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Old 06-26-2009, 12:54 PM
 
3 posts, read 9,778 times
Reputation: 15

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I'm interested in understanding a bit more about the dynamic between black and white in Detroit. I know quite a bit of the history of race relations in the area, and I am not looking to start a blame game. What I am more interested in is interpreting a particular social situation in Detroit as an outsider.

**Just as a background: I'm from Sydney, Australia, and although we have unsafe areas and some strained relations with some racial groups there isn't anything on the scale of the African American/White American interaction. There are probably only a handful of genuinely segregated streets in the whole city, even fewer of which would be unsafe to walk down as a white person. I grew up in a public housing project in a country town in Australia which wasn't a very safe area - about half "white trash" and half Aboriginal Australians (who have similar social issues to Native Americans), so I have a pretty keen street sense for someone of my age and education.**

I just recently made a short trip to Detroit, for the unfortunate purpose of researching urban decay. Many people told me beforehand that I'd be lucky not to get mugged/raped/killed, but lots of other people (namely, the friends I stayed with) were much more relaxed about a white girl visiting the city on her own. Even so, at the last minute I recruited a male friend to travel around with me photographing some of the (many) urban ruins in the area.

The first few days were fine, we had no hassles. We visited the downtown areas, Michigan Central Station and the Packard plant. Being around the plant felt a little unsafe, but no one hassled us at all. We drove through some neighbourhoods up to and including 8 Mile which were extremely run down and got out and took pictures. Still no hassles. We went out to Highland Park and even though we'd been warned that it wasn't safe off Woodward Ave, we still got not hassles - although here I really noticed that we were the only white people on the streets.

It wasn't until the very last day we were there that we experienced any trouble - and this is mainly what I wanted to ask about. Up until this point I had found Detroit to be very creepy because it is so desolate and bleak, but I didn't have enough information to have felt too unsafe (or at least any moreso than you do when wandering a wasteland of abandoned buildings).

We were hoping to get a look at the Lee Plaza hotel, which I gather is in a bad neighbourhood (I couldn't tell what was good or bad outside downtown). My friend was going to do his Laundry about two blocks down the main street, so he dropped me off to look at the hotel. Maybe it was bad luck or (more likely) it was the fact that I was on my own, but straight away I started attracting unwanted attention.

I checked out the building a bit, but was starting to feel uneasy being on my own so I went back to the main road and headed straight for the laundry. This was the middle of the day on W Grand Boulevard. People everywhere. Mostly black - but white and asian too. Right next door to the Plaza, outside the church, a guy came straight up to me and said "Hey Baby". He just seemed like the usual weirdo, so I just said "Hi" and made a point of moving away. No big deal. This happens in Australia.

But almost as soon as he had wandered off, another guy in a car called out to me. I ignored him, he called out a bit more then drove off. It was starting to get a bit weird. Especially when another guy changed lanes and slowed down to call out to me: another "Hey baby". By this stage, only halfway to my destination, I was getting a bit alarmed. Still, I theorised, this is the middle of the day - and the two cars weren't exactly bombs, but new, late models. The guys didn't look to sleazy, despite the fact that they were heckling me. What was going on here?

The second car drove by, then coasted to a stop a block or so ahead of me. I ignored it. The guy then got out and comes straight up to me, half smiling and says "I said HEY BABY". I looked straight at him and said: "Hey. I am going to the laundry right over there to meet my boyfriend". The guy just shrugged and got into his (new, shiny, clean) car, but the exchange wasn't exactly pleasant.

Now, those few things I could have just put down to bad timing and maybe just a cultural thing - it was dumb of me to walk down that street on my own, and maybe if you do that in some areas you just get hassled. However, not an hour later my friend and I were checking out the Lee Plaza building. My friend had jumped through an open window to see what was inside, but as I wasn't interested in going in I stayed outside to take some pictures. I heard a car come up behind me and slow down but, as I would in Australia, I just ignored it. Then came the cat-calls "Hey, she's got a nice booty. Bit small though". I ignored them - I guess in Sydney I would have just returned the heckling, but I had no idea of the situation - maybe it was dangerous? I thought they would just drive off once the light ahead had gone green.

No such luck.

They kept calling out, getting more and more obscene. They obviously wanted a response, but I wasn't sure what to give. I still couldn't tell how much danger I was in, especially since this was starting to seem like a neighbourhood sport. Eventually, I called out to my friend and the guys drove off the minute they saw him.

Again - what was going on here? I mean, surely this can't be a come on. Surely they don't think I am a prostitute or anything in my baggy jeans and T-shirt with a camera (which I was quite prepared to lose if anyone tried to mug me). What are these guys trying to achieve? I was totally torn between feeling like I just didn't get the cultural situation, and feeling like I had narrowly escaped getting snatched off the street. Was it just a racial thing I don't get (ie:white girls will just get verbally hassled in these places), or was there some appropriate response I was meant to give? Should I have just called the cops?

I'm not comfortable doing it, but since it's the point of the post I will also clarify that all these guys were black.

Two people I spoke to about this offered totally different opinions - the guy I was staying with said it's just a thing that happens in Detroit, and you are meant to "give sass" back. There's a kind of social interaction between black and white culture in Detroit, especially in relation to women and although it's not respectful he claims that even black salesmen on the street will approach women this way. It sounds weird to me, but there it is.

The other person, a friend from Chicago, totally freaked out and said I was probably in danger of being kidnapped and raped or killed and couldn't believe I didn't call the police. (The thing is, I didn't feel like I was in that much danger even though it was a bit upsetting to be verbally hassled like that. Maybe I'm just in denial).

So, basically, I am hoping for an insight into this kind of behaviour. What was the expected response, if there is one? What exactly is going on here? Was I really stupid, or is this really a uniquely Detroit thing? I'm still totally baffled.

Looking forward to replies,

Em
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Old 06-26-2009, 01:16 PM
 
Location: Ann Arbor
2 posts, read 6,078 times
Reputation: 10
I can't really contribute too much as I have generally only hung out along Woodward and the other "attraction-type" areas of Detroit and have not really had this type of experience there. However, as a white woman I have gotten quite a bit of this type of attention from black men in the past in numerous areas (city, suburbs, Michigan as well as other states). I do think that there is the possibility of at least some of them thinking that you were there for prostitution or possibly drugs. A friend and I were once propositioned and assumed to be prostitutes in Atlantic City despite the fact that we were in jeans, t-shirts and flip flops, so you really never know.
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Old 06-26-2009, 03:40 PM
 
19 posts, read 53,653 times
Reputation: 16
"So, basically, I am hoping for an insight into this kind of behaviour. What was the expected response, if there is one? What exactly is going on here? Was I really stupid, or is this really a uniquely Detroit thing? I'm still totally baffled."

I'm sure you will not like my response, but here it goes (I'm a female by the way).

There's no way to actually pinpoint what was going on - it could of been dangerous, a "Detroit thing" or just a thing. Which the later being quite common. I've been hollered at all over Michigan and yes, outside of Detroit. There is no expected response except for the one you received at that time and moment.

My main concern was your friend leaving you alone in a neighborhood and country you were not accustomed to. No matter if you grew up in the projects in Australia. You weren't familiar with your surroundings. It's not like he dropped you off at a Mall and picked you up a few hours later.

That said, I've been through some areas of Detroit on foot (including and not limited to the Train Station) where I would never consider going by myself let alone an abandoned building by myself. There are potential hazards by going into abandoned buildings. You could of been injured by structural faults or the likes. Common sense should of been taken into consideration here.
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Old 06-26-2009, 03:59 PM
 
542 posts, read 1,385,822 times
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i don't think there was any danger. it was the middle of the day. don't be fooled by the nice cars though. that doesn't mean your talking to a business man. that's the type of reaction a decent to above average if not hot woman will get in detroit(as well as other areas, but more often in detroit), but a white woman that is out of place will probably get more attention. if it had been night you would of had more to worry about(which i don't suggest you go anywhere outside of downtown at night if you don't know where your going). they weren't being racist toward you, they just wanted some australian booty.
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Old 06-26-2009, 05:38 PM
 
Location: Detroit
206 posts, read 415,097 times
Reputation: 58
Detroit is no different than any major city in the U.S. As far as being in any danger, you have to remember that Detroit's unemployment rate is the highest in the country and some people are more apt to commit robbery or worse.

If you ever come here again, please do not walk around alone. Most of us that live here, know what areas we can go into and which ones to stay out of. Of course a lot of crimes happen in the suburbs here as well. I don't think too many towns are immune to crime right now with today's economy.

Whatever you do, don't ever go into Highland Park again. My husband used to be a cop there and you have many Detroiter's that won't go into it either. Some here will tell you that it is much worse than most of Detroit.
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Old 06-26-2009, 06:36 PM
 
999 posts, read 4,360,916 times
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Quote:
Again - what was going on here?
Oi! What was going on is that you went down to a neighborhood you shouldn't have been in to trespass. As far as "giving the sass back", I don't advise trying that with the wrong person. How will you know when it's the wrong person? When you wake up down the street at Henry Ford Hospital. You must have a screw loose to trespass in and around abandoned buildings in Detroit without a gun. Maybe they thought you were, or would like to be, a prostitute?

When someone would open fire on cops who are just driving down the street, what do you think they'd do to a defenseless person with a smart mouth?

The one thing you did right was not bothering to call the cops. The correct thing for them to do would have been to arrest your friend. Although if they even showed up, they probably wouldn't have had time for a minor quality of life crime like trespassing. Stay out of abandoned buildings. They're abandoned for a reason. Next time you come, check out the area south of I-94 and East of I-75. The places you've been so far aren't even that "decayed". I don't think you were harassed due to poor race relations, but rather poor respect and bad bootie relations. Doesn't make it any less dangerous that you weren't from around there.

Good luck and have a safe trip!


Quote:
Officer injured from shot at Detroit cop car
Santiago Esparza / The Detroit News
Detroit -- A Detroit police officer was injured early this morning by glass that shattered as he was shot at by at least one suspect.

The officer was in a cruiser and on patrol about 12:30 a.m. today on the 1900 block of Tracey on the city's west side, Detroit Police Sgt. Eren Stephens Bell said.

Glass shattered, and the fragments cut the officer, Stephens Bell said. The officer was not struck by a bullet, she said.

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Four men were walking on Tracey at the time of the shooting, and the officer who was wounded believed at least one of the young men opened fire on the cruiser, Stephens Bell said.

No arrests have been made in the case.
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Old 06-26-2009, 06:48 PM
 
Location: Detroit
206 posts, read 415,097 times
Reputation: 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by and the View Post
Oi! What was going on is that you went down to a neighborhood you shouldn't have been in to trespass. As far as "giving the sass back", I don't advise trying that with the wrong person. How will you know when it's the wrong person? When you wake up down the street at Henry Ford Hospital. You must have a screw loose to trespass in and around abandoned buildings in Detroit without a gun. Maybe they thought you were, or would like to be, a prostitute?

When someone would open fire on cops who are just driving down the street, what do you think they'd do to a defenseless person with a smart mouth?

The one thing you did right was not bothering to call the cops. The correct thing for them to do would have been to arrest your friend. Although if they even showed up, they probably wouldn't have had time for a minor quality of life crime like trespassing. Stay out of abandoned buildings. They're abandoned for a reason. Next time you come, check out the area south of I-94 and East of I-75. The places you've been so far aren't even that "decayed". I don't think you were harassed due to poor race relations, but rather poor respect and bad bootie relations. Doesn't make it any less dangerous that you weren't from around there.

Good luck and have a safe trip!
I agree. The cops would probably take 3 hours to show up or not show up at all. I don't even like going into some neighborhoods when I am in my truck. Race has got nothing to do with it. More of a poverty thing. I've actually met more white trash in my 51 years than black trash.

Definitely stay out of vacant buildings. We aren't called the number 1 murder city for nothing.

Just remember it could have ended up a lot worse than getting some wolf calls.
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Old 06-26-2009, 09:09 PM
 
Location: Knoxville, TN
179 posts, read 520,821 times
Reputation: 107
As far as the vehicle thing goes, we used to be the Motor City, so lots of people go beyond their budgets to ensure that they have a sweet ride. It's not uncommon to see an Escalade with at least some 24'' rims on it, parked in front of the projects. Agreed with above posters, don't trust those people.

I live in a suburb of the D, and I would never go there by myself. The only place that is *remotely* safe is the immediate downtown, and even then you are likely to get stalked by crackheads.

I agree, I don't think this was really a race relations issue, but the past hasn't done Detroit too kindly. Riots back in the 40s and 60s inflamed the situation, and I honestly belive that we have the worst black/white problems of anyone in the north. Since you've done your homework, you probably know all about the "white flight" and the city's rapid decline in population (which thanks to inferior car companies/city management/citizens putting all their eggs in one basket {auto industry}/the city having absolutely no interest in working cohesively with the suburbs etc., is continuing to erode).

In any event, welcome! There are plenty of cool things to do here, just use common sense and listen to your gut.
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Old 06-26-2009, 09:12 PM
 
Location: Detroit
206 posts, read 415,097 times
Reputation: 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pearl14256 View Post
As far as the vehicle thing goes, we used to be the Motor City, so lots of people go beyond their budgets to ensure that they have a sweet ride. It's not uncommon to see an Escalade with at least some 24'' rims on it, parked in front of the projects. Agreed with above posters, don't trust those people.

I live in a suburb of the D, and I would never go there by myself. The only place that is *remotely* safe is the immediate downtown, and even then you are likely to get stalked by crackheads.

I agree, I don't think this was really a race relations issue, but the past hasn't done Detroit too kindly. Riots back in the 40s and 60s inflamed the situation, and I honestly belive that we have the worst black/white problems of anyone in the north. Since you've done your homework, you probably know all about the "white flight" and the city's rapid decline in population (which thanks to inferior car companies/city management/citizens putting all their eggs in one basket {auto industry}/the city having absolutely no interest in working cohesively with the suburbs etc., is continuing to erode).

In any event, welcome! There are plenty of cool things to do here, just use common sense and listen to your gut.
Great post!
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Old 06-26-2009, 10:04 PM
 
Location: Macao
16,259 posts, read 40,428,088 times
Reputation: 10058
That isn't so bad. Actually that is pretty common throughout America. I mean, black or latino will do the 'hey baby' stuff from cars or walking down the street all of the time. I never thought of it as having racial relations overtones from it.

I think it is just different, as 'white culture' that is considered very creepy if a white guy does it. I think across the board, regardless of the women's ethnicity, a white guy saying stuff from cars is just creepy and stalking-like characteristics, and all the red light warnings go up quickly.

For whatever reason, and I couldn't give you any sociological/physchological background why, but within 'black' culture, this is completely acceptable. Also completely acceptable in Latino culture and Italian culture. If a guy is interested in a girl, it is completely acceptable to do the cat calls, do the 'hey baby', and on and on. It is way crossing the line in 'white culture', but considered very normal in other cultures.

Additionally, you were in the black neighborhoods, so considering that white girls don't generally pick up their laundry and go down to black neighborhoods in Detroit to do it. There might have been an assumption that you were a white woman interested in black guys.
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