We know where Detroit is, but where are all the Detroiters?

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For years now, going all the way back to the days of King Coleman A. Young (and I don’t mean that in an ugly way), Detroit has been struggling with all kinda ways to juggle the numbers so that it didn’t look like we were shrinking as fast as we really were. It wasn’t a pride thing, it was a money thing. The fewer residents counted by the U.S. Census, the fewer cash dollars we would get from Washington. Detroit has been broke for a long time. Consequently, we knew we could not afford to lose any source of revenue whatsoever. Thus the ongoing battle to pad the numbers any which way we could. Shit, if we could count the family dog we most damned sure certainly would have found a way. This is about survival.

So anyway, once it became somewhat clear that there were only so many ways to squeeze and stretch that new math so that 4 somehow becomes equal to 24 (just as an example) then it was on to a whole other numbers game – a much more hands-on and physical game – of flushing out all the Detroiters from between the nooks and crannies and into the light of day where they could be counted and accounted for – and then cashed out. Because Detroit has always been a damned hard place to count, just like it’s a damned hard place to conduct an accurate poll during Election Time. Just ask any local politician. In Detroit a poll quite often doesn’t mean shit, because so many Detroiters are off the grid. That’s why the mighty pollsters were so sure back in 2005 that Kwame would be crushed beneath the unstoppable power of the Freeman Hendrix onslaught, and that he would shrivel down to the size of a one-term loser. Their polls told them so, and therefore it simply had to be true.

Except that Kwame knew how to work the street, and the ‘street’ is off the grid. And so Kwame beat Freeman and that was that.

Same thing with the Census, to a degree, at least when it comes to what really is and what appears to be what really is but ain’t. In other words, if you count Detroit like you count most normal cities, then you’ll wind up undercounting the actual numbers of people here by, I’m guessing, somewhere in the high five-digit range. And I’m not just talking about all the homeless people wandering around aimlessly that get missed. I’m talking about the folks who don’t answer phones and don’t answer doors and who don’t trust no MF’in Census ’cause what the FUCK is a GOT damned census anyway??

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Where are all the Detroiters..??

Saying all that to say that the only way to get the right count is – as seems to be the new plan – to take a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach that takes into account the, how shall I say? ‘Unique’ Detroit factor. I love the hell out of this city, but it can be both strange and beautiful and deadly all at the same time. And if you don’t adjust your stride for that factor when out strolling around then who knows what you might miss – or what might not miss you.

Which is why, getting down to it,  Detroiters are suspicious. It’s because they have to be and had better be because they have always been because that’s what keeps them one-step ahead of the knife. So when somebody comes asking who you are and do you live here and who else is in there with you then all sorts of bells go off with your average Detroiter because he/she can already hear the four alarms going off just from stone-cold instinct even if the Census taker can’t.

Which is why, if the Census really wants to count all the Detroiters this time around? Then they better get a little better acquainted with the street – or hire someone who is.

SHAMELESS PLUG: Read my wife’s blog @ The “D” Spot Redeux

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~ by Keith A. Owens on October 29, 2009.

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