The map shows the Indian Trails in Detroit. Image credit: Trafficways for 3 Million People, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

Discourse and Dispossession: Culture, Language, and Black and Indigenous Freedom Dreams in Detroit

Kyle T. Mays, African American Studies & American Indian Studies, UCLA

Language matters. Language is an essential component of our everyday lives—it shapes how we think about the world and our place in it. Language is also symbolic, and has many meanings depending on context, time, place, and who is involved. Language is material, and also shapes people’s social, political, economic, and cultural relationships to power in society. And language plays a dominant role in how different publics—in and outside of a place such as Detroit—understand dispossession, displacement, and also resistance. While the processes of ongoing dispossession continue to negatively impact Black and Indigenous peoples, they continue to freedom dream with protests, including with music and art.

Using archives, maps, photographs, discourse analysis, and U.S. Census data, this research project analyzes the variety of cultural, political, and economic functions of displacement and dispossession in Detroit from its roots in the 18th century up until the present. Discourse and Dispossession begins with the dispossession of the People of the Three Fires (Ojibwa, Odawa, Potawatomi) and the ongoing settler colonial project, to the contemporary, where Black Americans continue to suffer another wave of colonial displacement. It then analyzes how Black, Indigenous, and poor and working-class people in the city of Detroit have and continue to resist gentrification and urban renewal through artivism and protest.