Life in the D, vol. 3

There are few things that are as intrinsically Detroit as Eight Mile. The fact that I refer to it as Eight Mile, rather than Eight Mile Road, is telling—it is not so much a thoroughfare as it is a state of mind. Physically, Eight Mile forms the boundary between Detroit and the northern suburbs, so-called because it is roughly eight miles north of the Detroit River; metaphorically Eight Mile is a line of demarcation between the haves and have-nots—some of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods reside on the south side of Eight Mile; tony Oakland County lies just to the north.

The myth of Eight Mile has taken on a life of its own in Detroit—and gained national attention with the release of Eminem’s film 8 Mile. The movie itself uses Eight Mile as another character, an underlying presence that informs the actions of struggling artists and families. To invoke the phrase Eight Mile in Metro Detroit is to invite a thousand metaphors of poverty, segregation, crime and racism. In 1974, Detroit elected Mayor Coleman A. Young, who infamously told the criminal elements in the city to "hit Eight Mile," a comment which incited outrage from the northern suburbs who feared a mass exodus of criminals infiltrating their pristine communities. As a result, for 20 years Young reigned over a period of intense animosity between Detroit and its suburbs, a time when race-baiting and malice became politics as usual in the city. And we are still feeling the effects: the 2000 census confirmed what Detroiters already knew—this is the most (racially, socio-economically) segregated metropolitan region in the country.

Today, we often talk about the "south of Eight Mile fear"—the propensity for suburbanites to avoid Detroit altogether due to what they perceive as rampant crime and violence. Despite his scandals, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has done a lot in the past three years to alleviate some of those fears—or, at the very least, encourage suburbanites to set them aside long enough to enjoy a Tiger’s game at Comerica Park. For the first time in my life, three of Detroit’s four major sports teams actually call Detroit home (ironically it is the Pistons, who have the biggest urban fan base, that remain in the suburbs). Bars, clubs and music events are also encouraging young suburbanites to venture into the city. A lot has changed in the nine years since I was in high school and had to beg my father for the keys so I could go to Detroit for a show at St. Andrew’s Hall—before I could leave, I had to endure a stern lecture about the dangers of walking, parking, hell just being in Detroit.

The south of Eight Mile fear, like most fears, is based upon ignorance and the assumption that Eight Mile (and by extension Detroit) is, as USA Today called it, "a catch basin for the city's human flotsam." But the ultimate irony is that, not unlike the Red State-Blue State rhetoric, the myth of Eight Mile rests on a radical oversimplification of community politics—Eight Mile itself is one of the most racially integrated stretches of real estate in southeast Michigan. Which is not to say that metro Detroit less stratified; merely that Eight Mile is not so much a line of demarcation, as it is a blurring of boundaries between Detroit and its suburbs.

For more about Eight Mile, check out Detroit Yes! Eight Mile Mini-tour


annamaria at 9:08 AM

3 spoke


at Friday, May 06, 2005 10:22:00 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not for nothin, but the Grosse Pointes are well south of 8 Mile. Jefferson Avenue is traditionally known as the holy line of demarcation between Detroit and the Pointes.

But your point is very well written and explained. Just need to get a couple little facts straight is all.

at Friday, May 06, 2005 10:55:00 AM Blogger person x said...

I remember when the 8 Mile movie came out, and the traditional movie-voice guy said the name with a strange emphasis on the wrong syllables. More like eight MILE. The whole theater that the preview was showing in died laughing. Much like you could die if you cross the actual Eight Mile.*

*Sarcasm should be noted here, as this is being said by an ex-Detroiter.

at Friday, May 06, 2005 4:24:00 PM Blogger annamaria said...

Anonymous said...
Not for nothin, but the Grosse Pointes are well south of 8 Mile. Jefferson Avenue is traditionally known as the holy line of demarcation between Detroit and the Pointes.

Ahhh...you're so right. Do you see what happens when you attempt to write social commentary while half asleep, boys and girls? You fuck it all up!

Post edited to reflect actual geography!


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