Jon Gruenberg made a big mistake when he uttered two words that have now been used to strip him of his position as vice president of the East Detroit board of education. His real mistake was to say what others have been whispering for years.
His comments about past white flight were more raw than racist, but in an effort to demonstrate how racist they are not, his colleagues stripped him of his position as vice president of the board of education. Political correctness should have clear boundaries; thank God they couldn't kick him off the board altogether.
While everyone is running around trying to prove that they are not racist, Gruenberg is the sacrificial lamb who took the hit for bringing up what is a clear historical and quantifiable fact: flight occurs when a community feels threatened by what it feels to be an invading culture. It is akin to the "fight or flight" syndrome. And Gruenberg committed the cardinal sin of saying it just might happen again.
"Fight or flight" is an often a justifiable human behavioral response to perceived threats. There are emergency financial managers popping up all over Michigan largely due to the impact of white flight on urban cities once diverse and economically and socially stable. When people had enough of the breakdown of their cultural and community fabric, and then voted with their feet, they took their wallets, too. The consequence is just pure historical and quantifiable fact.
Were they wrong to leave, trying to escape to a quality of life safety net? Of course not. They left for the same reasons some black parents will say was their own motivation to leave cities like Pontiac, Benton Harbor, and Detroit....it's all about personal safety, civility, unfettered opportunity, quality education, and other values which reflect community stability; amenities and cultural values that sometimes can only be found by leaving one place to find another where others share, respect, and evidence the same values.
You'd be fooling yourself if you still think that school of choice enrollment alone is the issue in Eastpointe. There is a legitimate concern that district academic performance could take a major hit by an influx of students from failing schools where sometimes just showing up gets you by... or where dress code enforcement is non-existent...or where socially-unacceptable behavior blooms into loitering, fights, increased petty crime, and paralyzing fear of the end of a calm that once was and which cannot be reclaimed except by flight. Ride down Gratiot between Eight Mile and Nine Mile around 8 AM or 2:30 PM and determine for yourself how the transition is going.
Additionally, there is a strong sentiment held by Eastpointe residents that there are times when money alone is not worth the hassle. The East Detroit school district is struggling with an $8.5 million deficit that probably cannot be erased except through open enrollment. As cash strapped as they are, is it not indeed ironic that the black and other minority students they fear may be their school district's only financial salvation?
Others cannot believe that the board of education cannot see that their school district and city has already been tagged as non-receptive to minority "encroachment". You don't need an anthropologist to discover that Eastpointe has a prolific history of alleged discrimination, racial profiling, and a host of other alleged insensitive conduct; however, for parents who want the best education possible, fleeing east of 8 Mile is simply just another example of seeking a quality education that hopefully will lead to achieving the American dream.
The East Detroit school board response to this situation is similar to the way some people view certain comic routines that target blacks and whites. Black comedians can wax poetic about white people and their strange behaviors, but let a white comedian unload a barrage of antidotes about behaviors or beliefs predominate amongst black people and all hell will break out. Whites will nervously laugh at jokes aimed at them by black comedians; blacks will call for a rally, a firing, and a congressional hearing.
This dust-up is a strong example of the need to explore the relationship between what I dare call black flight to white life. That sentence will surely or hopefully get some people going. Gruenberg's comments should help to compel the conversation. It is a conversation worth having and it is a shame that Gruenberg's integrity has to be sacrificed to have it.