Wednesday, August 5, 2009


In my novel, every chapter has a one-word title except for one, and that chapter is called Riot/Rebellion. The reason? One theme of my book is that perspective determines everything. So, some might see the events that occurred in July 1967 in Detroit as random chaos and thuggery, while others might see those events as having more political content and intentionality. And, of course, many variations lie between those two possible views. I didn't want to be the one to decide what it should be called, though in promotional material and even in my own descriptions of the book, I use the word riot as a kind of shorthand that I know people understand. I have talked about this in an earlier post.

What I want to add here is that I mentioned this question/dilemma in an interesting and vibrant online forum called Detroit Yes. There, one person responded that when you're lying on the floor, hiding behind a dresser, watching bullets fly through your windows, it certainly feels like a riot, and something that people want to forget and put behind them. This, I certainly respect. Another person on the forum called the July '67 events an uprising. What I hadn't expected was what someone told me at a private event for my book--that his Jewish uncle owned a store that was destroyed in the Detroit riot/rebellion, and that this uncle referred to those events not as a riot nor as a rebellion but as a pogrom.

Pogrom (according to Wikipedia, that much-maligned and useful source) comes from a Russian word that means "to destroy, to wreak havoc, to demolish violently." In my understanding, the element that most characterizes a pogrom is that it is directed toward a particular group--ethnic, religious, or otherwise. Jews were often the targets of pogroms in Russia, and pogroms were what drove many Jews to run for their lives to America.

That this uncle saw the Detroit events as so intentionally directed toward Jews (I assume this is what he meant by using this word) was startling to me. I've got no conclusions to offer. Just saying . . . perspective is a powerful thing.

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