The problem with 'putting Detroit on the map'

Dear BuzzFeed:

Detroit is a rhetorical minefield. Though those of us who've trod its metaphorical streets long enough know where all the loaded and volatile clichés are, the relative newcomer, no matter how well meaning, will hit one of these semantic trip-wires and then all hell breaks loose. We want to help.

As a service to you, and any other click-bait companies working overtime to please clients with sponsored content about Detroit, whether they've been there or not, here are some of the things to avoid.

Avoid any and all references to Detroit as a "frontier" where "urban settlers" found a "colony" amid its barrenness. People have been living in Detroit for a long time, and it is a place with a distinct culture. Acclimating oneself to it shows wisdom and respect. That is, if you want to appear friendly and decent, as opposed to arrogant and ignorant. As one particularly articulate writer said, "To colonize a place means to overtake it, to pillage its resources, to dehumanize its people, and to attempt to erase its past." You don't have to make jokes about blankets and corn to sound like a total bastard.

Avoid any and all references to a "blank canvas" or a "tabula rasa." It's a city full of stories, one that has a functioning identity and plenty of pride. While we'd like to believe the city's best chapters have yet to be written, there's already plenty of pages in that tablet that are filled with dense writing.

Avoid any and all references to "putting Detroit on the map." It shows disrespect to the people who deserve the highest honors for toughing it out when times were bad. It disregards the histories and legacies of all the Detroiters who came before. What's more, Detroit's been on the map since 1701, longer than Albuquerque, New Orleans, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, Cincinnati and dozens of other major American cities. It was the fourth-largest city in the United States not too long ago, appearing on the map in bold letters with a large, circled dot, thank you very much.

This is all said in the spirit of helpfulness, of course. You may now return to shilling for Pure Michigan.


Michael Jackman, managing editor, Metro Times

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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