Seeing Like a Chocolate City: Reimagining Detroit's Future Through Its Past

15 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2023

Date Written: February 1, 2023


This essay is part of an online symposium on Michelle Wilde Anderson's "The Fight to Save the Town. Ïn it, Anderson captures how the rise and fall of Detroit maps onto so many other important cultural, political, social, and economic moments of the twentieth century. As Anderson rightly notes, many of the ways in which the city’s history is commonly told represent a “white gaze on Detroit.” What this narrative often leaves out is the critical role of the Black middle and professional class in stabilizing or holding up the city during the period often associated with the city’s decline. This Review focuses on the period roughly between 1970 and 2010. This period falls in between the well-documented “White Flight” out of the city on the heels of the 1967 riots and the less well-documented “Black Flight,” particularly of the Black middle and professional class, out of Detroit in the late twentieth century and early years of the twenty-first century.

If we shift the gaze just a little to focus on what happened to the Black middle and professional class in Detroit over time, we might learn something about what held the city together for so many years—even after Whites fled to the suburbs. We would give a bit more agency to people who held the city up, culturally and economically, and who could be key to Detroit’s ability to set itself on a growth trajectory that is both prosperous and inclusive. We might imagine a future Detroit that reinvents itself through an investment in the communities and neighborhoods that helped to build and sustain cities like Detroit - so-called "chocolate cities" - in the past.

Suggested Citation

Foster, Sheila, Seeing Like a Chocolate City: Reimagining Detroit's Future Through Its Past (February 1, 2023). Stanford Law Review, Vol. 75, No. online, 2022-2023, Available at SSRN:

Sheila Foster (Contact Author)

Georgetown University ( email )

Washington, DC 20001
United States

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