THE BLOG
01/29/2014 04:36 pm ET | Updated Mar 31, 2014

Motor City Madness

"Imported from Detroit" was the tagline for a very popular 2011 Super Bowl XLV commercial. It featured images of rapper Eminem driving a newly restyled Chrysler 300 through the streets of his hometown. Near the end of the piece, Slim Shady struts towards a uniformly-robed Black gospel choir and says, with working class swagger, "This is the Motor City and this is what we do!"

Last week, in the shadow of Super Bowl XLVIII, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder indicated what he wants to do to relieve the financial stress of his state's biggest city. To open the world to the bankrupt city, he asked the Obama administration for 50,000 special federal immigration visas over the next five years to attract foreign professionals who are willing to work and live in the city, to, in his words, "bring their skills in certain fields like the auto industry, information technology, health care and life sciences to Detroit."

Rev. Horace Sheffield III, executive director of the Detroit Association of Black Organizations, says of Snyder's plan: "What does that do to displace people who are born here and who don't have the education and are already competing for scarce jobs?" Sheffield continued, "The other problem is the governor only picked educated immigrants. That only pits immigrants against immigrants." Situate highly-educated immigrants and not-so-educated immigrants in competition against native-born Americans - especially young African- and Latino-Americans and do so at a time when immigration reform is a hot button policy issue: see what you get. We get a perverted turn on Slim Shady's popular commercial; call it Imported to Detroit.

Policy makers like Governor Snyder were looking the other way while thousands of American-born auto workers became technologically obsolete over the past four decades during which time imported automobiles nearly wrecked the domestic auto industry -- until the Obama administration bailed it out. When the Motor City was clicking on all cylinders in the 1950s and 60s, it became home to nearly 2 million people -- many of them blacks migrating from the American South.

Republican Snyder's plan will do for these Americans and their now hollowed-out city what would happen if two Chrysler 300s sped towards each in opposite directions on a one lane, one-way street in front of the Renaissance Center, the magnificent icon of Detroit's post-1960s renewal.

The native-born Black and Latino populations of America's ten largest cities -- the economies and their labor forces -- look just like Detroit's. These are the people still living in urban and suburban ghettos, receiving inferior educations, experiencing low high school graduation rates, and who have very dim prospects for a near-term future that will be dominated by jobs requiring skills in science, technology, engineering, and math. How long and how much would it take to train a critical mass of these native-born Americans to qualify for the jobs Detroit needs to bring its economy out of the tank? What happens if we do nothing but import a new middle class?

Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson foretold of this class crash two decades ago in his works, When Work Disappears and The Truly Disadvantaged. We got a two tiered workforce: half of whom are well-educated, well-trained, well-paid -- and native white -- along with well-educated, well-trained immigrants. On the other end of the seesaw is a poorly educated, low skilled and poorly paid Black and Latino labor pool.

Unless and until the critical questions are asked and answered about this scenario, inner city Blacks and Latinos will remain on the far low side of the unbalanced beam, even though by their sheer numbers, they add up to the majority in every Detroit. Slim Shady should look at this situation and come up with a new rap based on a heavy sampling of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?"

Subscribe to the Black Voices email.
Stay plugged in with the stories on black life and culture.