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It’s October of 2015 and the city is breathing life once again. Steam from boiling coffee pots fogs the window, beyond them are sleek wooden tables laden with books, laptops, and messenger bags. Young entrepreneurs, college students, aged couples, and working professionals litter the tables. Foreign words are caught exchanged in the midst of the quiet chaos and hustle. A kiss on the cheek, a wave goodbye, and all day people move about. It takes an hour to get home again as traffic and construction on Woodward keep traffic slow moving. Windows are rolled down and the quiet lull of radio stations floats from car windows into apartments. It’s a regular day in the new Detroit.
After years of hearing “you’re from Detroit?” met with muted shock, it’s interesting to see Detroit finally becoming “cool”. Among the new “in” things we find Detroit are: merchandise, popular food spots, the shift of graffiti from criticized to celebrated, and a Detroiter becoming something to be proud of. However, in our passionate haste to save the city, there are some parts to Detroit that we cannot neglect.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to save Detroit. In fact, it is noble and I believe everybody who interacts with the city has a responsibility to give back. Everyone who has grown up with comfort and ease has a responsibility to extend that comfort to others. There are simply certain cautions we must keep in mind on our journey to do so.
Growing up as a Bangladeshi American, I slowly grasped the concept of cultural appropriation. In essence, it is the idea of picking and choosing pieces of a culture that one likes, leaving the rest. It is taking the privilege, trivializing it by converting it into a temporary fad, and forgetting the prejudice and negativity that is often associated.
Cultural appropriation is like making fun of an Indian lady wearing a sari to the grocery store but then posting cute pictures wearing a bindi to Coachella on Instagram. This is not to say that we can’t appreciate other cultures – the key is giving credit where it is due; it is recognizing the culture that something belongs to so as to not devalue it, rather than attempting to take ownership of the thing.
We see a similar parallel in the revival of Detroit.
Appropriation is including Detroit in Instagram and Twitter bios when you actually live in Metro-Detroit. Appropriation is neglecting the history and the people who live in Detroit and trying to implement what we think is best.
Appreciation is recognizing the people who live and raise families in Detroit, who work in the city, from perhaps those who are homeless in the city who are directly affected by the city. Appreciation is recognizing the history and not trying to replace it with new fads for the sake of being “cool”. Appreciation is taking Detroit for what it is, giving credit where it is due, and loving this city and trying to help it anyway.
Thousands of people of different backgrounds come to live, work, and play in Detroit. Very few places have the power to unite a medley of people so harmoniously, but Detroit has always been special. Each individual brings a different background to the table, and together we will work to enhance the beauties and richness this city has to offer.
The year is 2015 and the city is breathing life once again. Young entrepreneurs, college students, aged couples, working professionals, and Wayne State students scatter the city. A middle-aged couple smiles over coffee at the Roasting Plant as they watch college students stumble and skid in the rink at Campus Martius, laughter once again filling the air. They feel the inner contentment associated with family and holidays, but this time it’s brought about by seeing so much life in the place they so long remembered deserted. Young entrepreneurs and working professionals look out their window with breathtaking views of this strange city, knowing there is yet much work to do. They lift their chins and turn, feeling determined to save a city robbed of the privileges many of them were given freely.