Please Stop Asking 'What Have You Done For Detroit?'

Quite a bit happened in the Detroitosphere last week. But besides the new bridge, the ongoing budget battle and Ryan Gosling being able to walk and chew gum at the same time, all anyone could talk about was memes.


A recap: A mild-mannered businessman was lifted from the webpages of hyperlocal obscurity and accidentally became a symbol of a long-simmering class war — a creative class war and not the 1967 reprise a few hot-headed commentators want to make this out to be. When the White Entrepreneurial Guy meme started to spread, I wrote about it here at Jalopnik Detroit (and we've got some other great stuff too, while you're here), which led to spinoffs at The Detroit News and The Huffington Post.

I spent most of the weekend answering friend requests, explaining to my grandmother what a meme is ("It's not pronounced mee-mee!"), and having to prove I'm not a racist. There's a conversation going among certain circles right now, and it's necessary and long overdue.

I can tell you what I didn't do this weekend, and one of those things included not getting into a dick-measuring contest over my contributions to the Motor City. I've fielded comments from Facebook, Twitter, here on Jalopnik and by email over the post, and while there has been healthy dialogue, there's one thing I won't stand for.

"So, what are you doing for Detroit?"

It's honestly the most arrogant and self-serving question anyone could ever ask. Because when you ask me, or anyone, this question, you're creating a sibling rivalry-type competition with the potential to intensify for all the wrong reasons.

I said it once and I'll say it again, that I'm truly in support of new business and new residents. We need you. And let me also say for those Detroiters on the fence about leaving, let's hang in a little longer.

But at the slightest sign of discomfort, why do some — new, old or in-between — immediately laundry-list their Detroit-ness when they feel threatened?


There appears to be some sort of unspoken point system that determines how real of a Detroiter you are. Based on what I've gathered from commentary around the web, here are some the biggest point-earners that earn you a seat at the cool table:

1. You've moved to Detroit from somewhere else in the country sight unseen.

2. You own a business.

Any other qualifications to prove yourself as a true, hard-core Detroit citizen is like a Hunger Games of urban residency. Which suburb did you move from? Did your parents live there originally, or did they live in Detroit originally? Did your grandparents move from Detroit to the suburbs before or after the riots? Have you ever been to Brightmoor? Have you been inside the train station? Have you been inside the train station at night? Have you written a book? Is the book about Detroit? DID LOCAL PUBLISHERS PUBLISH THE BOOK? What was your tab at PJ's last weekend? Wait, you've never been to PJ's?


Of course, if you are ( comes race) black and originally from Detroit, you immediately have to add on a bunch of disclaimers, footnotes and asterisks to show where you stand on current events, lest you instantly become grouped in with the older-thinking regime on sight alone. Me personally, it's like I'm always one step away from saying "But some of my best friends are white!"

I just wonder if there's a way to continue the dialogue about the city's future without having to compare each other's milestones. If you must know, my contributions to Detroit are tangible. I'm in the middle of rehabbing a house, and I help out with a Saturday program at Cass Tech teaching kids the English portion of the SAT. Neither one of those is going to get me on Crain's "20 in their 20s" list and I'm completely fine with that.


I'm not an entrepreneur, I don't own a single building on Woodward, I'm not part of the Model D-approved influencer circle and I haven't started a mitten charity for needy kids. But I know a lot of cool Detroit people who haven't done this shit either, and it doesn't mean they can't be part of the conversation or have opinions about things going forward.

Realize, too, that different goals manifest at different times for different people. Yeah, so what that I didn't come here from Brooklyn in January and had a nonprofit set up by February. Don't rush me. The local changemaker crowd loves to say that "Detroit is a blank canvas." I'll respond with an equally cliche "Masterpieces take time."


Eric the RC guy

It is sad that you have to defend your rather well written article with another eloquent piece. Keep on writing, I've enjoyed both of these now.