What Message did Brian Dickerson Send?

Brian Dickerson, columnist for the free press, wrote a column on the recent vote in Troy (Michigan) to reject federal funding and not build a transit station. The column, “In Troy, an all too familiar fear of the other” December 22, 2011. It’s a critical article against the Troy government elected persons who voted against the transit center and Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson who had nothing to do with the vote and nothing to do with the issue.

Dickerson calls the “denizens of Troy” hicks. He spends six paragraphs trying to explain the use of the term. At the end of the sixth paragraph he states that Mayor Janice Daniels and the others who voted down the transit center are not racist, and not unsophisticated, but backwards. Daniels became nationally known recently for a homophobic rant against New York on the topic of homosexuals and marriage.

Troy is a city of eighty thousand people and the eleventh largest in Michigan. Until this incident, the city was used as an example of a city doing everything right. Oakland County was once the richest county in the country. Troy is the largest city in Oakland County. Troy mayors have come and gone making local headlines for unflattering news unrelated to managing a city. This is perhaps the biggest headline, outside the city of Detroit, that is related to a Michigan City. The media, and local public, appeared to take the personal comments of Mayor Daniels as a surprise. However, the media, fully familiar with the political background of the mayor, being a tea party candidate and Michigan republican were aware of her views. The vote on the transit center was not necessarily unexpected but the lack of enough votes in Troy’s government to approve the center appears to have been a shocking experience.

Dickerson rejects the popular reason given for the center’s rejection. A reason that was supported more so by the media than by those who actually voted, to save money in the federal budget. The reason of saving money for the federal budget was false. Those troy government officials know this as they themselves operate under a government budget system. This reasoning is thus in no way defendable.

The more realistic reason is also stated by Dickerson. A fear within Troy that non-Troy citizens, who today do not visit the city, would then do so if a transit center were built. Troy is home to many businesses and shopping locations. Public transportation currently serves the city of Troy. Any person in Michigan can get to Troy if there is a desire to go to Troy. A new transit center cannot alter this ability. Dickerson adds that this increase in outsider traffic to Troy would be a cost to Troy taxpayers and impact Troy’s way of life.

This is the basis of all arguments put forth by any racist. An impact to a way of life by someone who is not considered an insider is the reason used anytime a racist desires to place barriers blocking travel or opportunity to others. However Dickerson maintains that Troy’s decision is not based on racism and those involved are not racist. In fact, he goes further and attempts to diffuse any accusation of racism using the less controversial term of bigotry dismissing the matter and summing up the actions as bad policy. Perhaps those who engineered the Jim Crow laws across the country were just thinking of their way of life, fearing outsiders would drive up the cost to tax payers and thus created bad policy.

Bigotry is now the word inserted when racist really applies. It’s a word that can be used and applied without fear of an argument. People can be respected and still be a bigot. Further, there doesn’t seem to be any public recrimination if you are a bigot while racists are shunned, lose public respect and suffer damage to their character. Yet racist were the slave owners and those who engineered slavery. Bigots are now public servants who control tax dollars, do not get asked to resign their office and can influence public policy that may impact those who would be affected by their bigotry. The fear of being labeled a racist or worse prevents the truth about those who are racists to be openly discussed. There is a fear of being cast out of the circle of influence, a fear of no longer being accepted within the non-Black communities.

Here is also where Dickerson uses Councilwoman Watson as a scapegoat, as a point to make the suburban readers feel easier about agreeing with him and perhaps less ashamed of Daniels. He accuses Watson of being suspicious of suburbanites, as a reflexive behavior, regarding many of the local issues that have been and are in the public discourse. Watson is used to make Daniels look reasonable in comparison. It doesn’t seem to matter to Dickerson that he has taken Watson out of context and probably invented the very notion that he wishes to convey. Its dubious to think that Councilwoman Watson has ever made a negative statement against suburbanites or an city or township in Michigan. Dickerson has taken the liberty of using Watson’s comments on topics perhaps related to the State of Michigan government and instead attempts to make it appear that she is or has been against any local community or a citizen thereof. Watson is a Black woman. She once headed the local NAACP, is a strong supporter of the civil rights and a current member of the Detroit City Council. She frequently points out flaws in the arguments or positions of some established power structures. Therefore she also receives negative treatment by those in the media who support those power structures. One of the media supporters is the Free Press where Dickerson is a writer.

This is a long practiced tactic of those who created things like Jim Crow, the policies that later gave us the need for affirmative action and blatant laws aimed at oppressing people. Is Dickerson a racist? It’s not clear, but he is definitely an apologist for those who are racist. Even as the Troy business community expresses its displeasure with this decision, Dickerson presses on and claims that they simply want to “connect with customers and employees”. Ignoring any possibility that these companies have diversity policies that encourage a diverse workforce aimed at ensuring fairness and openness not to mention making sure that personal opinion does not prevent the companies from obtaining the best possible employees.

So Dickerson says that Troy is electing hicks. He rightly places the responsibility on the voters. However, he ignores the responsibility of his news paper and his profession to help determine who candidates are and in what they believe. This is also a failure of the media to accurately portray the tea party. While the tea party is directly related to an extreme right wing agenda, and all candidates elected on that platform remain with that agenda, the media has not yet described the tea party accurately. The tea party is portrayed as an anomaly that is not fully understood but has good intentions.

Dickerson may not be a racist, but he has all the characteristics and symptoms of what it means to be a racist. He conducts himself and uses his position the way any racist would when they wish to provide a distraction from the truth. If the reasons given for the vote in Troy are not plausible, other reasons must exist. Dickerson’s reasons are contradictory and unexplainable. The term hicks is something his readers can use, in open public, without fear of triggering conversations of race while allowing people unhappy with this vote to vent their dissatisfaction. This transit center took half a decade to get to this point and is part of a long term planning process. The Free Press often writes about the lack of a regional transportation system that would serve all residents. However they never write about the true obstacles which begin with the racism of people like Mayor Daniels and those in Troy who support her beliefs.

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One Response to What Message did Brian Dickerson Send?

  1. Brian Dickerson says:

    Rather a convoluted reading of a pretty straightforward column, Henry.

    My point was that fear of the other, and the insularity it breeds, is a phenomenon that includes racism but is larger and more pervasive. Indeed, it is the phenomenon that most distinguishes Michigan from the other states I have lived in (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida). And sadly, Councilwoman Watson is very much a carrier of the suspicion that public transit riders, investors, residents and even ideas from “outside” threaten our communities more than they promise to help them flourish.

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