Certainly they didn’t want to speak of the reason for the moves with the reason for the moves—though everyone, of course, knew why. … Never mind; the torrent of change and fear that was driving white Detroiters could not be turned off. …

But they were all transfigured into new souls called suburbanites, though many maintained an undying love-hate relationship with the neighborhoods they were forced by fear to leave behind, often viewing the city and its current residents with a mixture of contempt, dismay, and nostalgia. They pined for the old glory days of the city, following the stories of its streets and politics as if they lived within its boundaries; following the news of its decline like a lover both grieving and gloating over the travails of a lost love. In the late sixties, many of my black friends began to leave too, as the city declined, for segregation had finally lifted its weight from the close-lying suburbs. So they too moved across 8 Mile.

Over the years I’ve known many whites that work in downtown Detroit, and savor the scary, sexy power of being comfortable in the city—at least during work hours. They’re proud of their ability to move around the urban landscape and to have at least daytime friends of other colors. Most whites in the Detroit area stay away, especially from anywhere outside of downtown, fearful of the community. But some former Detroiters are pulled back to their old neighborhoods—some intact, some bedraggled, some where the old home is completely gone: the decay and destruction an affirmation of their parents’ obviously right decision to leave, so long ago.

I wonder if, sometimes, they suspect that somehow, that decision itself, multiplied across Detroit, was at least part of the cause of all the mess here now. That maybe the mass flight, the leaving of property all over town, the years of being egged on by whispers and realtors to cross 8 Mile, was all part of a nasty, self-destructive Monopoly game—with real properties and real lives. I wonder what might have happened in Detroit if there had never been this flight—if whites had held on and resisted the racial manipulation, if blacks had been able to push back the plague of unemployment, drugs and crime, if we had been able to live in Detroit, all at one time. …

Folks ask the question, Will Detroit come back? Well, Detroit never left—but three generations did. Today, regardless of the city’s efforts at redevelopment, most know that they will never again live in the city of their affection. Most of the old neighborhoods are much too far from livability for them, and the city’s core and urban lifestyle holds no appeal for those accustomed to suburban sprawl. But more and more of the children and grandchildren of the Kidnapped Children are finding their way home. But despite ghost-town metaphors, blank-slate pronouncements, and prairie-land descriptions of Detroit, they find the city already occupied, and these strangers in a strange yet familiar land must learn to share it with those who held on. …

As in South Africa, there is a need for atonement in Detroit and its suburbs.