West Side Story

“Here you are free and you have pride.
Long as you stay on your own side.” -West Side Story

So I grew up on the Eastside of Detroit… Between Warren and Gratiot. Everyone used to say to me… you don’t look like an Eastside girl and you certainly don’t act like one.

Wtf does that mean? I AM an East side girl though!

Well it meant my Grandmother wasn’t 38 when I was ten; She had gray hair and already had her AARP card. I knew my father’s name and better yet my Mother knew it; My parents were married when they conceived me. We could read; Everyone in my family had a degree, most multiple ones. No one had purple hair and we wouldn’t be caught dead in Farmer Jacks in our house slippers. Nobody had a bullet wound in their upper arm and I didn’t have a cousin or brother nicknamed Ray-Ray. I was smart, spoke proper English, wore glasses, had my hair in a bun, and went to private school. I just didn’t meet the stereotype.

Trust, I lived in the hood. We had a neighborhood dope boy; neighbors who had card parties every weekend playing the O’Jays way too loud; Gunshots woke me up at night; and once there was a dead guy hanging from the jungle gym at the park around the corner. It took the police forever to show up and the trap house was just two doors down.

But our home, like most of the homes in the area, was a multi-unit family home my Grandparents bought with their good state incomes, and planned to pass down for generations. That home saw four generations of us. West Side families lived in primarily single family homes, in homes their parents bought. Many of them the firsts in their families to go to college, succeed, and get good jobs, so they moved to the side of town most recently developed. The east side was more community centered, the west side more affluence centered. Neighborhoods boasting large sprawling mansions became a sign of success. Two family flats, which dominated Eastside areas, looked at as nods to the past. Although multi-unit homes were a better and much bigger investment.

Most of my friends grew up on the West Side of Detroit. I went to elementary and high school on that side of town. No one ever told them they didn’t seem like West Side girls because for the most part, I was the assumed anomaly. Neat, well dressed, well-spoken, smart girls don’t live in the Eastside, right?!?

Wrong!

I got this impression that people believed if you lived across Woodward you were the worst of us, Detroit being over 90% Black at that time. Much similarly how white flight saw White people moving to suburbs across 8 Mile, drawing a line in the sand of what was and was not the desirable place to live. I believe Black Detroiters did the same with East and West.

Sadly, it’s a tradition steeped in intra-racial stereotypes and bias that reeks of Stockholm Syndrome. We do the same things to one another that are done to us. We come up with these fallacies about each other, where we live, what we do for a living, how much we make, what groups we belong to, what we wear, drive, and live in… to deem ourselves elite and others regular or less than. It’s indirect oppression begat from being the victims of direct oppression. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

To White people. Detroit is crime infested, don’t go past 8 Mile if you want to stay safe. You might die.

To West Side Black Folks: The East Side of Detroit is really ghetto and everything we have tried to escape. You might die.

Sound ridiculous… it is. We don’t have to try to separate ourselves into the same have and have not categories that have been forced upon us. We don’t have to pass judgement on one another and be apologists to white racism. We also don’t need to straighten up and fly right to gain White respect or adhere to American ideology of what makes someone “worthy” to gain success. We are a people of community… and America is a country based on individualism. When we abandon who we are to adhere to culturally absent rules… we lose that culture.

The truth is that originally as Detroit developed, it was modeled after other big cities with its concentrated population that started near East Grand Blvd, the former Woodward, and spread out. Post industrialization and as auto manufacturing in Detroit took off, the population increased. With its large land area, Detroit had so much land to spread out to, single family homes took over. It became a popular place for banks, as the housing boom meant a mortgage boom. The construction of highways meant even more spread could factor in.

That was then. This is now. What was once a sign of affluence has led to a lot of plight. As automation took over, those high paying lucrative jobs at Ford and Chrysler were down-sized. Folks could no longer afford those mortgages or to keep up those homes. Homes sat through harsh winters in foreclosure. Arson littered the city leaving vacant lots, many streets up and down Grand River having just a few homes per block. With population decline and the very large area of the city, there just aren’t enough people to live in and maintain those homes.

It’s one reason why areas such as East Village, West Village, the Eastern Market area, and surrounding downtown areas hit in the revitalization boom because they are easier to get around in the new walkable, bike friendly neighborhood model. Many areas of the West Side are simply too spread out. Those areas with larger homes do well for investment purposes, but overall those more dense areas are the most popular and see the most development surrounding them. Plus, it has opened the eyes if a lot of Black residents in the city who simply never traversed these areas of the East side. They heard of the gang infested Red Zone and the notorious Mack and Bewick and jumped on that as representative of the entire side of town.

The truth is, there is no real difference. That’s just ignorance.

For every chick in slippers at the party store on the East Side, I raise you a girl in her hair bonnet at Foodland on the West Side. For every hood girl with a struggle ponytail on the Eastside, I give you one really bad closure and visible lace front on the West Side. For every drawn on eyebrow, there is a separate but equal set of feather duster eyelashes. For every Uzi on Mack and Bewick, I raise you a Tec-9 in Brightmoor. For every jheri curl still in existence in the East Side, I give you a bad Luther, curl just don’t quite curl right Duke kit on the West Side. Sound ignorant as hell? Well it is.

We must know our history. Detroit has been made rich in culture because of the influence of our hustle. While all of our hustle hasn’t been good, it’s all been real. But crossing a street doesn’t make us better… and it sure as hell doesn’t make us worse.

I was raised on the East Side. I am not an anomaly. I just don’t fit your uneducated stereotype. Let me find a good multi-family home on the Eastside in good condition, I’ll take that over your one family Westside joint in a heartbeat. I got more hustle in me than you might think from looking at me.

“If I got to choose a coast I got to choose the East
I live out there, so don’t go there
But that don’t mean a nigga can’t rest in the West”-Notorious BIG

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s