The Problem of Two Narratives, One Detroit

December 4th, 2014 in Reflection

I have trouble understanding the divided narratives in the media of a “New Detroit” versus an “Old Detroit.” My Detroit family has lived here for over 100 years and would agree with me. It is just Detroit to us. cousins

My family is white, black and Middle Eastern. My mom and dad, their brothers and sisters, and many of their nieces and nephews grew up in Detroit. My uncle who looks the most Lebanese of us all didn’t fit in with the blacks or the whites growing up. I’m not sure he cared very much to fit in. He was too busy as the only son helping our family get by.

My mom eventually left her home in Detroit and moved to Fraser, a tiny little town in the suburbs. My sister and I grew up there, while most of my mom’s family stayed in the city.

When my sister was nineteen she faced a horrible addiction and a very difficult path. She bought her drugs easily from Detroit. Thankfully, my sister was able to build a sober life again. But many who do suffer all over Metro Detroit find their drug of choice in the city.

She tells me that when one drug house gets busted it just moves on down the block to the next abandoned home. She looked on Google to see where she used to get her drugs, and the entire block was cleared. She felt happy with hope; maybe the shell of her past could stop haunting her.

But the massive blight and emptied past of Detroit still haunts us as a region today. The lack of awareness that we are all connected, those living in the suburbs and city and neighborhoods of all backgrounds, is too often lost. Enforcing two simplistic narratives forces you to pick a stereotype of new or old, of race or financial standing attached to doing well or being a victim. This divisiveness slices and guts out our empathy, right when we need it most.



These labels don’t work so easily for my socially, economically and racially mixed up family. They would slip and slide right off of us and back into the gutter. We are neither “new detroit”  or “old detroit”. We exist or we don’t exist. We have just been here getting by, anyways.

On Sundays when I visit my family, they aren’t really talking much about either a downfall or a rebuilding narrative.There’s no sweeping change that my family fears. There’s no hope for them that is blinding. They’ve seen too much over the years. They are too busy facing the realities most Detroiters face.

When you have two simplistic narratives, you muddy the truth that is often somewhere in the middle. We have certainly not learned to work together as a people if we are tied to two narratives, the characters empty stereotypes written by the same root cause of fear.

I hope for more voices in Detroit that encourage: forgiveness to those who left, helping hands to those who fear being left behind, discussions that deal with the real remnants of racial discrimination, ideas for inclusive urban reinvention, a fair chance to new leaders, a removal of blind stereotyping of simplistic storytelling.

There is just so much healing left to do.

With or without any healing process, my family will still carry on.

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Amanda Lewan - Digital StorytellerOn a mission to inspire others with storytelling. Digital stories and cultural insights included. Read more about me.

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