Categorized | Letters

Hello, I\’m From the Whitest City in America

In just a few weeks, I will be graduating from MSU and temporarily moving back in with my family in Livonia. When I first came to MSU, my impressions of my hometown since 1989 were rather good. Though far from the excitement of a college town or the lively culture of a city with a downtown, Livonia was a good place to grow up. It is complete with good schools, safe neighborhoods and is close to all the entertainment and facilities of the metro-Detroit area.
Although I knew my hometown was not the most racially or ethnically diverse place on the planet, I did not realize to what extent the misconception about it as \”America\’s Whitest City\” existed beyond Livonia\’s borders.[misconception]
At MSU, I found two associations people frequently made with Livonia. A significant number of people, most of whom had never been to Livonia, would remark, \”Oh, Livonia! Isn\’t that the whitest city in America?\” A smaller group of students were aware of Livonia for its collection of rather impressive up-and-coming musicians. Sadly, it was the former remark that was (and is) far more prevalent.
The \”whitest city\” remark dates back to the last census. Livonia, unlike most of its suburban neighbors, has eclipsed the 100,000 population mark consistently for some time. In 2000, however, there was some doubt as to whether the city would make that number or not, which can mean millions of dollars in funding lost or retained. Much to the relief of many citizens and city officials, the 2000 census reported 100,545 people living in Livonia.
However, while this saved important funding, it also meant Livonia would be compared with other cities over 100,000 residents. Thus, when it is reported that Livonia has the greatest percentage of \”white\” residents of any U.S. city of over 100,000 people, most people stopped reading after the word \”city.\” In fact, Livonia has significantly higher levels of non-white residents than the state average, and tops many of its neighboring communities in these figures.
Over the course of my time at MSU, I have spent a few minutes explaining this to practically every individual who has made the \”whitest city in America\” comment after hearing I was from Livonia. This was not out of love for my city, but only to ensure it not earn a label it does not deserve. While I do not deny there are racists in Livonia, as there are everywhere, I do take offense to my entire community being cast in a negative light because of a misinterpreted statistic.
I always felt I was right to defend the city in this way and generally found most people understood me and were thankful for the clarification. Then, about two months ago, I started hearing things that concerned me.
I read a headline in the Detroit Free Press saying Livonia residents were opposing a new Wal-Mart in their community. At first, I was quite impressed. \”Wow!\” I thought. \”It is really good to hear the people of my hometown are standing against something like this!\” Wal-Mart is notorious for its disgusting labor and business practices, and it has earned a well-deserved reputation among many as an unwelcome neighbor.
Imagine my disappointment when I read the people of my hometown were not against the Wal-Mart for these reasons, but because they were concerned about black people taking I-96 into Livonia from Detroit to shop in their stores. Regardless, there were racist outbursts at packed city forums on the matter; a fact that, even if it may have been slightly exaggerated by the press, really disappointed me.[outbursts]
I\’ve tried for some time to convince myself the rare flashes of racism I have seen in Livonia were exaggerated, or that they were isolated. However, I have begun to really question that. About two years ago I learned the woman down the street who used to watch my sister and I after school asked my mom for a dentist recommendation, went to our dentist and then never returned because the hygienist was black. When a black family moved in across the street from them they had a \”for sale\” sign up within weeks.
Last month, Livonia residents were asked to vote on a proposition to \”quit\” the SMART bus system that operates throughout the Detroit metropolitan area, carrying many people, especially the disabled, elderly and underprivileged to and from their homes and jobs. At a rather small cost to taxpayers, the bus system provided an important means of transportation for a lot of people, including those who work in Livonia.
Livonia, a city not in dire financial or economic despair, did not need to cut this service to save money. Instead, I feel there were some resentment and racist undertones to the proposition and its subsequent passing. I cannot necessarily prove this, nor do I believe most people who voted for eliminating the bus system did so with a racist motivation. However, it is the fact that these individuals stand to gain nothing from this and are only taking something important away from people who don\’t have many other options. That bothers me. I still want to believe my city is full of good, compassionate individuals – since that’s the family-friendly image the city has been selling for quite some time – but then there are unnecessary setbacks like these that sting.
Pockets of racism don\’t have to be the shameful secrets of predominately white suburbs. Responsible, compassionate citizens that wish to create a positive image for the city should be working to promote diversity and cooperation, not allowing regressive steps like this to be taken.
I am disappointed in my hometown and I am growing tired of trying to defend it against accusations I have long deemed unfair.

Leave a Reply