The Line of Demarcation

Yo dawg, my homeboy Eminem has scored big.

The movie 8 Mile ripped through theatres everywhere, compelling folks of all ages and music preferences to ascertain what is up with this popular, young rapper who defies bourgeois values to the delight of his working class devotees.

8 Mile conveys a sense of imagery and artistry that even a non-Generation X’er has got to admire. The brash Eminem, who lives just a few subdivisions to the north of me, is clearly enigmatic and talented, and his street verse has a semi-appealing quality to even the most ardent rap cynics.

While the film appears to be mainly about socially marginalized street rappers trying to make their mark within the social order, its title conveys that it is more about providing a front for an exposé of Detroit’s famous line of demarcation, 8 Mile Road, the thoroughfare that divides the city of Detroit from the suburban metro area to the north.

8 Mile is not just a road; it’s a psychological border that starts at the old-money lakeshore of the Grosse Pointes and progresses westward to the porn center of Detroit — at the Woodward crossing — and on through to the white collar Western suburbs of Oakland County, one of the richest counties in the nation. Along the way, it takes on several personalities: from that of a busy artery of strip mall bliss, to run-down residential boroughs, to a historic cruising boulevard, and onward to eye-appealing, renewed downtown areas that are part of suburban gentrification projects.

I doubt there are many mile markers in the nation that are this diverse and visually interesting.

Conversely, the movie has got the nation focusing on Detroit’s history of segregation. The chronicle of the 8 Mile moniker perhaps started with the white flight in the 1950s to areas north of the city, but it became a symbol of racial divide in 1974 as newly-elected, black mayor Coleman A. Young delivered his inaugural speech, telling the city’s criminals to "hit 8 Mile Road."

Suburbanites interpreted that statement to mean something ominous, as if Mayor Young was about to embark on a campaign of race politics aimed at riling up his black folk against their white neighbors. What followed was Young’s reign over an expanded racial divide from his election in 1973 until he announced that he would not seek re-election in 1993 due to suspected health matters.

Young’s "legacy" in office is in fact synonymous with years of race-baiting politics and malice toward his suburban neighbors. Starting with his twenty-year rule and going forward, the metro Detroit area would be forever divided.

As the Coleman Young mayoral ruling regime swept into office, the city became immersed in numerous scandals while city administrators promptly instituted their own version of urban apartheid. Among the misdeeds of the Young era are making affirmative action the standard rule for city jobs; crying "murder" anytime a white person aggressed against a black in self-defense; presiding over a police department full of unremitting scandals and drug-running, as well as a jailed police chief; grossing up the 1990 census in order to push city population above the one million mark to retain federal funding; allegedly trafficking in Krugerrands in an investment scheme; and giving away city construction jobs to minority firms, regardless of qualifications or bids, and ordering managers of all city-funded construction projects to hire Detroiters.

In spite of this, Young brazenly stated that his city was surrounded by "hostile suburbs." This remark comes from perhaps the most hostile politician to ever rule over urban turf.

The 2000 census confirmed, once again, that the metro Detroit area is the most segregated metropolitan region in the country. The media refers to the white movement into the suburbs as "white flight." I’ve lived both north and south of 8 Mile Road. Currently, I reside a few miles north of it, having joined the escape from the city in the early 90s.

In fact, never was there more of a flight from Detroit than during the Coleman Young years. The city’s talking heads and their media shills have always referred to the concept of "white flight" as being a result of racism and white ignorance. Accordingly, all other dynamics are ignored.

8 Mile Road, indeed, has become a landmark for separation — suburbs from city, upper economic strata from the lower, and white from black. The Detroit riot of 1967 pre-dated Young’s reign and gave initial momentum to the legitimate process of fleeing the city for more secure neighborhoods.

However, what the race politicos do not like to admit is that the Detroit metro area has also become segregated along economic lines wherein middle and upper-class blacks have also made their getaway to more uppity, tranquil suburban areas, such as Southfield. This ongoing pattern attests to the preference of people to voluntarily associate with those that share similar economic standing, as well as lifestyles and cultural values.

Of course, any attempt at championing the conventions of voluntary association is necessarily contra to the State’s moral code, and therefore, must be punished accordingly. The unremitting accusations of "racism" — directed toward those who champion the conventions of voluntary association — are mere recitals of the State’s morality code, and are still heard often concerning Detroit’s segregation "problem."

Truth is, voluntary segregation will always take place due to various cultural and economic factors, and this spontaneous order will be further influenced by the redistributionist economic schemes and coercive political processes of those in power.

Since the beginning of the Young era, nearly every bureaucracy in the city, from the water department and the schools on up to the mayor’s office, has been involved in profound scandals at one time or another. Because of the widespread disgrace in city government and the city’s escalating crime rates, the neighboring Grosse Pointe communities once batted around plans to secede from Wayne County in order to flee the indignities; members of a neighboring city — East Detroit — undertook a long and difficult campaign to change their city’s name to Eastpointe in order to disassociate with the big city; and the northern half of Michigan undertook a failed effort to secede from the entire lower half of the state.

The city’s crime rates have not gone unnoticed nationally. In fact, Detroit’s crime quandary prompted a white flight of a different sort. In one of Detroit’s oldest and largest cemeteries, where my family plot is situated, the cemetery owners found that despite the locks, gates, limited entrances, and special security details intended to thwart crime, they could still not keep out the thugs. Stories of mourners being attacked within cemetery gates prompted me to pack a 38 revolver for my visits. To this day, even the "white flight" of human remains takes place as white suburbanites unearth the bodies of loved ones from Detroit cemeteries and move them to safe, suburban locations.

Unquestionably, that is a chilling indictment of how the fanatical race politics and urban rot of a once thriving city has driven its former residents to extreme solutions.

The truth about the Detroit-suburban "divide" is that Coleman Young’s administration came in and swept away the entire existing system under the guise of stamping out racism and inequality, and in the process, the great divide was created; there exists a considerable rift that has not been healed to this day. In 1994, Mayor Dennis Archer took over South of 8 Mile Road, and for eight years he added a sense of growth, stability, and sanity to a decaying city, but was it enough to reverse the process permanently? And will Archer’s successor — Kwame Kilpatrick — continue the healing process?

Only time will tell, but meanwhile, 8 mile Road has become a poster child for the effects upon a spontaneous order at the hand of racially divisive power grabs and coercive political machinations.