By Aaron Foley
OK, so, all you white people coming from Brooklyn (or L.A., or Portland, or Austin, or Chicago, or London, or whatever) to Detroit looking to “save” yourself: What, exactly, are you saving yourself from?
I’m curious! What is it like being born into the most spoiled classes on the planet and wanting to move to a city full of black folks who have been ruined by centuries of your tyrannical rule? Serious question here.
Alright, maybe that’s being a little harsh. I didn’t mean to call you folks spoiled. Because as we all know in New Detroit, we have to get along and pretend racism doesn’t exist anymore. Just ignore all those elderly black people being pushed out of downtown. It’s really just a class issue, don’tcha know.
What is this desperate need for people to fix themselves in a city that’s broken?But back to this issue of “saving yourself.”What is this obsession? What is this desperate need for people to fix themselves in a city that’s broken? You may heal, you may find your emotional center, but your surroundings remain the same.
Why is it that the Detroit I know is so drastically different than what all these starving artists think it is? The city that made me, that made us, who we are: Driven to succeed, dressing to impress, never saying die, forever against the odds, is now becoming the Island of Misfit Toys? Is this your pilgrimage to Mecca? A journey through the universe to the softest place on earth? Who are you misguided strangers who aren’t even close to having your life together in a city where we’ve constantly been told that we’d never be worth anything if we weren’t on your level?
Yes, we were told that. Us eastside and westside kids were always told to not even think about going to the parks in Grosse Pointe, to drive slow in West Bloomfield, to just ignore those stars and bars on the back of Taylor pickup trucks and to outperform the kids in all the rest of the suburbs so that we might have a chance to get a scholarship to a U of M, an MSU or a CMU, only to be told on the first day of orientation that we are only here as pitiful affirmative-action cases and that our Detroit/Highland Park/Southfield/Inkster educations would never be enough to make it in the real world, so we go back home to make sure that the next generation would never have to deal with the kind of stuff we had to put up with, only now we have to deal with not only these overcrowded schools, these abandoned houses, these unpredictable summers but on top of all this, these armies of confused Williamsburg rejects who simultaneously have all the answers on how to make it in Detroit after living here for five weeks but don’t even know how to fix their own lives because they need to be “saved.”
What are you looking for here that you can’t find elsewhere? Can’t you just admit that you came for the cheap rent? Because that’s what it all boils down to, right? And that’s fine. Perfectly fine, and I’m not being cynical or sarcastic. I love the fact that there are still places in Detroit that rent for the same as what my mom paid in Lafayette Park in the ‘90s. I don’t love how the “cheap rent” excuse is fine for the newcomers but not the longtime business owners. But I’ve seen Brooklyn prices, and you’d be a fool to not take advantage of what we’ve got here. And we could certainly use more (live) bodies here. But can you at least be up front with your intent, and not cover it up with this hippie malarkey about “finding yourself?”
What are you looking for here that you can’t find elsewhere? Can’t you just admit that you came for the cheap rent? Because that’s what it all boils down to, right?I’m not sure what else you’re looking for, or what exactly you’re trying to get away from when you say you want to save yourself. Again, save yourself from what? The unbearable guilt of feeling like a gentrifier, perhaps? Well, guess what? When you’re moving here, that guilt will manifest in different ways. Sure, we’ve got plenty of empty space for you to not push anyone out because there’s literally no one there. Telling people that your former hometown has “lost its sense of adventure,” however, lends to this idea that Detroit is just your personal safari, filled with dangerous twists and turns and the unknowing of what will happen next.
That’s the rub. That’s what gets me, because we’ve lived here in Detroit all this time and we know how to get along here. But if I were to pack up and move to Montana tomorrow, of course I would be forced to grow up and mature a little and be prepared for the unknown, because I don’t know where I am. I’m out of my comfort zone. And, just like the rest of you 20- and 30-somethings, I’m at an age where I really haven’t figured things out yet, either. But that’s sort of the thing that happens to all of us at that age, living in Detroit or not. Talking about Detroit in these wildlife terms is just as offensive as those of you on the opposite side doing all you can to erase the history – remember our “blank canvas” phase, everyone? – of the people that have been here. And, yeah, there’s also that subtle undercurrent of racism when you talk about “adventure” in a city that’s mostly black.
Why don’t we just make a deal that when you move to Detroit, you just move here and shut up about it? Buy your abandoned building, build your lovely studio space and make art to your heart’s content, but at the same time, keep that maudlin B.S. to a minimum. Get off this endless spiel of trying to “save yourself” and just pay some property taxes. Welcome to Detroit.
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