I asked my partner how my Detroit comes out. She threw the question back at me and asked me what exactly do I mean when I refer to myself as Detroit Red.
“Unapologetic. Keeping it 100.”
But that wasn’t quite it. I had just told a friend of mine that there’s some intangible thing that marks us Detroiters, some quality I couldn’t name, but wanted to.
She said, “You have this way about you. It’s really different.”
I groaned. “Oh no…you’re about to get all insightful on me.”
“There are moments when you’re just like…’And?!'”
“What does that even mean?”
“I don’t know. You’re just unbothered. Unimpressed with people’s bullshit.”
I argued that could be said of a lot of other folks, particularly from the East coast. But Detroit isn’t Chicago. Isn’t DC. Isn’t New York.
She said, “You have a steeliness about you.”
We talked about the appropriateness of using steel as a metaphor for the Detroit spirit, given the city’s industrial and automotive history. We bend, but don’t break. We are indomitable. You cannot outdo us.
And yet, for all that steel may be seen as cold, it has to be forged. There’s heat to us, a warmth and sense of welcome underneath our toughness like a vein of something precious and valuable.
Steel may be simple and bare, but Detroiters still have serious flair. Have you seen what we can do with primary colors, both with our clothes and our hair? (I didn’t mean to slip into rhyme, but I guess that’s just the Detroit in me.)
I haven’t lived in Detroit since I was a teenager; I know my city today is, in many ways, not the city I grew up in. Lately, I have felt called home to spend more time reacquainting myself with it like it’s a friend I used to go to school with that I’ve lost touch with over the years.
That friend may have gained weight, or have three kids, a husband and a good government job. They go to a different church, and they hate horror movies now. They’re pre-diabetic and politely refuse your offer of a piece of cake after dinner. And you understand.
You have a lot to catch up on, but you still see how dope they are.
That’s how I feel about Detroit. Lots of people have pride in their hometowns; I’m not foolish enough to believe that we’ve cornered the market on that. But I can only speak about Detroit pride: how we proudly rep which side of town we’re from; how we ask where you’re really from if you say you’re from the D, and the side-eye we give you when you tell us you’re actually from Southfield. How we roll our eyes when all people associate with Detroit is Eminem (puh-lease) and ruin porn. Come holler at us about the African World Festival or Hitsville U.S.A. or the golden age of Belle Isle or any of the number of things that that framed our authentic experiences.
My people migrated from the south (my daddy really is Alabama, but my mama ain’t Louisiana) and settled in Michigan. So the place that’s so much a part of me is a coincidence of sorts. My parents could have made a home in some other part of the Midwest, or some other part of the country. And then would I be talking about how Cleveland shaped me, or Naptown made me, or Baltimore molded me? And what would that narrative be?
Maybe it wasn’t coincidence. Maybe it was planful. Or ancestral. Or diasporic. I am interested in genealogy and family history, in the pathways and moments that led my family to this place, to this time.
I haven’t lived in Detroit for about 20 years. I don’t know if I will ever move back. In the meantime, I carry it with me always.
Fierce. Proud. Fly. Unyielding.