By Gaverne Bennett
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Getting Ghost

This article is over 12 years, 8 months old
Luke Bergmann, The New Press; £17.99
Issue 336

If Detroit is one of the beating hearts of the US then according to Luke Bergmann it is a bleeding, dying one – 75 percent of black males drop out of school and one in three people live in poverty. However, statistics do not speak for themselves. In Getting Ghost – the term refers to how people “float in and out of the drug trade” – Bergmann spends some time with two young African-American men, Dude Freeman and Rodney Phelps.

Living in the netherworld of the drugs trade Bergmann discovers “over half…crack and heroin customers…were from the suburbs”. We see the futility of a justice system where benefits are “more likely available to those with money. While the innocence of childhood might easily be lost in the legal system, it could also be bought.”

I found myself loathing and loving this book in equal measure. Detroit seems to be joining ghost cities like New Orleans peopled by the ghosts of the African-American middle class, ie their poor African-American working class brethren. I loathed it because, perhaps unfairly, I felt the author shows us a world of horror while providing few solutions. Finally, I loved this book because it shows that changing the “visceral, stomach-churning” intensity of the “racial politics in the lives of black Detroiters” will require more than the election of one man, albeit a historic president.

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