Please, please, please: Stop 'saving' Detroit

You know who we love? Lisa Ludwinski. We first caught up with her almost two years ago, and she struck us as a fun, creative gal with an understanding that food has many missions, not just economic but cultural and social. She's a smart cookie.

You know what else we love? Her company, Sister Pie, which she started out of her mother's kitchen. Sister Pie won the Hatch competition, and is still struggling to meet funding goals. Ludwinski is even doing a 24-hour-dance-party fundraiser. You can't take yourself that seriously to pull a stunt like that off. 

So, let's get this straight. Ludwinski is cool as fuck. Her pie company is cool as fuck. We wish them all the success in the world. 

As for a new article praising them, not so cool, nor anywhere near as loved.

All we can guess about writer Rachel Signer is that she hasn't spent a lot of time in Detroit. Because when you write about Detroit in Detroit, you never, ever use the word "saving" when it comes to Detroit. You see, just as when writers use terms like "blank slate" to refer to a city of 700,000 mostly minority residents, or when they talk about "putting Detroit on the map" even though it's been there almost 314 years, this whole "saving Detroit" thing is a rookie error. There are many reasons not to use it, but the most obvious one would be the word's connotations, harking back to the ugliest days of colonialism and ministering to "the savage." It takes about a millisecond of serious thought to see why this word should probably be discarded when discussing Detroit.

Plus, you can only go so far in a piece praising Ludwinski. She has quite a story to tell. When she moved back briefly several years ago to pursue an internship at Avalon International Breads, it was the social conscience of that bakery's owners that left a deep impression on her. She knows she's not just slinging pies but participating in neighborhood life. Ludwinski hopes her bakery will open and become a gathering place for her neighbors. These are all great goals.

But Ludwinski would probably be the first to say she's not here to "save" Detroit. In fact, referring to her in those terms actually puts her in a worse position to do the work she's set out to do. 

Perhaps our writer, Signer, is inexperienced, lazy, or just not familiar with the fearful shibboleths that out you as a clueless out-of-towner. The idea of Detroit needing a "savior" is offensive. It's a big American city facing big American problems, but "saving" it doesn't need. And it certainly doesn't help to cast the energetic, open-minded, often-white newcomers to Detroit neighborhoods as "saviors." What they are is new partners in the project of urban civilization. And they are joining the 700,000 people, mostly African American, who are already hard at work doing what they can to keep the city going in spite of some very harsh circumstances.

Could we all use some help? Sure. But it's kind of a No Saviors Allowed thing. Anybody coming with a missionary attitude might not get the red-carpet treatment. East Coast writers: Please make a note of it.

About The Author

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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