Detroiters "are going to begging for a [white] savior," disgraced former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said in a moment of foreshadowing before he went to prison for 28 years on corruption charges and before Mayor Mike Duggan became the city’s first white mayor in 40 years.
Kilpatrick made the comment in a private interview for “KMK, A Documentary of Kwame Kilpatrick," a film by father-son duo Tim and Tobias Smith. The documentary, which premieres in April, includes exclusive interviews with the former mayor, his family members and Christine Beatty, Kilpatrick’s former mistress and chief of staff.
“The people, the indigenous people of the city of Detroit are going to be begging for a savior, and that savior is not going to be black,” Kilpatrick says in the movie, as seen in a clip earlier previewed on WXYZ. “Some of the blackest people in town are going to say, ‘Hey, we need a white man.’”
Kilpatrick made the remark during a longer conversation about the range of socioeconomic issues that have factored into Detroit’s struggles, Tobias Smith told The Huffington Post.
Smith said he had started the discussion by mentioning the views of local activist and author Mike Hamlin, who pointed to a long history of some whites wanting to prove blacks are inferior. That history includes 19th-century studies that claimed blacks were suited to slavery, as well as contemporary insinuations that undermine the abilities of black leaders, whether that be Kilpatrick or President Barack Obama.
“Kwame was an abomination, but even his [criticisms were] enhanced” because he was black, Hamlin told HuffPost.
To Hamlin, these larger racial dynamics are reflected locally when Detroit's problems are blamed solely on its leadership. They're also in the attitudes of some suburban leaders in a region that has been deeply segregated since whites started leaving the city in the 1950s.
“They were hopeful that the city would collapse because they wanted to prove … that blacks couldn’t govern,” Hamlin said, adding that he sees that as part of the context for Kilpatrick’s assertion that Detroiters wanted a white leader.
“Not only did [propagandists] convince the rest of the world that blacks were inferior, sexual beasts, a whole lot of other things, [but they also] convinced blacks of that,” Hamlin said. “A lot of people had hope [for Kwame]: he had the credentials, he was black, he identified with the notion of black pride, and that kind of thing, and after he faltered and ended up doing whatever he did, they were just disgusted and they decided to go with Duggan.”
(Dave Bing, who is black, was elected mayor after Kilpatrick.)
Duggan’s race came up repeatedly throughout his campaign, though it has not been a focus since he took office in 2013. As mayor, Duggan has sought to improve living conditions and create economic opportunities for all of Detroit’s population, which is 80 percent black.
“It isn't that Detroit needs a white savior; it is that Detroit needs a right savior. And at some point, color has to not matter,” Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley wrote in 2012 while speculating about Duggan running for office.
Before Kilpatrick’s criminal activities came to light, he was known as a young and enthusiastic public figure, sometimes contentious but well-liked enough to get elected twice. Now, he’s widely reviled for a text message scandal that landed him a perjury conviction, running city hall like a criminal enterprise and bilking the city of $20 million, the Detroit Free Press determined, an amount that didn’t singularly cause the city’s bankruptcy but certainly played a role in its financial struggles.
Smith said they hadn't intended to focus on race, but the subject came up repeatedly in their interviews and became a part of the film. He said "KMK" remains objective and tells a story the city needs to hear.
“It’s an honest look at someone who I think was troubled, not only because of their own mistakes, but also because of their love for the people,” Smith said. “It’s not pro[-Kilpatrick], it’s just people giving us the truth as they know it.”
“KMK, A Documentary of Kwame Kilpatrick” premieres April 3 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. Watch the latest trailer for the movie here.
H/T Deadline Detroit