Native, as defined by Merriam Webster is inborn, innate or belonging to a particular place by birth.
Detroit is unique in a number of ways. The culture, the people, even the feel of the city and neighborhoods is that of a passion and resilience unparalleled in other places. A resounding theme I’ve observed since moving to Detroit is this notion of “Native Detroiters”. What exactly does that mean? Who does that include and will those of us who were not born and raised here ever reach a level of acceptance from those who were?
Moving to Detroit was exciting, thrilling and a challenge that I do not believe I was prepared for but I happily accepted it. In fact, I wanted nothing more than to be here. Despite that fact moving here has not always been rainbows and sunshine, it was constantly justifying my move to those around me, discovering broken car windows and a feeling of not belonging that I still haven’t been able to fully shake. I have a degree in urban planning and as a 23 year old, white female moving into the oldest neighborhood in Detroit, a city that’s population is 82% black, that sounds like something I would hear about and cringe. Shortly after moving to Corktown I was harshly criticized for my neighborhood of choice, “don’t you feel like you are gentrifying the area?” became a question I spent a lot of time contemplating. I’m far from a Native Detroiter, I don’t understand what it was like to live in a city that was written off, negatively displayed in media outlets around the country and feared by those outside of it. Despite that, everyday I’m learning what it means to move to a city with those attributes. Moving to Detroit means being socially conscious of everyday decisions, making an effort to get to know your neighbors who have lived in the same house for 40 years and working to understand the narrative that Detroit is working to rewrite. I’m also recognizing the struggle that Native Detroiters have and continue to face.
Before moving to Detroit I would tell friends, family and strangers of my up and coming move to Detroit which was often met with criticism. I would hear “oh did you draw the short stick?”, “don’t get shot”, “you’re telling me that you want to move to Detroit, who wants to move to Detroit?”. Even as an outsider these comments enraged me, I would defend a city I was entirely unfamiliar with like it was my own. The people saying these things didn’t know Detroit, they thought they knew Detroit from what they saw on TV and read in the headlines. That’s not Detroit’s reality and I’m working tirelessly to show those people exactly what Detroit is all about.
I admire the spirit of Native Detroiters. When Detroit’s population declined by more than half, they stuck around. When unemployment was more than double the national average, they stuck around. When it had the highest violent crime rates, few functional street lights, thousands of fires every year, abandoned structures on every block and almost an hour long wait for police, they stuck around. They were stripped of their resources, forced out of their homes and still they stayed. Native Detroiters deserve all of the respect in the world.
I may not be a Native Detroiter but I’m working to become a responsible one.
“Say nice things about Detroit.” -Emily Gail