Untrue Grit

By Mickey Lyons


The Detroit I love is a messy, challenging, and sometimes heartbreaking place. It’s a city full of chest-beating pride (and rightly so) and quiet, stolid patience. I could list descriptors of Detroit and her people for ages, but one word I refuse to use any longer is the one the outside media tends to recycle ad nauseam: “gritty.”


Why do I cringe at the word every time I see it? I’m not sure. It’s a gut-check response from having read it in article after article. These articles are thinly disguised ruin porn, backhanded compliments if anything. You know the ones: the headlines talk about “putting Detroit on the map” or “saving Detroit” while showing recycled photos of Michigan Central Station in its pre-window installation days.


These new hype articles highlight Gilbert and Cooley, Ilitch and the big funders. Sometimes they’ll trot out a small business owner, usually in Corktown. They’re endless circle jerks of White Saviors and Blank Slates. Do a Google search for “Detroit gritty” and weep at the hackneyed coverage of our great city. Heck, even Deadline Detroit created a drinking game based on all the clichés.


We deserve better than this. Detroit is a staggeringly big city: large enough to contain within its limits the cities of San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan combined. We’re more than just Corktown hipsters and downtown Quickenites. And, though we’ve seen more than our share of problems, whether created internally or foisted on us by a changing world, I hold us against any and all comers as a first-class city built and bred on the backs of individuals, not conglomerates.


I’m sick and damned tired of the exploitation of Detroit’s tribulations. An especially egregious case of blightsploitation: American artist Ryan Mendoza ripped the front off of an abandoned house, carted it off to Europe as an “art installation”, and left the rest of the home to rot for months while horrified neighbors begged for the property to be taken care of as promised. Here’s the link to the Freep article, if you feel like getting as pissed off as I am.


We’re not perfect. One minute I’m in awe of the resilience of Detroiters, the next I’m aghast at the glacial progress and insider politicking that holds us back. And I’m definitely not saying that endless ra-ra listicles of “Ten Things to Do in Detroit When the Sun is Shining” are the answer either. Honest and well-researched investigation may be too much to ask of any media coverage at this point, but boy, I’m still holding out hope.


Next time I’ll sing a song of love and devotion to all the beauty and bravery of Detroit’s history and people. For now, though, I think it’s fair that we stop and think about how others are shaping the narrative of Detroit, and maybe a little bit about what we want to add to that story.


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