When You’re Embarrassed To Be A Michigander

2016-02-11T20:13:47+00:00 February 11th, 2016|

By Aaron Foley

Supposedly, “Michigander” is an offensive term, first coined by Abraham Lincoln as an insult. Lincoln thought Lewis Cass, the great Michigan governor for which so much of our institutions and municipalities are named, was a silly goose because of Cass’ (now-outdated) views on certain states’ rights to legalize slavery.

How right Lincoln might have been. We are silly, foolish geese, aimlessly strutting around, no hope of ever finding any common sense. Who would want to be a Michigander?

You may have noticed that the Mitten State is grappling with multiple crises. There’s Flint, of course, upon whose water the world’s eyes are trained. Next, there’s Detroit Public Schools, which could become the first school district in the country to declare bankruptcy. And those are just the things people outside the state know about.

Credit: James (https://www.flickr.com/photos/digital_3rd_eye/)

Credit: James (https://www.flickr.com/photos/digital_3rd_eye/)

Young people are still leaving the state as fast as they can (and honestly, who could blame them?); the pretty towns seen in Pure Michigan ads are suffering extreme poverty; Highland Park is almost always on fire, and… are we still dealing with that Asian carp thing? I don’t know, but there’s probably something wrong with our lakes right now.

Who’d want to be a Michigander? Who’d be foolish enough to live here?

I’m compelled to say something nice about Detroit Public Schools, having attended them and being surrounded by products of that system which has incubated so many leaders around the city of Detroit, both established and up-and-coming. It stings when I see the comments from onlookers, shaking their heads at the disastrous conditions of school buildings and what teachers and students have to deal with each day, because I know what DPS is capable of.

And it’s not the fault of DPS.

Flint, once (still?) the place even us Detroiters were afraid to visit. Oh, gosh, Flint. I remember years ago on my high school track team, we were headed to an invitational race in Corunna. “Where’s Corunna?” we asked. (“Like Corona, the beer?” someone else asked.) “It’s outside Flint,” our coach said. The collective “Oh, my God!” and “I don’t want to get shot!” comments from our 15- and 16-year-old psyches, not knowing that Corunna was actually 30 miles outside Flint. Still, it had a reputation, even though we were supposed to be the big, bad Detroiters. Now, Flint and Detroit stand in solidarity.

And it’s not Flint’s fault, either.

Credit: jm3 on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jm3)

Credit: jm3 on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jm3)

Almost everything that’s going on in our dirty state right now can be traced to our current leadership. (A leadership who, by the way, has the worst PR tactics conceivable in a time of crisis. There’s absolutely no way news of a Chanel birthday cake should have leaked. Or maybe a smarter thing to do was to not have ordered one at all.) Sometimes you almost feel bad for the guy. Most of the time, you don’t.

I wonder if Rick Snyder knows how many of us Michiganders are embarrassed to be Michiganders right now, maybe forever? We always had our saving graces, no matter how much things sucked. Flint had its reputation, just like Detroit has its own, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a citizen who loves their city more than a Flintstone. Do they feel that way now?

We always had our excuses to live in Michigan. The winters are brutal, but we don’t have hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes! Crumbling inner cities, but look at our coastlines! Or everyone’s favorite: At least we’re not Ohio!

[blocktext align=”right”]Who’d want to be a Michigander? Who’d be foolish enough to live here?[/blocktext]But what do you do when you feel ashamed to live here? Do I, as a trendy young millennial, join the expats in Chicago? Do I turn a blind eye and focus on relentless positive action, just like our politicians? Do I live in the warped, alternate universe that is a Pure Michigan ad? I mean, I wrote a whole book – ahem – trying to sell people on the good parts of Detroit. How do you square that with living in this state as a whole?

But honestly, the more important questions: Do I actually have the will to tough it out in Michigan, where so many of us are broken beyond repair? Would I, if faced with the decision, uproot from the state I love so much? Would I be a sellout or a turncoat if I did? Would I be foolish to stay?

These are questions I don’t yet have the answers to, but I know I’m not alone in wondering. I’m frustrated to be in this conundrum, and I can’t stand this uncertainty placed upon us. Until we find those answers – that is, if we ever find them – people will keep pointing and shaking their heads.

Aaron Foley writes the On Detroit column for Belt as well as authoring How To Live In Detroit Without Being A Jackass, published by Belt.

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  1. Tina Adiska February 11, 2016 at 10:19 am - Reply

    Great article, and- ahem- excellent book! I live in florida now and have for many years, but I will ALWAYS be an identify myself PROUDLY as a MICHIGANDER. When anyone talks smack about Detroit or my home state, my response is ALWAUS, ” have you EVER been there? The answer is always, “no, but…”. Well then shut your mouth! All the states have their share of issues Michigan has her own and is in the limelight right now.And maybe, just maybe , peoole will wake up and start to GET INVOLVED and elect the ” community organizers” that FIND A WAY TO GET THINGS DONE! Keep us informed brother FOLEY, keep us informed…

    • Lauri February 13, 2016 at 8:50 pm - Reply

      Amen! I live in California going on 11 years now but Michigan will always be home to me.

  2. Bob Wilkinson February 11, 2016 at 11:04 am - Reply

    I love Michigan, but I am a Michiganian.

    • TJ February 12, 2016 at 9:12 pm - Reply

      When I was young, we were called Michiganians, so I’m with you. I’m from Flint and we were called Flintites. Don’t like the sound of Flintstones…

  3. Brad Hines February 11, 2016 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    Hi. I guess I must be a gaping minority here. But, I actually moved TO Michigan from a sunbelt state. I find the cost of living here to be pretty reasonable, and I also find that when people screw up it’s actually loudly announced by an engaged electorate and not swept under the rug. I don’t find such blatant nepotism as I did back home in Albuquerque either. I think this state has a lot going for it. Sure, it has its flaws. But the people that chose to stay do have a lot going for them. It just takes awhile to see it.

    • David Hays February 12, 2016 at 9:57 pm - Reply

      I’m with you. I’m from Flint, still live in Michigan, and love them both. I’m not ashamed at all to tell the world I’m from Flint. Flint has dealt with difficult situations in the past and has always prevailed because of the people that make up the city. I visit family and friends in Flint frequently, and enjoy visiting the legendary Flint restaurants.

  4. Chuckd February 11, 2016 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    An economic refugee from michigan living in north dakota. Nice article, not the same Detroit is on the rise trope

  5. Mor Devils February 11, 2016 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    No way can you place the blame for everything dirty going on in Michigan on current leadership. Snyder should probably be tarred and feathered, but the roots are much deeper. Flint has been on the decline for 35-40 years. Snyder is a miserable POS, but Flint didn’t occur out of the blue.

    • Nic February 12, 2016 at 6:54 pm - Reply

      As a lifelong Flint resident, I’ll let you in on a secret, Mor Devils. Snyder, or more accurately, Snyder, Andy Dillon, a gaggle of dictatorial emergency managers and the republicans in the state house that passed PA 436 are responsible for the travesty we are facing today.

      Flint was on the cusp of a major revitalization, despite our problems, hundreds of millions had been spent improving the city in the last ten years, we finally passed a masterplan (first time since the 1960s) and arsons had decreased by hundreds from their peak in 2010. It had never been better to live in the city and our old pipes worked just fine.

      Now the earliest things will be normal again (if the chlorine carcinogens and heavy metal positions don’t rob us and our children of normal futures) is in a year. If you want to talk trash, spend a week in a Flint home and then we shall see how you feel.

  6. CMAC February 11, 2016 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    I think Aaron makes a lot of really good points that resonate with me personally.

    I grew up in Southfield, attended MSU, and then have lived in TX, GA and IL building my career. I’m now stable and have been planning to move back to Detroit (and even bought Mr. Foley’s book to ensure i don’t move there and inadvertently act like a jackass!) this year.

    Unfortunately, the situation in Flint has me questioning my decision. It’s not just because of the situation itself, although it is terribly serious and a complete shame. I am reconsidering the decision because i’m concerned that the corner-cutting mentality that got MI in the economic and social situation it has suffered in for the past several decades is still an entrenched mentality that will cause the state to continue to suffer setbacks in progress.

    I’m not sure that i have the answer yet… do i move back and be a part of the solution or enjoy life in WA state or somewhere else that has their shit figured out moreso?

  7. Cara February 12, 2016 at 9:38 am - Reply

    Just having moved back after being gone for 6 years, this resonated quite well with me. I have friends all over the nation and I’ve always taken great pride in where I’m from (everyone has regional pride when you are serving in the armed forces). I’ve only been back for 2 months, always said I’d return to Detroit. And this is embarrassing. The governor’s indifference, the water shut-offs and lead poisoning, the deteriorating schools… By the grace of God I have one friend coming in from NOLA next week. No one wants to come here! And I do think, all the time, ‘why am I here? There are so many happier places to be right now.’ coupled with, ‘what the hell is in my water?’

  8. srtr February 12, 2016 at 11:24 am - Reply

    I mentioned to a neighbor just last week (native Michigander) that having relocated with my apprehensive wife from Northern KY back in 1987, I can’t believe how badly the quality of life and the infrastructure in Michigan has deteriorated over those interim years. Aside from the current water crisis in Flint, the condition of our roads is an embarrassment. Let the blame fall where it may. Our state government, especially the current administration, is pathetic.

  9. Mr R February 12, 2016 at 11:36 am - Reply

    The people who stay here’s don’t have the money to move someplace else. Michigan is more than Detroit and Flint. The UPPER PENINSULA OF MICHIGAN is worse. We don’t get funding like the rest of the state. The Canadian border is just about 4 hours away, Detroit is 8 hours…I would choose Canada. And the people in Michigan aren’t as nice as you think. Too many crazy people with guns. I was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula but have traveled outside our borders and have heard what people said about America and they’re right. Hypocrites is the word heard most…yup.

  10. Steve Peto February 12, 2016 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    You want to know about what’s next and the lakes? Tell ya right now. Enbridge line 5 oil line which runs under the Mackinac Bridge will leak creating the second most inland oil leak diaster in history. You know like the last one Enbridge on pipeline 6 and it leaked into the Kalamazoo river did in this state and suffered no real consiquences. Then Michigan will be ruined.

  11. ripkensnana February 12, 2016 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    Just one tiny correction: We DO have tornadoes in Michigan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_Flint%E2%80%93Beecher_tornado , to mention one of the worst. We’ve even had small earthquakes. Few and far between, yes, but we do get them.

  12. Nick February 12, 2016 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    Regarding infrastructure, etc., Michigan is just on the leading edge of what will be happening nationally (already is: think Minneapolis bridge collapse, derailings, etc.).

    I think this will be the “new normal” for a good time to come, probably decades. Hopefully we can forage for opportunities rebuilding what we’ve destroyed or let rot, but we need to become more politically engaged to make that likely.

  13. D Bastien February 12, 2016 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    I said that two cities actually ruin the reputation of Michigan. And then we linger on around the rest of the state which is so beautiful and so outstanding and so breathtaking. But these two cities have the reputation of Michigan. Because of the car industry. Bad government., and not a lot of common sense. I was born and raised in Monroe Michigan and I’m proud that I was born there a beautiful little historical town. There’s only one thing I don’t like about it that it honors general custard as a hero. Other than that it’s a beautiful little city. So I question the theory have we given up on the huge cities. Have we given up on the school system. Have we given up on the government. A Michigan because the taxpayers pay for it. It’s sad to know then I am a Michigander and I’m proud of it.

  14. Johnengineer February 12, 2016 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Flint water and Detroit schools are just the most recent bad decisions made by the current administration. I didn’t see anyone mention the attack on women’s rights, the gutting of funding for schools and universities, tax breaks for the weaththy and ever increasing taxes on the middle class (more and higher fees on everyone). There is also the attacks on the unions and other bad decisions like repealing the motorcycle helmet law. This is a run away, one sided government and it is not the side of the people of Michigan. I had to leave the state 6 years ago to find work and I am amazed what has happened in those few years. I’d be happy to hear from anyone who can list an equal amount of good things they have done.

  15. Johnnie February 13, 2016 at 6:27 am - Reply

    Snyder is a complete idiot. Anyone who would buy out a restaurant for a birthday party and buy such an ostentatious birthday cake for his wife, and in Ann Arbor not Flint! And this is the man who hired two PR companies to help him out of the Flint water quagmire. Plus, not attending two meetings in Washington, D.C. show an outrageous arrogance. But from a man who has a voice like Donald Duck and rarely wears a tie as Governor what can you expect. He should never have been elected in the first place.

  16. Neugen February 13, 2016 at 7:11 am - Reply

    The government as a whole is crooked in Michigan. I have lived in Michigan for 43 years and have appreciated everything about it, but really, Ohio isn’t sounding so bad.

  17. Zoot February 13, 2016 at 8:44 am - Reply

    This Article is a 3/4 history lesson and 1/4 crap. I saw with my own two eyes the complete negligence our fair Canadian Governor Lady Granholm for Flint, Detroit, and the state as a whole. Snyder maybe possessed and need to be exorcised, but there is plenty of blame that can go directly to the local leaders of Detroit, Flint and Grand Dame of Lansing.

  18. Sherry February 13, 2016 at 10:11 am - Reply

    I grew up in Flint in the 60’s and 70’s. And what a great place it was to grow up in back then! But the unions became overly greedy and powerful, building cars in MI became exorbitantly pricey, and the jobs and assembly lines moved elsewhere. Then extremely liberal government policies continued to hammer down on the state until you get what you see today. California is heading in the exact same direction these days.

    • Nic February 13, 2016 at 10:24 am - Reply

      You get what you see today from right-wing austerity and greedy suburban tax policies. If greedy state level conservatives would have not kept revenue sharing from city tax dollars, Flint would never have been in a 2011 deficit in the first place.

      These “extremely liberal” city governments were replaced with fiscal managers who only made things worse as a result of looking at the fiscal bottom line and not quality of life (which is apparently a liberal consideration in governing).

      • susiecute February 13, 2016 at 8:13 pm - Reply

        but flint leaders as well as the people said for years that the auto industry will come back, it will come back. it did not. administration should have paid more attention to their budget when all those auto workers who were transferred, layed off, or retired quit paying flint income tax. the city continued to spend.

    • Susiecute February 13, 2016 at 8:10 pm - Reply

      now when the cars ceased to be made in michigan and were made elsewhere did the prices go down? no. car production moved elsewhere because the auto companies could do it – not because of union wages. union wages helped the michigan economy. check out what has happened to the employees of the auto suppliers that moved to alabama. wages go down down down.

  19. Katrina February 13, 2016 at 10:15 am - Reply

    I moved from Michigan to North Carolina in order to teach. Too many of my friends graduating with teaching degrees have had to wait years until they could find a job. I suppose I’m an “economic refugee,” hoping someday that that Michigan’s school system will shape up and I can raise my kids in the state that I love. Miss it every day.

  20. Lucidcurmudgeon February 13, 2016 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Michigan voters choose candidates who made no secret of their contempt of government. Now we are stuck with an administration that doesn’t know what to do for the best interests of the state and wouldn’t care to so if someone showed them. They use cheap legislative tactics to protect their self seeking actions and flaunt their self defined superiority. Voters who fall for feel good campaign ads promising to fix problems thru scapegoating the less powerful are part of the problem

    • susiecute February 13, 2016 at 8:19 pm - Reply

      remember the big uproar over mark schauer and his tax on water? in 2007 he sponsored a bill to make big companies that pull water from michigan’s resources – pay a tax on it. hopefully to keep them from using michigan water and selling it in large amounts out of state. the tax was per gallon on the companies – not the consumer. the tax money was to go into a fund to protect clean water. hmm, interesting that is with the mess in flint. but the republican governors made hay with the idea during the election – and well – look who won because the people didn’t pay attention and just believed the ad. clean water indeed.

  21. Deb February 13, 2016 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    I grew up in Southfield on what we considered a small farm. I live on the West side of the state now,but get home to Southfield as often as I can,still having a daughter there. When I get home, I can’t wait to go downtown Detroit. When I was young….a long time ago…going downtown to shop at Hudsons or Demerys,or even have a Boston Cooler at the Vernors factory,was the highlight of a summers day. Going to Greektown, before it was trendy, for lamb and rice at the Laikon cafe,was special too. I love Michigan,and will never move out.I enjoy seeing the building going on downtown,and the clearing of old buildings. Keep writing about us,we’re one helluva state!

  22. ME February 13, 2016 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    I’m proud to be a Flintoid. And Even though I no longer live there. it will always be home. It is not a City for a sissy. But for a strong person. It’s in my blood….or maybe it’s in the water… Anyway for people who don’ like our state just stay the hell out…pretty simple, ain’t it dumb ass.

    • Tex Teacher February 14, 2016 at 10:12 pm - Reply

      A ton of people have taken your advice over the last 35 years…it has killed the state’s tax base…

  23. Scubaran February 14, 2016 at 9:46 am - Reply

    This article is really aimed at just two cities in Michigan between Detroit and Flint and putting a lot of blame on the current government for its downfall that took 30 to 40 years to happen. I’ve lived here 53 years and I’ve never even been to Detroit or Flint. The Michigan I know has Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and 190 waterfalls and scuba diving shipwrecks in Crystal Clear Lake Superior, climbing mountains and hilltops For Colored vistas in the autumn , kayaking on the Crystal River that so clear it actually looks like you’re floating in the air . 2200 miles of snowmobile trails and trails for orv. , a state rich in minerals and precious metals. That’s the Michigan I’ve seen for 53 years. And I know there are problems in Flint and Detroit and problems with the water supply, its a terrible shame and it needs to be addressed but the author took those two cities and tried to smear it over the entire state of which obviously he knows nothing about.

  24. JimL February 17, 2016 at 12:30 am - Reply

    As someone who grew up in some of the best of times in Flint (50s and 60s), and am now retired, I still have fond memories of Michigan.

    After my wife of almost 45 years passed away last June, I even entertained the thought of moving back. Maybe not to Flint, but suburban Grand Rapids or Ann Arbor, neither of which were involved with the auto industry.

    Michigan looks like a state where a retiree with a decent pension and Social Security could live well. But after 40 years in southern California, I’m not sure that I could take the winters. That and, thanks to the decline of the auto industry, there is hardly anyone left who I knew back in the day. I have many friends here.

  25. YouPeopleAmazeMe February 18, 2016 at 10:36 am - Reply

    It still amazes me to see all the fodder out here and everyone that is quick to jump on the bandwagon. I suppose the strength in numbers makes us all feel unified with a sense of feel-good. To blame our current administration for Flint anything is silly. And to think the Detroit school system was thriving before Snyder is ludicrous. We have proudly claimed Flint as murder capital for the last how many decades (with Detroit right behind)? We have had ‘lead’ poisoning in Flint for years – lead in the back of people’s heads. How about we start holding every parent/relative accountable in those instances? What’s the difference? More people will die today in Flint from being flat out murdered by some gangsta thug than anything drinking water will cause. Get a grip people!

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