Freep columnists drub Kid Rock issue to death

BY MICHAEL SARAFA

Henderson and Riley are part of the media elite in Detroit. They have tremendous exposure and access to the political and business elites. Riley laments that the minority jobs promised for the LCA were not realized. But she gives the Illitch’s a pass.

The guy’s been around town for a long time, whatever you might think about him or his music. He received an award from the NAACP and he played with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for a fundraiser that netted more than $1 million. He’s kibitzed with mayors, business titans and community activists.

All of sudden when the powers to be selected him for the opening concert series at Little Caesars Arena (LCA), Kid Rock became an issue. By the way, I don’t buy the redneck routine. Well, I mean, that’s what it is—a routine. Kid Rock was born Robert James Ritchie, the son of Bill Ritchie, as in Ritchie Chevrolet. He grew up on a six-acre estate with horses and apple trees. While he did run away from home and sell drugs, in essence, Rock grew up as a rich kid.

On September 2, Free Press columnist Stephen Henderson published an article titled Kid Rock opener at Little Caesars Arena is a middle finger to Detroiters. He accuses Rock of getting rich “off crass cultural appropriation of black music” and takes exception to his trashing of Colin Kaepernick. Rock is hardly alone in his criticism of Kaepernick though his has a much bigger stage (literally) from which to express his views.

But Henderson’s biting critique of Rock as a racist misses the point. Rock is an entertainer and, as such, has his own following. Rap artists that use expletive filled lyrics to pump up their crowds have their own following as well. Let us remember that LCA is essentially a hockey arena, as another Free Press columnist, Rochelle Riley, aptly points out. If somebody thought the Illitch’s wouldn’t play to that crowd, well, that would be a misunderstanding of the Illitch’s.

On September 5, Riley posted a column calling the Kid Rock issue a distraction from the real work of improving race relations and the lives of Detroiters with more and better jobs and teachers, etc. She was basically coming out on the opposite side of Henderson on this issue. She also decried, correctly so, the lack of renaissance going on in the neighborhoods and beyond Downtown and Midtown.

But she then writes seemingly inexplicable things such as “we just commemorated a 50-year old civil disturbance and moved on, like nothing happened” which is a curious if not trite observation. First of all, that was a long time ago. Secondly, life is busy and goes on. But thirdly, it’s just plain wrong that this anniversary was ignored. The Free Press itself had expansive coverage of the 1967 riots. Detroit premiered a movie that was all about the uprising. There were dozens of forums and memorials that offered some treatment of that very important and historical event in the life of the city. 

This was then followed by another article on September 12 taking to task a small group of protesters that were picketing the Kid Rock concert. Here again, Riley’s point was that this was a “poor use of valuable civil rights time and energy” as the headline pointed out--that Kid Rock, like Trump’s tweets and antics, are a distraction from more important issues. She presses the protesters on why they would bother turning out to demonstrate at the Kid Rock concert as opposed to coming out “every month for the last 30 years to protest discriminatory high insurance rates in Detroit that may be illegal, definitely are immoral and wouldn’t happen anywhere else.” I’m for insurance reform in Detroit but I could easily find some insurable actuaries to pick that previous hyperbolic statement apart.

Henderson and Riley are part of the media elite in Detroit. They have tremendous exposure and access to the political and business elites. Riley laments that the minority jobs promised for the LCA were not realized. But she gives the Illitch’s a pass. The two Detroit’s theme—which is constantly recurring in both Henderson’s and Riley’s columns—is not the result of a choice of performer. It is the result of intentional interplay at the highest levels of political and economic power in the city. Let me suggest a few names that intersect at these levels. Duggan. Bing. Kilpatrick. Gilbert. Karmanos. Cummings. Detroit Business Leaders. Detroit Chamber. Unions. You get the point.

These are big socio-economic issues that have nothing to do with Kid Rock or what he represents. But they have everything to do with political and economic power which are social structures of which big media, including the Free Press and its columnists, are a part. 

These columnists, and others, should look behind the curtain.