Often when I tell people I am from Detroit (particularly white people), I am often met with a look of either bewilderment or amazement. This shock is often magnified when I tell people that I attended Detroit Public Schools all my life. I suppose people begin to short circuit when I tell them my birthplace of origin, largely because they immediately thrust me into another one of those ill-nuanced narratives often circulated about people of color and the communities we reside in. When that white kid in sixth grade asked me whether or not I felt “safe” or when I get that inert attempt to place me, “Oh…Detroit, Detroit?” I feel the force of W.E.B DuBois’s famous paraphrase on the question of Blackness; namely that the real question being asked is “How does it feel to be a problem?”
Now of course, we are not the most “miserable city in the country,” for nothing. Detroit is suffering from its share of political corruption, financial woes, population decline, and crime (and from the media coverage you’d think we were the first city in America to experience these things). And with the recent state takeover of the city, Detroit is probably due for even greater vitriolic political turbulence. My point here is not to deny Detroit’s troubles, but rather to remind the country that we are a city of real people with real lives and real happiness. The country might think they know us because they saw 8 mile (a street not really that “dangerous” by the way), or because we get to be the butt of someone’s joke, but I am here to assert the beauty of what I know as the Motor City.
When I think of Detroit, I think of the city that revolutionized the automobile. I think of Motown, the production company that brought you the Supremes, the Jackson 5, and Marvin Gaye (just to name a few). I think of some of the most renowned gospel singers in the country like The Clark Sisters and the Winans (just to name a few). I think of the birthplace of Techno. I think of a childhood eating Coney Dogs after school, or going to parties and clapping in amazement at my fellow young people “jittin” along the ground to the Godzilla mix.
(Jitting is at 7:34)
I think of my grandmother who brought her family into the middle class from her job at Chrysler, and I think jokingly about how everyone had a grandparent who worked in a car factory.
Of course, I am not unique. If you come from an inner city urban environment you organically know the richness of your city. Despite what gets circulated in the media and despite what people say about your city, you were born in the texture of where you come from. Detroit’s narrative has been particularly hijacked. But I know, and many of my family and friends know, what it means to be from Detroit, Detroit. There’s a beauty there.
We have to reclaim the narratives of our city. There’s a lot of talk about places like Detroit and my sister-home Chicago. But our homes cannot be reduced to countdowns and statistics. In fact, the media has to focus on these ill-nuanced narratives, because there is so much life in these places, that it would swallow them whole. I am from Detroit, and unashamed, and I revel with pride every time someone asks me.