I love living in Detroit and I want other people to know my sentiment.
That’s why I’m inspired to use my kids as billboards to broadcast that. Most recently, I bought them t-shirts with the “Made in Detroit” logo.
I merely wanted them to share my enthusiasm, but my 8-year-old daughter got a completely different message from the shirts.
“The shirt isn’t true,” she insisted stubbornly. “I wasn’t made in Detroit because I have light skin. Only dark-skin people are made in Detroit.”
Her comment raised my defenses. It’s clearly not true that every person born in Detroit has dark skin. But, was that really the cause of my defensiveness?
Was it because her reaction came off as a criticism of a city that I love?
Was it that I naively thought she might not notice racial differences?
Or maybe that her perception was a little too close to the truth?
Of course it’s not being a minority in a majority black city that unsettles me – I’d like to see more racial diversity. I want to see people of many different racial backgrounds in my neighborhood and at my children’s school.
I was at least smart enough not to let on that her question sparked some agitation for me.
I managed to lead her into a somewhat rational (I hoped) discussion about “always” and “never.” About how there are exceptions to every rule.
“Yes,” I admitted, “many dark-skin people live in Detroit, but some light-skin people do too. And dark-skin people live in many other places.”
But that wasn’t the end of the conversation. Since then, I’ve responded to questions about speaking patterns, hair type and even dancing and athletic ability. “How could such and such famous person have been born in Detroit when he has light skin?”
I’m stymied by all this. Who could be less qualified than a white woman formerly from the suburbs to answer these questions? Not to mention one whose understanding of race relations has come only from books.
I would be misleading myself if I didn’t admit there was guilt involved in my feelings about these questions. Guilt over my own privilege and that I’ve lived a life so isolated that I have (up until now) had little experience with those of other race and ethnicity.
I’m embarrassed to admit that guilt is a factor – after all, this type of guilt is singled out as part of the problem in race relations.
In the end, maybe all these emotions are part of my learning curve.
The other week my daughter and I went to a birthday party for her friend from school. We were the only whites in the group. I’m reminded how comfortable and secure we were and grateful for the warm relationships that have blossomed for both of us in this city.
I think my education is transcending book learning and my daughter has a front row seat to my transformation.
And did I mention that I love Detroit?