Photo via Wikimedia Commons
When you're from Detroit, you're used to people dumping on your city. You just roll your eyes and move on, knowing that there's nothing you can do to change a person's mind once it's made up like that. After you've heard the 1,000th person guffawing about how awful Detroit is, you shrug, knowing that the person talking doesn't understand the city, and is just an ignorant fool.
Maybe that's why we're so blindsided by people who burble on happily about Detroit, but make us feel the same way.
The latest and best example of this is a chatty, self-identified Millennial who wants to tell us about our city
. As statements go, it's clear and literate. The only problem is it sounds like the only research the author did was a few Google searches. (The author's LinkedIn profile identifies her as living in the suburbs of Kalamazoo.)
The piece also contains an ungainly effort to tie the fate of the city with the fate of Millennials in general. (Resist the urge to spew when you read this clunker: "This city has everything Millennials could ever want. It’s a growing city, just as we are. As we are out trying to find our path in life, so is Detroit.")
For more than 400 words, she details the city's history of grim statistics, without delving into any of the causes. Then, she provides the good news: Dan Gilbert and his ilk are saving the city, and downtown is coming back! Detroit is changing! See? Detroit is "on the right side of living history, a history we can play a huge role in."
No doubt, after this tremendous build-up of bad news, and the good word that billionaire saviors are rushing to the rescue, Millennials will be eager to learn what historic role they can play. Will it be by joining a public service group and helping fight youth hunger? Or by tutoring adults who have reading comprehension problems? Will it be by volunteering to help arrange transportation for the estimated 25 percent of Detroiters who cannot afford a car?
No. The author says Millennials can play a huge role in Detroit's story by "moving into Detroit, or working for a company that is based downtown."
See how easy it is to be a part of history these days? (Sorry, longtime residents: Having lived in Detroit all your life may not qualify you for this history-making achievement.)
Read on, if you dare. If you felt at all squeamish about any of a number of topics — the state takeover of Belle Isle, the subsidies that have gone to Ilitch, the sham that is his yet-to-materialize "entertainment district" — you will despair as you read how this author has bought — hook, line, and sinker — all the empty PR about Detroit. She sounds like Linsday Lohan after eating about 50 pounds of promotional materials from the DEGC. To a person who understands the sordid realities and oily deals that exist behind this glossy picture, it reads like pure satire.
Hey, you can't dispute that downtown is changing. But that's just one part of the narrative. The other part of that narrative involves something that super-happy, entrepreneur-embracing, neighborhood-loving Millennials have a hard time doing: shutting up and listening to people — talking with the people in "the neighborhoods" who live outside that bright, shiny bubble, who are facing foreclosure, repossession, water shutoffs, poverty, crime, and depopulation. For three quarters of Detroit, this is what life is like.
As if channeling Gordon Sinclair's "The Americans,"
the author strikes a lofty tone in her finale, writing: "When this comeback happens, do not expect the citizens of Detroit to rise up and say, 'I told you so.' Do not expect them to brag or knock the cities that will inevitably fall into the darkness of bankruptcy. No, they will keep their heads down and quietly work just as hard as they always have. Because that is the Detroit way."
Actually, if the author were familiar with the citizens of Detroit and their history at all, she would realize that the Detroit way, if it exists at all, is to band together and engage in a noisy struggle against the status quo. Detroit has a legacy of social justice movements, labor activism, civil rights fights, fair housing clashes, and much more.
But learning that that might require stepping outside one's bubble and learning some unpleasant realities.