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Friday, January 16, 2009

"The City Where the Sirens Never Sleep."

Matt Labash pens this classic salute to those striving in the trenches against the fall of night in Detroit. Here's just a taste of this magnificent article:

When councilwoman Monica Conyers got in hot water for calling her colleague "Shrek," [ed.: the current mayor, Ken Cockrel, Jr.] [Detroit News reporter] Charlie [LeDuff] arranged to have her sit down on-camera for an interrogation by a group of middle schoolers. She proceeded to get a condemnatory lecture on how to behave like an adult from the kids. Charlie then interviewed her, convincing her to recite lines from the infamous Shrek-ish city council meeting, with him playing the part of her, in her sassiest Detroit voice. ("You know you not my daddy!" he said.)

It was a good stunt, as evidenced by its getting picked up (without attribution) by a number of national media outlets. But then he turned around and wrote a wrenching story on the girl who schooled Conyers--a 13-year-old who is ashamed to be poor, whose parents sell candy out of the trunk of a rattletrap Cadillac, who is not allowed to bring her books home from school because there aren't enough, and who dreams of escaping this city.

One night over dinner, Charlie admits that he knows most people think he's gone back to a dying newspaper in a dying town. But he feels he has work to do here. Not the kind of work that makes Gawker. Real work. He's always wanted to write about "my people," as he calls them--Detroiters in the hole--but he wasn't ready before. Now he is. He sneers at books like Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? which treat human beings like electoral blocs to be extrapolated from. "We're not stupid," he says. "We do count, you know. All those statistics you're going to lay out? Fine. But we know how to make s--. We know how to fix s--. We do know how to read. Saved the union a couple of times, you know what I mean?"

He says there has to be room for the kind of journalism "where it's not a fetish, where it's not blaxploitation, where you are actually a human being with a point of view. The city is full of good people, living next to s--." But most media-types don't bother to ask since they view those people as "dumb, uneducated, toothless rednecks. They're ghetto-dwelling blacks. Right? They're poor Mexicans. They're a concept, not a people."

Read every last word.

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