Detroit Writer Aaron Foley: How to Live in Detroit

I was that kid: The kid that offered to pay my mother a dollar after saying a curse word. So the fact that my first book, How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass, has profanity in its title is still bewildering to me.

My idea was to create a book that would serve as a handy-dandy guide to living in the city for new Detroiters-or give longtime Detroiters a refresher course.

Right now, there's an undeniable interest in Detroit. Some statistics state there are as many people moving in as moving out. And books about that have already been written-with maps and neighborhood guides and such. But what I want to do is offer some real talk about living here, something beyond historical addresses and "helpful tips."

If you look at the books that have been written recently about Detroit, they tend to fall into two categories: the past and the immediate present-and White men, almost exclusively, occupy both genres.

Don't get me wrong. I have absolutely no issue with White authors in Detroit. But when was the last time a book about Detroit was written from a Black perspective?


Sure, a few prominent works by Black authors immediately come to mind: The Turner House, a novel by Angela Flournoy; Blood Money, a graphic novel from Kelly Guillory; and, of course, the many talented Black poets and writers that contributed to A Detroit Anthology. But still, the majority of nonfiction books about Detroit fall into those aforementioned past and present genres.

Too often do Detroiters-especially newer residents-romanticize Detroit's past and disregard the decades in between the industrial age and today.

Consider the "savior" narrative that permeates so much coverage about Detroit. Someone opens up a restaurant and, within a week, they're credited with "saving" the entire neighborhood. By the end of the month, they've saved the entire city! Meantime, the people and places that have been here for years are ignored.

Consider also the "good neighborhoods" stamp of approval. Whether it's a real-estate blog or a New York Times story, journalists often focus on the "hot" neighborhoods. You know them, and you know exactly which ones: Downtown, Corktown, Midtown-I call it "MidCorkDown." It's as if the west side, the east side and Southwest Detroit don't exist-unless, of course, there is crime to report.

So I didn't just want to write something that says a certain kind of person should or shouldn't exist in Detroit, but rather something that said, "Hey, this is what you're getting into when you move here." And, "This is what you should and shouldn't do."

Don't be a jerk. But more pointedly: Don't be a jackass.

Now to clarify a few things: I'm not trying to make myself into some kind of regional spokesman for a particular population of the city. But I do want to offer some perspective about what it's like to live here. Some people have moved here talking to people that look like me any ol' way. They ask if we eat road kill. They ask if we know anyone who got shot. Like really? That's how you're coming into my city? That's what we've got to dissipate.

I'd like to fill in a few blanks about what people don't know about the city, and set the record straight on things they think they know. For starters, Midtown and Downtown aren't the only places where you can live. No, we don't eat road kill. And if you keep asking me jackass questions, we are both going to know someone who has been shot.

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