Native Americans protest L. Brooks Patterson's comparison of Detroit to Indian reservation in New Yorker
By Gus Burns
In the bitter, single-digit-temperature air they unfurled a long sign that read: "L. Brooks Patterson: 'Blankets and Corn,'" referencing anti-Detroit comments Patterson made to a New Yorker magazine article headlined, "Down with Detroit" that appeared on newsstands last week.
Brian Moore, whose hands quickly numbed in the 7 degree air as he beat a drum, said the comments have a lot of tribal leaders in Michigan were upset by the remarks.
"The comments that he made... are insensitive, they're unprofessional and they are disrespectful," "I'm a little confused by it. I think he was trying to relate an atrocity that happened a long time ago with Native people... and it sounded like he was trying to interpret that into what Detroit could be like.
But that's where I kind of lost it because to refer to African Americans that you would have such an atrocity again, in any context, is ridiculous... That's like if I were to make a comment about the Holocaust. It would be unacceptable."
By Vincent Schilling
“I know the connection is not clear because (The New Yorker) article does not have a complete context today or 30 years ago. But, it was part of a conversation about the corrupt political conditions and gross mismanagement in Detroit over the decades. Though he used those words, his statement had nothing to do with the Native American community itself.”
In Pego’s open letter, he criticized Patterson’s remarks as inexcusable while adding criticism to the Detroit News Editor for allowing the Indian Reservation comments to go unchallenged.
“Today I find it inexcusable that there are still individuals who carry hatred and blatant disregard for other cultures and race of people. It is not surprising however that serial offender Brooks Patterson used inflammatory language in talking about people of color. His comparison of the residents of Detroit to Native Americans who were forcibly confined to Indian reservations is shameful,” Pego wrote.
“It goes without saying that Mr. Patterson needs a lesson in civility, regardless of whether he was merely pandering to his base, or purposely inciting racial disharmony. It is surprising, however, and equally troubling to read that comments by the editor of the Detroit News who tacitly approved of Mr. Patterson's offensive characterizations of Indian reservations,” Pego’s letter continued. “I seriously doubt that both Mr. Patterson and Finley have ever even been to an Indian reservation.”
Second, whose fault is it if Patterson didn't make the meaning and context clear? It's his fault, not the reporter's.
If Patterson wanted to make a potentially inflammatory remark, it was his duty to explain it fully. Better yet, it was his duty to rephrase the remark, or to refrain from using it. That way, he could've guaranteed that no one would misinterpret it.
Third, regardless of his intent, Patterson used a 19th-century stereotype to characterize Indians. I guess his message was something like, "Politicians want to keep Detroit's citizens impoverished." Well, what if he had said, "Politicians want to keep Detroit's (black) citizens in grass skirts with bones through their noses"?
Everyone would be grossly offended, and rightly so. But that's similar to what he actually said about Indians.
Fourth, he ignored the pain and suffering evoked by his "blankets and corn" remark. Suppose his message was, "Politicians are throwing Detroit's citizens to the wolves." And suppose he said, "Politicians are throwing Detroit's citizens into an oven like Jews during the Holocaust." Even if it were just an analogy, and Patterson felt no animus against Jews, it would be incredibly hurtful. Everyone would object to using the Jews' pain to score points about Detroit's situation.
Again, that's similar to what he did. The only difference is, he used outdated and painful stereotypes about Indians, not about blacks or Jews. And that's what people are objecting to, I think. That's what Patterson and his spin doctors don't seem to understand.