The Way White People See Detroit
Gentrified downtown advertisement shows Detroit how Rock Ventures REALLY feels.
July 25, 2017 at 11:04 am
"See Detroit like we do."
This ad was on the side of the Vinton Building in downtown Detroit. The add was placed by Rock Ventures, which is the real estate arm of the Quicken Loans conglomerate, who calls downtown Detroit their headquarters. Their message seems clear to me.
Now I knew white people had their eyes on Detroit. Houses for $500, land for urban farming—it makes sense. But I had no idea they thought they could erase us from the narrative, completely. Yes, white people have been moving into the city quickly, and dare I say Detroit has been better for it. However, Detroit will never be a place for only white people to enjoy themselves, no matter how desperately Dan Gilbert, Quicken Loans and his family of companies (which includes Rock Ventures) attempt to whitewash the city.
Quicken Loans moved their headquarters to an economically depressed downtown Detroit in 2009. Undeniably, the move was like a shock to Detroit's economic heart. CEO, Dan Gilbert, boasts that QL is Detroit's biggest employer, as the auto industry is not really a thing anymore. The move has been good for the conglomerate and the city. This is not because of "diversity and inclusion" as stated in his apology. It is moreso because he provided subsidies for his employees to move downtown and midtown, and owns half the buildings. As a result, 2017 downtown Detroit is unrecognizable to its 2009 self. We have big businesses again, like a UnderArmor, Warby Parker, and a million craft burger joints, at the sacrifice of local small businesses. I would agree situations like the one pictured in the ad have become common. White people are beginning to feel safe in Detroit, enjoying themselves, for the first time since Mayor Coleman A. Young told them to leave in the 1970s.
Aside from the issues of gentrification, the photo is indicative of the bigger issues of diversity in the Quicken Loans family of companies. I take a group of students to tour Quicken Loans at the end of every school year. Each year, they take us through the headquarters to the floor with the mortgage lenders. The loan officers roam their open layout floor with headsets on, closing loans all over the country. They are throwing around nerf balls, drinking bottomless Faygo slurpees, and smashing trail mix. When one of the officers close a loan he chest bumps his neighbor. The place reads more "frat house startup company" than "loan office." Fathead, one of the QL companies, prints faces for everyone to place over their cubicle. It serves as an efficient map when you have a few hundred people working on the floor. It also lets you know who is present. You can stand in one corner and count all of the minority faces on one hand. After you see that, they will take you to the executive offices, where there are no black or brown fatheads, just white men. I do see black people on tour at Quicken. The security guards, cafeteria workers, janitors...there are even some people of color sprinkled throughout the floors. QL is a cool place to work, with a basketball court, internet jukeboxes and Franks Hot Sauce in the cafeteria, but you can peel the white male privilege off the walls.
What I read from Gilbert's posted apology on Bedrock's Facebook page was far from the the plan of action we need. He said something about an incomplete image. The full image, which includes a black bartender, still represents the experiences many people of privilege have with black Detroit: service. So he can keep his apology. If Gilbert is going to continue to treat Detroit like his personal Monopoly board, needs to empathize with the cost of Quickens success: the small minority-owned businesses who have been driven out. Their work is what made Detroit desirable to Gilbert in the first place. Nike would never be leasing their space on Woodward had Trish's Garage not cleaned up first. The casualties of your success do not deserve to be disrespected. They were the people who created opportunities for Detroiters to smile before QL got here. Remember that.