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Michael Eric Dyson on Detroit: 'Up to the highest bidder'

The political commentator says President Obama could have bailed the Motor City out of debt. Read more as he sounds off on the decline of his hometown.

The best thing about men from the "tough streets" like author Michael Eric Dyson—says rapper Jay Z in the intro of Dyson's 2007 book, Know What I Mean?—is that he doesn't mince words for anyone. Especially when you're talking about his beloved hometown, Detroit.

And Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University in D.C., says Black men and women are "under assault."

"Black women have to deal with the Black males who are under assault, with the added disadvantage that they are the recipients of some of the horror and rage that Black men feel," he says.

After a recent speaking tour in the city, BLAC sat down with the award-winning author to dissect Detroit, from former Mayor Bing to the bankruptcy.

Have you noticed a change in the city?

Obviously there is a lot of development going on. Ironically enough, with this bankruptcy afoot, vulture capitalists swoop in to absorb the lifeblood of the city while some of the services are cut. Some of the pensions are gutted. And we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on people to rehabilitate the city where that money could go to the very people who need the money themselves.

It's a very disturbing trend when you have people running a city that weren't duly sworn in as elected officials by the people. It's not very democratic.

Is gentrification in rebuilding Detroit about class or race?

Class is a proxy for race, at a certain level. There is no question that there is a huge class chasm going on in this city. But a lot of the deep-pocketed interests that were once outside of the city have (returned). The people who'd been sent outside during the White flight to suburbia are now being replaced by White inroads into the city. Black people who are poor, Latino people who are poor and others are being forced outside.

Gentrification has elevated the community property. And the value of that has placed some people out of the bargaining realm of holding on to their rental properties or homes. And that is a disturbing trend, because it means Detroit is up to the highest bidder.

To people like Dan Gilbert?

There is a festive spirit among those who can snap the city up, purchase so many of the buildings (and) literally own this city. And (we) leave it to the whim and caprice of White billionaires who are able to commandeer this city in a disturbing way. What happened in New Orleans after a natural disaster is happening here after an economic disaster.

Many Detroiters say a Black mayor should be leading a majority Black city. Do you?

Did the majority of Black people vote the Black man in or not? I mean, it is democracy. Was a Black man or woman capable of commanding the respect of the voter? And if not, then you get the mayor you vote for—or don't vote for. Your political apathy leads to a consequence that now you have to confront, and you can't bitch after the fact.

Now at the helm of this Black city is a White mayor. What's interesting is that all these deep-pocketed interests are now backing him to say we are really going to fix this city, when Dave Bing could have used that.

Lack of support for Dave Bing—even by the Obama administration to visibly reach out and support him, as well as these White billionaires—suggests that the racial drama of the economic future of this city is still real.

You think there's more President Obama could have done?

Of course—you could have showed up, No. 1. This is a major American city gone bankrupt. Might he have gone to another city that has a Whiter face? Look, he's not a savior, but he does wield a bully pulpit. And he does this the same way he got moneyed interests to support the American economic infrastructure in terms of the banks. You can do the same thing for people's jobs here in Detroit.

Banks were too big to fail. You saved them. The automobile industry you bailed out. The people of Detroit are worthy of the same kind of efforts.

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