Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On Detroit.

Detroit is like a man that just finished through a mid-life crisis. He still stands but the ego slightly bruised. This city reminds me of a lot of LA, minus the people and traffic.

Did you know that Detroit used to be one of those big cities? Amongst the names of New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago.. Detroit would be listed as one of the big cities in the Nation. Not just during the building of the car industry (which was an amazing feat, true-blue America work ethics found in each vehicle) but more importantly, during the WWII when the demand for creating weaponry was vital to not only ourselves but our allies. Detroit was a worthy investment. Historically, Detroit was also a prime spot during the Underground Railroad and the mecca during the Motown era. The unfortunate thing, I think, that happened with Detroit was that after that demand of weapons was no longer needed, cars were supposed to be "their" thing. But the cars that were being built on our soil were no longer in competition to those overseas. Would you choose a Ford or a Chevy over a cool, status-stating BMW or Mercedes? How can you beat the cost of a Toyota or Honda that is practical and affordable, even as an import to our nation?

Detroit's population, despite the fact that it's lost much of its population, still ranks in the Top 20 by population in the United States. Surprisingly, beating Boston that ranks at twenty-two. The one thing I like about Detroit, grant it it's not been that long, is the people. I forget that although we are in Detroit, I am still in Michigan. Not New York. Not Boston. Not Los Angeles but Detroit. People are humble. Maybe it is because what once was a big city, a place where millions could proudly state as their home, eventually whittled down to just another midwest town. Detroit used to stand out, but now with less than 25% of its population in the past 10 years, it stands with less vigor. In an article, it states that most of its population moved out because of lack of academic fundamentals and neighborhood safety, but now the question is, what can they do to turn it around? Could they? What are their options?

Detroit has so much potential, so much space. In that same article, you can fit Boston, NYC, and San Francisco into the Detroit borders. As I walk through the city, I see only empty space for blocks, then a Subway or hospital among this huge lot. People say that Detroit may be the next Williamsburg but even then, Williamsburg' not only about young artists who bought space at real cheap. There are other communities supporting its city. But what about Detroit? Is it time to now accept that where it is now is permanent? I would hate to think so. We'll see, I give it another 5 years. It'll be a shame to see this go, it's good space, a very generous community. A place I would be proud to call as home.

One thing before I go. I have a few words about the Black community. I spoke with a man while I was there. He's a 28ish year old black male, works as the doorman/security here at the Park Shelton, and writes on the side. He's actually completing his first book and told me that he reads about 6-7 books a month or wait, a week. He was completing FAFSA applications and thinking about returning to school for Business. Well, anyways, he tried to explain to me the communities in Detroit in contrast to the gang-related culture in Los Angeles. There's no beating-up rituals or gang rivalries among groups and even though, to an extent, these communities can be territorial. It's more that if you live on a street, the boundaries for that group or community extends to that. You may not know everyone in the group but if you are within that particular neighborhood boundary, you are part of this community by association.

If there are 'tifs' with among groups, they are often personal, involving two people, and exist for a reason. He told me, if you hear about a shooting, it's often between two people who know each other, had a misunderstanding or disagreement, and knew something inevitable was going to go down. Rarely, he said, are there shootings without intention or drive-bys where a number of innocent people are targeted and typically, they are drug-related. He added, "When have you seen a paper and read that it was a white person that was shot? Barely ever. Yet, white people are the most scared to move here because of violence. Look, if you are not involved, you not in danger. Just because the population is primarily black, it doesn't mean that the city is dangerous. People and their assumptions. Ignorant."

One thing, for sure, from my perspective of course. Black people* are not all created equal. Black people in Detroit are different from black people in Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Boston.. from what I know and probably also, Chicago or down South. This doesn't mean that there aren't similarities nationally. Where our roots come from are important but our immediate city also speaks volumes to who we are. Where we live or lived, changes us. The cities I've lived in, changed me. We become part of our city just as much as we are our race, our ethnicity, our nationality. Overall, the city and people of Detroit impress me. I hope one day, I can add Detroit as a part of my repertoire.

* I extend this generalization to most ethnicities and racial groups. You can replace Black/African-American with Asian, Latino, and other people of color. There are a bunch of Asians all over, and Asian people from San Diego are definitely different to those in New York City.

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