Dan Austin: Why the Outrage About Katoi Name, but None Over Cobo Center?

August 24, 2017, 3:03 PM

The writer is a former Detroit Free Press reporter, former spokesman for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and a local historian. His comments, first posted Thursday on Facebook and shared with permission, respond to a controversy over Katoi restaurant in Corktown that renames itself Takoi. The original name offended members of the Thai, Southeast Asian, and LGBT communities. 

Albert Cobo was mayor from 1950-57.

By Dan Austin

I support transgender rights wholeheartedly, and really don't care what Katoi/Takoi is called because I know it wasn't malicious.

That said (deep breath), I find it interesting how everyone got so bent out of shape over the name of a simple restaurant, yet everyone is apparently fine with having the city's landmark convention center named in honor of a man whose racially motivated policies did much to divide our city and region, wiped out black neighborhoods and set the table for Detroit's decline.

Albert Cobo [Detroit mayor from 1950-57] was not a good person, folks. Not as blatantly racist as, say, Orville Hubbard, but certainly not deserving to be the namesake of Detroit's marquee convention center.

He stoked white people's fears of black Detroiters, hinting that he was the only thing "keeping them at bay."

Housing discrimination was rampant in Detroit. And many of Cobo's policies had a negative effect on housing opportunities for African Americans. He vigorously opposed black public housing, for instance, and pushed policies to "preserve property values" of "tax-paying citizens," (i.e., white people.)

Read Scott Martelle's book on Detroit. He has some great details and analysis on this. ["Detroit: A Biography" is a 2014 paperback.]

The Michigan Chronicle characterized the election of Cobo as "one of the most vicious campaigns of race-baiting and playing upon the prejudices of all segments of the Detroit population."

Cobo also pushed hard for more freeways, which helped bleed Detroit of its population -- and of course, many of those freeways that he lobbied for went through predominantly black neighborhoods.

How that hasn't generated a smidgen of the same uproar as an offensive slang term from Thailand is beyond me. 

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