A pattern of racial aggression

How the community moves forward after racist incidents in Grosse Pointe

Caya Craig '23 and O'Hara Diamond '23

Hate has no home here Grosse Pointe Park residents attend an anti-racism march on Feb. 21, 2021 to support Park resident JeDonna Dinges after a neighbor displayed a Ku Klux Klan flag. (Simone Arora Photography)

From the hosting of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 to the hurling of racial slurs by a Grosse Pointe parent on Monday, Jan. 24’s board meeting, Grosse Pointe South has become known for a pattern of racial aggression.

Attempts have been made to comfort and welcome Grosse Pointe’s minorities by embracing history and punishing perpetrators of racism. However, events like Monday’s board meeting still cease to exist, leading The Tower to question why there are so many unwarranted examples of blatant hate and racism within our small community.

With Grosse Pointe’s location sitting right next to predominantly Black Detroit, redlining was a common practice used to separate the white community from the black. Alter road was used as a barrier, separating Grosse Pointe from Detroit, highlighting the vast differences in appearances and dividing by both race and financial stability.

Historically, a “point system” was used as a technique to determine the qualifications of a home buyer looking to purchase property in the city of Grosse Pointe.

Barry Checkoway, University of Michigan professor and author, said racism still, and will always, have a hold on American society. He believes conversing with others and creating definitive responses to racism allows for improvement and is necessary for our country’s growth.

“I think that racism is deeply embedded in American culture and American society,” Checkoway said. “No one is born racist;they learn to be. People learn it from institutions in society. So racism is not of their making, but society perpetuates it. And by society I mean families, schools, churches, media and other institutions. People who use racist terms have usually been taught to use racist terms. That doesn’t excuse them; it only means they need to be held accountable.”

Oakland Schools Educational Consultant Dr. Jay Marks said racism is not something that can be ignored. Acknowledging its history and impact on the country is a key step in learning from past mistakes and preventing them from occurring again.

Marks added that he approaches racism in his community by facilitating workshops, which allow those affected to speak with teachers, counselors, community members and other students to solve these issues.

“Communities have to recognize first and foremost that racism exists,” Marks said. “The idea that we live in a post-racial society is not true. They have to (acknowledge) that racism exists and is alive and well and understand one’s role in possibly perpetuating racism. There needs to be a willingness to want to come together across races to heal and engage in conversations about race and racism in our community.”

According to a Gallup Youth survey, 71 percent of U.S. children aged 13-17 have the same political views as their parents. Factors like religion, race, social class, sexuality and gender all play important roles in ideologies growing up.

Black Student Union vice president Zaria Jones ’22 said although racism in Grosse Pointe is almost always taught, knowing what is right from wrong is something any teen has the capability of deciding for themselves.

“Don’t subscribe to your parents’ ideologies if you know they are ignorant and one-sided,” Jones said. “If you can’t argue with them, don’t agree. Strive to have conversations as to why they think that way and show them a different, more open-minded perspective. Your parents are not always right.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the “N-word” originated in the 18th century and adapted from the Spanish word negro. The word was used in a derogatory sense, putting down African Americans and being considered one of the most popular examples of hate speech. Today, the meaning is no different. It is still used as a derogatory term, although the black community has reclaimed it, repurposing it within music and common phrases for black use. Checkoway said the use of the N-word in the school board meeting has to do with a deeper conversation regarding the relationships between school officials and parents.

“There are many people in the community who don’t think the schools should be doing work like this, diversity work,” Checkoway said. “There was an attack on Culture Week last year, when a parent protested the school for having a culture week to explore other cultures. She claimed that was not what schools should be doing. I disagree.”

According to Jones, the punishment for uneducated students is lacking. She added that the racist incident at the board meeting is an example of the problems that keep happening in the Grosse Pointe community.

“If there was a lesson to be learned, it should have been learned already,” Jones said. “People need to be properly corrected in their behavior and receive a much more substantial punishment.”

According to Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States by University of Michigan’s Samuel R. Gross, African Americans make up 13 percent of the US population and took up 47 percent of all exonerations in the United States in a 2016 report. African Americans are 50 percent more likely to be charged for murder and be innocent, compared to the actual number of accurately charged murderers.

Jones said she believes that students of color are penalized far more than their white counterparts when committing less serious and harmful cases.

“Last year there was an example of this when a minority student was suspended and almost had their class president role taken away when they posted something online,” Jones said. “Reactions like this are not seen when white students are being racist. It’s like a slap in the face.”

Following the board meeting, President Herd addressed the contents of the meeting, claiming the entire community should understand that the behavior shown at this meeting has no place in the school district. Herd made it apparent that listening to others’ voices when there’s disagreement is a critical part of model civil discourse.

Jones believes the real step to creating safe environments and preventing racism in the community is to learn, celebrate and acknowledge accurate history of all races and ethnicities.

“Schools need to teach more inclusive history,” Jones said. “February is Black History Month, but why can’t we learn about black history every month? Why don’t we celebrate other historic months like Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month? Learning and celebrating history is how all students can be supported.”