OPENING DAY: Open your mind before you open your mouth!
By Phreddy Wischusen
Special to the Michigan Citizen
I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but Opening Day has to take the cake for the most racist day in Detroit. I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Ga., where we had plenty of racism but no Opening Day festivities, most likely due to the muted lackluster of the southern spring and the fact that many metropolitan residents’ sports loyalties remained in the very rust belt cities from which they had recently escaped. Here in Detroit, tens of thousands get the day off work, put on caps with the Old English “D” and drive downtown to celebrate the death of Michigan’s harsh winter and welcome the vibrant orgy of budding that will happen any day on our lovely deciduous trees.
Last year, I spent three hours downtown on Opening Day. In spite of the sunshine, the day off work, and nature’s verdant reminder that we can always start again fresh, I heard drunken white people mutter, shout, scream and slur the “N word” more times than I did watching “Django Unchained.” I saw it written on credit card receipts. I watched white people yell it out of car windows at Black people as they left their homes. A Black hostess heard her white co-worker mutter it about a table of patrons. When confronted by management (one white female, one Black male), guess what word the racist waiter screamed at both of them?
It’s as if Opening Day is really suburban Groundhog’s Day. The one day a year where white suburbanites pop their heads out of their comfortable suburban burrows and look around to see if Detroit has “come back.” Then after spending a day in venues that cater to them, owned and managed by their peers, partying with other people that look just like them, live next to them and think just like them, they puke in the streets, puke in the alleys, puke in the bars and copulate with each other in puke-filled alleys, bars, bathrooms and cars. Then they look at their own vomit everywhere, at the garbage they’ve left, at the mess they’ve just made and they shake their heads and tell one another that it was the __________s who “ruined” the city. They drunkenly drive home, and it’s another year of winter for our region — attitudes frozen where they were in 1943, 1967 and last Opening Day.
I can say this because those are my people. I am white. I am middle class. I was raised in the suburbs. A trust fund paid for my college education. I hear what white people tell me. They are not afraid to tell me what they think because I too am white. Whites benefit from the dominant power structure and they assume that I, as a fellow beneficiary, agree with their worldview. And although I have benefitted financially, and materially, from that power structure my whole life, that “benefit” has cost me dearly — intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. It has left me paranoid, neurotic, guilt-ridden, isolated, narcissistic, spoiled and ignorant.
Obviously, I know there are more exceptions to these generalizations than there are correlations. But too often the exceptions are the loudest noises or the only noises we hear. And sometimes, if we listen closely, we can follow these echoing cacophonies to unexamined prejudiced murmurings within ourselves.
In 1967, when Stokely Carmichael asked the white people to leave the civil rights organization Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), they protested that they had more to offer. More to do. He agreed. He told them to go back to their own communities. Open minds there. Change attitudes there. Lobby local politicians to ensure democratic access.
Today, we must all learn to question ourselves. It helps to consider the other narratives — the stories both unread and untold. When Caucasians remember how the city was, they often think of black and white photos of Hudson’s over the Holidays. We picture white men and women in hats and dresses spilling out into the orderly streets. But for every photo like that, there were also scenes of poverty, violence and segregation. Scenes that were too full of creativity and brilliance that looked different than that Hudson’s photo, so they were never taken. Other streets and stores were bulldozed to build the very highways that carry us blindly past those un-photographed scenes of despair and unrecorded solutions to problems that plague our region still.
Google can tell from our search history what kind of products we might be likely to buy and target us with advertising. Such is how we live our lives. We are attracted to people who have similar beliefs and experiences. We recommend restaurants and events to each other. We borrow each other’s books and click on each other’s links. By the time we’re in our thirties, our whole existence is targeted to our experiences — down to the people we meet and the choices we make. But if we truly want to participate in a free, peaceful and democratic society, we must consciously seek out knowledge and experiences beyond our targeted margins.
If you normally read The Detroit News, read the Michigan Citizen occasionally. If you love eating at Supino’s, try Rounds on the Square once. If you drive down Woodward, try John R. Take it all in. Anytime you read, see, hear or taste something jarring/different (which will happen), don’t judge it. Ask about it. Learn about it. There will be something in your discomfort that applies to you. And as you learn, I promise you will feel more comfortable. More free.
And if you’re tired of the ignorant voices getting all the attention, speak up. Don’t nervous chuckle at your friends’ racist/sexist jokes and slurs. Don’t excuse their drunken behavior. Tell them how you feel. Tell them it is their ignorance that is our problem. Tell them their joke is why our city has become a joke to the whole country.
If you want to wear the “D” on your hat, then wear it in your heart. Let’s make Opening Day truly a day of Open-ness, where old neighbors and new neighbors, transplants, transients and tourists all celebrate America’s pastimes, baseball and democracy, together.