From 1974 to 1994, Coleman Alexander Young was the Mayor of the City of Detroit. He was elected on the platform of reducing the awful violence that had plagued the city since it’s infamous 1967 rebellion which was started due to police brutality. The city had an aggressive police unit called STRESS (Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets) which had killed over 20 civilians. The city, which was only 50% black at the time, was plagued by police brutality. It was in this violent climate, that the city elected its first black mayor, Coleman Young. A radical leftist, Young was heavily involved in union organizing and the Civil Rights Movement.
For me, as a kid growing up in Detroit, Coleman Young was more than a Mayor. He was the voice, heart, and conscience of our city. He was larger than life. An imposing man with an explosive temper. Young was constantly under scrutiny by his fellow local politicians, the governors of Michigan, and even the federal government. At one point, he was under surveillance by the FBI. Young was also a frequent target of local news media. When a reporter followed him while he was on vacation, he remarked:
That sonofabitch Waldmeir followed me down to Jamaica. All I can say is I wish that motherfucker had caught me. I’m mayor of nothing down there. It would be just two crazy Americans fighting in the alley.
Under his tenure, our city went from majority white to majority black. It was with Coleman Young as Mayor that our city endured the crack epidemic of the 80s. Mayor Young’s brashness and unapologetic manner made him and inspiration for kids who grew up watching him clash with iconic news anchor, Bill Bonds.
Young, for those of us who grew up watching him, was an inspiration. He gave us hope when Detroit was in economic decline. He was loud, rude, and unapologetically black. He enacted policies that were geared to improve the city. He was so Detroit-focused that he remains the embodiment of the spirit of the city. Detroit is very collective and engaged in community politics. So our Mayor was not just the leader of our city, he was like a surrogate father.
It is from this environment and under this influence during the formative years of hip-hop generation Detroiters, that we got our outlandish and unapologetic demeanor. Meet a hip-hop generation Detroiter and they will blow you away with their low filter and “realness.” We grew up learning that it was not just “ok” to say what you really felt and thought if you believed in it, it was imperative.
Courage is one step ahead of fear. -Coleman Young
So it comes as no surprise to me that two of the loudest voice in the last few weeks in resisting the Trump regime have been from Detroiters, Jemele Hill and Eminem. In proposing a boycott against Dallas Cowboys and NFL advertisers, Hill could have been quoting Mayor Young when he said, “We must take the profit out of prejudice.” When she called Donald Trump a white supremacist, she could have been quoting him again when he said, “Racism is like high blood pressure-the person who has it doesn’t know he has it until he drops over with a God damned stroke. There are no symptoms of racism. The victim of racism is in a much better position to tell you whether or not you’re a racist than you are.”
Eminem is also picking up the mantle of Mayor Young with his fiery resistance of Donald Trump on the 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards with his furious Anti-Trump verse. He is embodying another one of Young’s quotes, “Swearing is an art form. You can express yourself much more exactly, much more succinctly, with properly used curse words.”
Resistance in our blood. It’s in our history to say what we think and what we feel and to resist authoritarianism at all costs. It’s just how we were raised.