Huffpost Detroit
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Ned Staebler Headshot

Ich Bin Ein Detroiter: And You Can Be Too!

Posted: Updated:

Enough! After reading the back and forth between Toby Barlow and Rabbi Miller, all I can say is: "Knock it off!" The endless debate of who is a REAL Detroiter must stop. This is an argument that gets played out constantly all over our region and is nothing but destructive and counterproductive. I had written the following post before Rabbi Miller's response and I hope they both read it:

A graduate of my high school (University of Detroit Jesuit) recently posted on our alumni Facebook page that he was annoyed at a reporter on a local news channel for referring to one of our rival high schools as "Detroit Catholic Central." It ticked him off because Catholic Central moved out of the city of Detroit and into the suburbs in 1978. But even today, their website simply lists the school's title as Detroit Catholic Central.

Now, as tempting as it might be to spend an entire post saying nasty things about a rival high school, I'll refrain, because the actual issue here is: Who is a REAL Detroiter?

Detroit is a city that is all about division. Today's obvious divides -- rich and poor, black and white, downtown and neighborhoods -- are nothing new. We've always loved to find (or invent) ways to separate ourselves. In Detroit, that meant Eastside vs. Westside, GM vs. Ford, or city vs. suburb. Instead of embracing the many positives in our community that we could all share -- winning sports teams, beautiful architecture, or amazing public parks -- we spent a generation finding ways to tear each other down. Obviously, this wasn't the best model for maintaining a successful metropolis.

In the old days, the answer to the question above was simple. If you didn't live in Detroit, you weren't a Detroiter. Sarah Palin would have been proud of us, because for some people, residency wasn't enough. If you weren't born, raised, and sworn to protect the D from those sell-outs and naysayers in the burbs, you weren't a REAL Detroiter.

I guess we can be excused for our ignorance. After all, Detroit was rich and prosperous, and if we were going through a bit of a downturn, it was only going to be a temporary blip. But, we failed to see the long-term trend caused by our division. While other cities that had experienced urban decay in the 60's and 70's welcomed suburbanites back with open arms in the 80s and 90s, REAL Detroiters said "good riddance."

So here we are. We never reversed that downward trend -- in fact it accelerated. Detroit lost nearly 25% of its population over the past decade. We're no longer rich and prosperous. We have no more excuses. It's time to change the conversation about who is a REAL Detroiter.
I posed the question as a comment on the Facebook post of my fellow alum. It sparked a bit of a debate, with the usual arguments being bandied about. But from that conversation, I've crafted a new definition of a Detroiter, and ironically, a lot of it comes from the original poster:

You are a REAL Detroiter, if you currently live in the City of Detroit.
You are a REAL Detroiter, if you have ever lived in the City of Detroit.
You are a REAL Detroiter, if you work or have worked in the City of Detroit.
You are a REAL Detroiter, if you live in the suburbs of Detroit.
You are a REAL Detroiter, if you were born in or live in Michigan.
You are a REAL Detroiter, if you value vibrant urbanism, diverse neighborhoods and economies, or historic buildings, even if you've never been to Detroit.
You are a REAL Detroiter, if you root for the underdog, the comeback kid, or the long shot.
You are a REAL Detroiter, if you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself and you see building a better community as a way to do that.

I know. That's a pretty expansive definition. But we're past the point where we can be choosy. If you want to be a part of the D, come on down. We'll take you. There's a lot to do and we need more good people willing to work hard. If you live in NYC or LA and want to be a Detroiter, cool. Buy some Better Made chips, Faygo, or Vernors, if you can find it. Wanna go big? Make your next car a Chevy Volt or Jeep Grand Cherokee. Or, even better, fly in to visit and check out some of the amazing things happening in the D. Email me. I'll make you an itinerary.

This definition would even seem to include people regardless of their willingness to participate. I can see some guy in Grand Rapids (that's on the west side of the state) saying: "Huh. I'm not from Detroit. I've never even been there." Too bad. You're a Detroiter. Want me to prove it? Go to New York or San Francisco and tell them you're from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I bet they respond: "Oh, that's near Detroit, right." Try holding up your palm and pointing to where your city is. Enjoy their blank stare.

Face it, if you live in Michigan, your future is tied to the D. Until Detroit gets back on the right path, Michigan will never get healthy again. So, welcome aboard and congrats on being a REAL Detroiter. It might not be an exclusive club, but the Detroiters I know are a tremendous group of individuals and I'm proud to be one. TOGETHER we're doing great things.