Response to "Can't Forget the Motor Kelley"

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by Randy Schwartz

Please note the phrase "the riots" in Mike Mosher's "Can't Forget the Motor Kelley" is the standard way that the area's residents refer to the July 1967 Detroit rebellion, i.e., in the plural. It's sort of like a collective noun; its use doesn't mean that the speaker thinks that there were two or more separate uprisings in the city that year.

I was a little put off by his sentence, "Yet Sinclair, whose Trans-Love Energies collective household was driven from inner city Detroit to Ann Arbor by the 1967 riot (aka rebellion)...". The choice of wording, especially "driven", implies that some white folks in Detroit felt that as a result of the rebellion, they had to move all the way to Ann Arbor to feel safe. That's rather tendentious.

The Detroit 1967 rebellion can't even be characterized as a Black rebellion or a race riot, its participants were so multiracial. While the rebellion was sparked by a vicious police action in the Black community, it quickly developed into a general "ghetto uprising" of the urban poor against the hated symbols of exploitation, in stark contrast to the Detroit race riot of 1943 which had mostly been characterized by violence between Black and white citizens. For example, many have commented to the effect that in the 1967 rebellion, "Black and white folks often looted side by side." This is reflected to some extent in the tallies of arrests (824 white and 6407 Black) and deaths (10 white and 33 Black).

I have never spoken with John Sinclair, and so I don't know the way that he in particular conceives of this whole issue. Perhaps his household was located very near the epicenter of the rebellion, and as a result he felt unsafe, but even so, that doesn't necessarily entail moving all the way to Ann Arbor as a response.

In any case, I think that on the whole, things were much more complex than what is suggested in the article's phrasing, both in terms of what was going on in people's minds, and in terms of the objective phenomenon of "white flight" out of Detroit. The latter had a phased dynamic of its own: once a handful of people move out of a neighborhood, it starts getting much broader numbers of people asking themselves, "Hey, there goes the neighborhood: maybe I'm gonna have to move, too?". The latter is a sentiment quite different from "Hey, what with these riots, I gotta move outta here or we won't be safe." I suspect that the first sentiment was massively more common than the second.

I think that this whole way of characterizing white people's attitudes toward the rebellion—"they were driven out of Detroit by the riots"—is facile, and buys into (or sells out to) the racialist, divide-and-conquer dynamic that is fostered by the ruling class.

Randy Schwartz
Ann Arbor, MI

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