson, an associate for economic equity at New Detroit, a nonprofit organization concerned with revitalizing the city. “However, we still have challenges to overcome. Economic inequity, educational disparities, and segregated housing patterns continue to hamper racial harmony in Detroit and the tri-county area.”