Supposed solutions can also misidentify the problem.
Instead of a police department being created hundreds of years ago as a response to a collective appeal for fair, sensible, and transparent law enforcement, it can be created as a reactionary tool against runaway African American slaves after the passage of federal legislation requiring their capture and return. Instead of a diversity policy seeking to highlight the need for diverse perspectives, one which embraces even the most marginalized of identities, it can be used as a shallow band-aid by an institution infected with a very deep rooted bias against those who are non-conformists or incapable of effectively wielding power. And instead of a collective community development effort which seeks to address the root causes of documented economic and social depression, we can develop organizational ecosystems which fundamentally re-empower the very actors which were complicit with the initial decline that they now suppose themselves to be correcting.
In more simple terms, problems must be accurately assessed before they can be appropriately addressed.
Detroit as a city has been plagued by bad press and faux-journalism. The seemingly endless media coverage of its abandoned buildings, single-home city blocks, dismal educational systems, and jaw-dropping gun-crime rates have been interpreted by many Detroiters as kick in the face to a city already on its hands and knees. This disingenuous and uneven media coverage was compounded by the waves of tourists and non-residents who bask in the wide selection of ruin porn.
Overtime, Detroit became a petri dish for photographers and magazine editors who made the city symbolic for everything wrong with America’s economic and social decline.
Hence, I believe that “not-that-badism” was born.
My collisions with this ideology are numerous and continuous. It is espoused by life long Detroiters, often born into privilege, who are tired of of their city’s name being dragged through the mud. It has been argued to me amidst conversations in which local experts argued that our mass transit service is comparable to much of the nation’s cities, that our food deserts are far too exaggerated, and that “our crime statistics are not as bad as make make them out to be- there’s been misreporting by the Feds and rates in cities like St. Louis are much much worse.”
The problem with this ideology is not that its proponents are wrong in their facts. They generally rely on very credible data. And It’s not that they want to discredit any and all criticism – for I have found that they generally acknowledge that the city still has progress to make.
The issue I have always taken is that it normalizes the challenges faced by many Detroiters by contextualizing our dysfunction with a nation in crisis- a bar too low. It glosses over the traumas suffered by the most vulnerable in our city – traumas which must be addressed before this city can move forward together.
With 25% of households in the Motor City lacking regular car access, nearly 1 in 3 households earning less than $15,000, a 57% poverty rate for children, and a 30% home vacancy rate, the solution is not to generate more negative coverage of the city- nor is it to principaly focus on the shiney new development in an mere attempt to feel better about our city.
I believe the solution is to be honest about both our hurdles and our progress. We show ourselves courageous when we can own our imperfections while building upon our innovative solutions.
We must acknowledge that violent crime has fallen in the city since 2011 but that it can possibly get much lower through advocating for federal gun ownership policies like those 15 minutes across the border in Canada. We must celebrate the work of our educators who have lowered the DPSCD high school dropout rates, while looking forward to revolutionary community-based wrap around support services for teachers, parents and students. More of a spotlight must be given to the women and men who work tirelessly to address the many inequities, injustices, and inefficiencies in our city, providing them with both substantive support and constructive criticism.
The work ahead of me and our city seems endless. The problems we take on often transcend the problems themselves, needlessly including shallow and unproductive sensationalism.
However, by courageously grasping the systemic chaos wrought on this beautiful city- by embracing the dire straits many Detroiters are in and by understanding the forces behind their oppression, we can turn towards those quietly leading our charge for grassroots progress.
Through the dedication of the unassuming leaders around us, I and other citizens find role models and counsel. Together through analysis, humility, and service, we can forge a brave new society.
The situation in Detroit is that bad. But it’s people are resilient. Let us forever look to those, and hence ourselves who continue to make it beautiful.