There are ways in which being granted the first Write A House also pushed me to become a reluctant ambassador. I’ve done what feels like an unseemly amount of interviews regarding both the organization and the city in which I reside. For the most part, I tend to agree to interviews because I think WaH is a worthwhile project, and the publicity is good for the organization. Nothing is altruistic, particularly when it comes to having attention focused on you. While I was excited at first, as the past ten months have gone by, answering the same questions becomes far less exhilarating.
One brief interview I did recently for Visit Detroit, the publication of the Detroit Visitors Bureau, was fun because all that was asked of me was to name five places I would bring out-of-towners. I did a photo shoot at Savvy Gents to accompany the article, and was spruced up (mostly in the form of cat hair removal) by the shop’s brilliant and lovely curator, Randal Jacobs. Oddly, two days before the shoot, the Detroit Visitors Bureau contacted me for a British reporter working on a piece for the Telegraph. The following day, the reporter came to my house with three folks from the Visitors Bureau. I’m still unclear why he needed such a large escort party, but regardless, the interview was pleasant enough. When the article came out last week, however, whatever excitement I had at international press dissipated. I’m sure a brief internet search would allow you to find it, but I will not link it here, because the headline is atrocious, and like so many articles that have boldly gone before it, referred to Detroit by its crime rate. While I cannot blame the writer for the headline, there were also some key problems with the article. Namely, when he describes my neighborhood as thinly populated. I’m not sure if the Visitor’s Bureau had blindfolded him, but it was inaccurate. There was also a strange description of my hair that I won’t get into.
I was in somewhat of a funk about the article on the day that my biological father and brother came to meet up with me for lunch. They had come into town for an extended fourth of July weekend visit after a somewhat last minute decision to do so. They wanted Italian food or seafood. I wanted to do laundry and not stray too far from the laundromat, so I took them to Buddy’s Pizza on Conant. As we approached the parking lot, my father asked if I was sure that’s where I wanted to eat, given that there was a large SWAT team gearing up for something in the parking lot. We joked about a potential pizza raid. My family caught me up on some of the things they had done: they visited the Henry Ford Museum, and the Motown Museum, swam in the hotel pool and gotten lost a few times while driving around. As we were dining, the Wimbledon match between Serena Williams and Heather Watson was on in the background. As Williams struggled through the third round, I had the pleasure of explaining Caitlyn Jenner’s gender identity to my, let’s say nearing retirement age father and thirteen year old brother.
While I thought that was the most stressful topic of conversation on the docket, my brother, who is sure that he knows everything because he is thirteen, said something devastating. I don’t even recall what I was attempting to talk to my father about, but I started by saying that Detroit was the blackest major American city per capita. Whatever train of thought I was on was derailed by my brother’s insistence that I was wrong, that it was Chicago. After a too-long argument over this non-fact, my brother explained that he was basing his statement off of the city with the highest crime rate. I pointed out that this was remarkably racist, a reality that is further complicated by my brother being a black child who has lived in suburban Maryland his entire life. And as any good digital native would do, he then asked Google. Of course Google told him that Detroit had the highest crime rate in the country, which did not help my argument. Thanks Google.
For his entire life, I have been trying to counter garbage that my brother has been fed by media, his friends, and his parents. On more than one occasion, I have laid into my youngest brother for saying things that I find terrible. I have no interest in indoctrinating him with my politics, but I know that I say things to him that he doesn’t hear anywhere else. I wasn’t entirely sure how to address what he said in Buddy’s without a slideshow, a 90 minute presentation and several books that are above his reading level. Also, it’s not my job to parent him. In any event, both the adults at the table let the conversation go for the moment.
After I switched my laundry over, I directed us to the Packard Plant. While I normally don’t take visitors to the capitol of Detroit blight porn, my father was really interested in seeing it, as a historical artifact of America’s manufacturing past, not as an emblem of Detroit’s present. He was blown away by the sheer size of the plant, but more astounded by a junkyard filled with rusted antique cars. He loves old cars, always has. He used to make model cars when I was very young, and they were his prized possessions. I then also showed them Hamtramck Disney, because I love surprising people with it, and also don’t know how much longer it will remain in tact. Later we went grocery shopping at the historic Whole Foods on Mack, where I showed them the overpriced cheeses and the $3 wine that symbolizes the Motor City’s moral decay.
On the Fourth, we grilled and stuffed our faces. I chased my brother around with a small squirt gun. We didn’t talk about America or Detroit, mostly just complimented each other’s cooking and enjoyed each other’s company. They left in the early evening in order to sleep some before a 3 am flight. Around 10, I went over to the Hinterland’s house, lured by the promise of fireworks. By the time we went out to the intersection of Gallagher and Lawley, my largely Bangladeshi neighborhood sounded like a Revolutionary War reenactment site. I have never lived in a place so patriotically enthusiastic about pretty explosions in the sky. There was a lot of ducking, running, slightly questionable decision-making and full bodied laughter. After the fireworks ran out, I walked home worrying that one of those floating lanterns landed on my roof. When my house wasn’t on fire, all I could do was be grateful for my well populated and befireworked neighborhood. I barely had to leave my house for all my favorite parts of the Fourth, without seeing traffic, drunk aggressive tire-necked bros, or even an American flag.
That’s the place I am willing to be an ambassador to, not to the land of people’s preconceived fears and demonization.