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Grosse Pointe's "What up doe dog?" problem

I go to one of the top independent schools in Michigan, University Liggett School. My school is predominantly white and is in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, which is a predominantly white town. I am black and see some things in this town, and in my school, which show that society is still dealing with racism and classism. I'm not one of those people who goes around looking for problems to complain about; but I'm not one that just sits there and ignores them, either.

I came to Liggett from Detroit schools four years ago and being the “minority” has been a new experience—and not always an easy one.  For example, because I am black, it is assumed that I am on scholarship, because I guess some people think that blacks aren't able to afford a school like Liggett. I am, in fact, on scholarship; but a lot of other blacks that attend my school pay full tuition, and are not struggling to do so.

The fact that I am on scholarship does not mean I am poor, which is another thing a lot of people assume. I have enough money to get what I need and want but, no, I don't have the money to pay more than $19,000 a year for my education. Personally I don't think that being on scholarship is a bad thing at all. A lot of people are ashamed to say that they are on scholarship. Not me.

People also assume that, since I am black, it is OK to walk up and greet me with, “what up doe dog?” I know that I have never used that phrase in my life. I simply respond to those people with “hey,” because it doesn't take all of that just to say hi to me.

People say that it's just ignorance that leads people to do and say these things, but I know for a fact that half the people who make these remarks are not ignorant of what they are really doing and saying. People like to use the excuse that some people are not used to being around black people, so they don't really know how to act. Well, I grew up in the City of Detroit and attended Detroit Public Schools for 11 years, with just one white student attending my middle school. I didn't make rude and insensitive comments to that person and then excuse myself by saying I'm ignorant to white sensitivities.

In any case, the ones who really feel uncomfortable in any school are the minorities, and we can all make them feel better by not making assumptions and getting to know them as individuals.

Damiana Sorrell, a senior at University Liggett School, is part of the "TIME 11", a group of Detroit area high-school students working with Assignment Detroit.

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  • 1

    Great Damiana!

    Having been married to a wonderful black woman who was killed by a drunk and stoned driving kid. I got to see lots of things.

    You nailed it... whites do not know what to do, what to say, and how to behave any more than some of the young black people that I see at King.

    Something similar can be said of adults too. There really are an awful lot of people who do not have a clue.

    Look at all the fawning treatment of Kwame when lots of people knew that he was way off kilter.

    So this is a continuing condition that will persist and hopefully decay as more peole learn that we all are quite similar on fundamental grounds.

    The one thing that we all have to strive for is integrity and sometimes that is a real battle.

    Good luck and best wishes to you.


  • 2

    Just got back from dropping Megan off at school.
    I mentioned your well written article.

    "Whaaat, she doesn't listen to music??!! Is she an alien? That's been around since 2001 at least. She took offense to that? The kids were just trying to be friendly and show some unity.

    At Eton in Birmingham that was the typical greeting.
    She goes to Liggett and they rejected me? Wow!

    What does she listen to, Country and Western Music?!"

    You do have to remember that the Pointes are caught up in the stultifying anglo propriety shtick. On what basis I have never been able to ascertain. Barbara Byrd-Bennett has that down cold. Boy I would not want to get into a debate with her no matter how dead wrong she was. Please don't get caught up in that.

    Bill Ford had to get the hell out of there because of it.

    So where is the integrity in all of this?

    Megan taught me something, aside from the laughter.


  • 3

    FYI - I'm a 30 yr old white guy who uses "What Up Doe" to address people all the time here in Raleigh. Is is possible that they use this phrase with all of their friends, you included? It's a very common phrase & sorry if it feels racially insensitive.

    /went to South

    • 3.1

      African Americans are innovators whose culture is often imitated but usually not widely accepted until and unless it is embraced by the majority culture. Perhaps this is an example danfromdetroit regarding the use of "what up doe dog? Look at how many of Marvin Gaye and the Isley Brothers songs are now incorporated in new commercials today! RAP music and on and on.

  • 4


    Great insight of course many folks will get defensive and make excuses ..It is part of the pathologies of the culture..

  • 5

    You seem like a bright young lady--as anyone who can make the cut at Liggett is. Congratulations on your achievements and the bright future that awaits you.

    I submit this comment for your consideration: My white daughter says things like this to me all the time. It's no longer the language of urban black culture; it's the language of youth culture. It's a measure of success of the influence of music on an entire generation.

    I would probably feel the same as you in your situation, but I encourage you to look at the issue from a broader perspective. It's all good, dog. (My daughter would be cringing if she read this.)

    • 5.1

      Hi observer26 I agree with your comment ascerting that white kids using "black lingo" equals "a measure of success of the influence of music on an entire generation", however, it also is a measure that is somewhat superficial. Using cliches is "hip" but doesn't usually really connect with the root meaning of the language. It is a partical acceptance of cliches, but not fully respectful of the culture from which they originate. In other words one mimmicks the words, but fail to understand sometimes the depth of the meaning,emotions and their context and thus can be intrepreted as condescending.

    • 5.2

      It's a Catch 22. If white kids resisted picking up the lingo, they'd be considered separatist and elite. When they do, they're considered insensitive to the culture. There's no win, but the good thing is, we're talking about it. And the more we can talk about respecting each other's respective cultures, the better.

  • 6


    I also attended Liggett on scholarhip. While I am white, I too felt that everyone looked at me a bit differently. Like you, we were not poor, but we definitely lived on a shoe string. While it was hard at time, I am also so gratefuly for the opportunities the school gave me, including meeting people from backgrounds different than myself. I feel that I am a stronger, more sensitive, and well-rounded person for that experience. Hopefully you will feel the same.

    In response to Bill, I think your opinions on Grosse Pointe may have been true 20 years ago, but they are no longer on target. My husband and I moved back to Grosse Pointe after living on the west coast, east coast and Europe. We've found our neighborhood to be very open and inclusive, and (slightly) diverse. Liggett is obviously more exclusive, as Damiania writes, but we think GP is really a wonderful place to live. And we're raging liberals.

    • 6.1

      Ditto on Grosse Pointe. We have our issues, but it is one of the warmest places I have ever lived (and we're growing more diverse now that housing prices have dropped to more reasonable levels.) The GP of old is exactly that: old and outdated by the generation living here now.

  • 7

    The typos in my post are not a reflection on the Liggett education. I was in a rush. Sorry, Damiana for misspelling your name.

  • 8

    Damiana, stay your course and try not to be distracted by perceived and sometimes real race and classism. I'm a baby boomer and things are better than they were in some instances when I was growing up, but yet in some ways things are worst. What you should always remember, is that kids who come from privileged backgrounds sometimes have an over inflated ego; in other words they think that they are smarter and that they are where they are where they are because of that. They don't understand race and class priviledge dumped them where they are in most cases. You will be stronger, smarter and wiser because you are gaining insight into the "real world" a lot sooner in your development. On the other hand take comments with a grain of salt,(don't get too caught up in comments/opinions-regardless of the intents) and be strong in your self identity (culturally, individuality, family connections etc.). I wish you the best and will be looking to hear more from you!

  • 9

    Lets not get carried away here about GP it still has major racial hurdles to overcome many white suburbs with a racial history like GP's can tolerate only a few Black families yet when the tipping point surfaces than the narrative changes of course..

    I do like to read that change is finally taking place in GP finally.... Would be nice to see it driven internally and not by external housing market to be honest....

    But progress is progress regardless....maybe carla will move next door to,lol,lol

  • 10

    ..Went to Detroit Catholic Central when it was on Hubbel and 6565 West Outer Drive!..Tremendous Education... We were of modest means, but I still attended Catholic Schools in Detroit from '60-'72...My 4 sibs also went to St. Francis de Sales, Sacreed Heart Seminary, St. John Bosco, Marian, from time to time. Best, and most important thing I learned was simply this: People ARE people, and All are the same!!! There are rude Rich Kids, and there are Polite Rich kids;.."Bad Rich Kids and "bad Poorer kids; There are 'OKay' middle class kids(not many of THOSE LEFt--Thank You Pro-China Politicians..Wall Streeters, AND IVY LEAGUERS!---NOT!); and there are OKAY Poor Kids..I deliberately mixed this up for a reason. Just because one is wealthy doesn't mean one is 'stuck-up'... Just because one came from modest means doesn't mean WE should all 'fawn' over 'him'. People are People: Black or White! "good" or "bad". The important thing is that someone at least made the attempt to reach out!

  • 11

    When I went to Michigan, I had never met a black person, never talked with one...certainly stared at a beautiful elevator operator at Hudsons or two, totally afraid to speak. Joe Wills, the son of a prominent black Physician was there and he was a Phi Beta Kappa, played classical piano, and wanted to be an architect. We became friends and I discovered that he was somewhat more naive than me.

    Later I had a date with a black singer who was a friend of Sylvia Moy, interestingly we were both very nervous about the date.

    And a short while later a gang of us went to the Midway Lunch to watch Washboard Willy and the Super Suds perform and I asked her sister, who was a waitress there, if things were getting better. That was in 64.

    Her NO reply shocked me.

    So it did take some more years and some concerted efforts to get things swung around.

    And no, they are not swung perfectly around just yet.
    And it's going to require some new pills or something to achieve perfection.

    As to Grosse Pointe... I am absolutely sure that there are many wonderful people there doin' the mack.

    One of the most interesting was Pierre Heftler, the Ford Family Attorney. He instigated Ren Cen and saw the wrong headedness of abandoning Detroit. He and Margaret were far more liberal than I am sure many of his neighbors ever knew.

    I had dinner with them one night to watch their night blooming cereus and Pete was brimming. He relayed that he was trying to get the Edsel and Eleanor Ford house off the tax rolls in the Shores and the local politicians were putting up a fight.

    So he relayed that he told Henry to call Coleman and as him to testify in Tax Court in Lansing.

    Sure enough, he did and he said that Coleman was magnificent particularly when he mentioned how much property in Detroit was off the tax rolls.

    Thanks to Coleman, they won that day and we celebrated.


  • 12

    Now wasn't that fresh, sorry cold!


  • 13

    I've been a part of GP all my life, seeing as it's less than half a mile down the street. My Starbucks is there, my Blockbuster, Kroger and Borders and I've not so much as experienced a dirty smirk.

    It's interesting to see what really goes on when you're over there for more than just recreational shopping and dining!

    Nice post.

  • 14

    Grosse Pointe has definitely been changing and growing more diverse over the last ten years. I live and work in GP and half of my customers I serve at the coffee shop I work at are black. That would not have been the case in the 90s.

    Unfortunately Damiana, even though there is no excuse for it and it is often extremely rude and offensive, people naturally will resort to stereotypes and assumptions. At many universities including the one I attended, many of my black friends were constantly asked if they are athletes. Why? Because most of the players on the most visible teams (football and basketball) are black. Asians are assumed to be smart and in math or science because statistically they score higher on exams than other groups and gravitate towards those subjects. Women are never assumed to be engineers because there are very few women in engineering compared to other fields.

    I think stereotypes are natural because with limited knowledge, human beings still look to draw conclusions. Hopefully though, more people, especially those in school, can learn to put their preconceived ideas aside and aim to gain more information about others before making judgments and decisions, professionally and in personal interactions.

  • 15

    For starters, as a memeber of the general (non-Liggett) public in GP, I view Liggett as an institution primarily filled by the classicist elite as opposed to racist brats. At any rate, you should treat this as an opportunity.

    "What up doe dog?"
    "Dog? Dog?! What am I, a pet? You cant even afford me the courtesy of 'citizen'?! Does your family keep other decedents of slaves at home as lovable creatures who they hit with the Wall Street Journal when they urinate indoors?"
    "Really. Get a clue."

    Don't just stick with that line either, get creative. Use over sensitive, sideways, and blatant ghetto approaches too - keep 'em guessing.
    Two things will happen.
    There will be those who think to themselves, "She's a racist because they can talk to each other like that," and there will be those who will notice your smirk, know what you're up to, and just about die laughing at the former group. That's how you can ID the real racists... and have some fun with 'em too.

    - Anonymous.

  • 16

    The author prefaces the article by claiming she is not "one of those people who goes around looking for problems to complain about" but then proceeds to spend the rest of the article going against that assertion. What, exactly, is the problem here? Is it that people are greeting her in the halls? Having spent an extensive amount of time as a human being, I too have been greeted, by both white and black people, with "What up doe?" and even "Hello, how are you?" It has yet to be a problem for me. I was unaware that black people and white people were obligated to greet each other differently.

    I have to admit that the entire premise of this article is ridiculous. It is literally too stupid and, in an impressively ironic twist, ignorant to be taken seriously. I have to assume that this is some form of joke, a subtle satire of how over-sensitive and trivial people can be about race relations. The fact of the matter is, unless every person is coming up and greeting this woman in a sarcastic manner simply because she is different, this is not a problem. With legitimate racial inequality still an issue, the author decided to pick out a moment in her own life where it doesn't apply. I'm not suggesting that she has not been discriminated against. I'm sure she, like many people, has been. However it doesn't appear that this was an occasion that even verged on light discrimination- this article was a petty waste of time. Recognizing someone as different is not a problem until someone as assigned a value or rule to accompany that. As I see it, the only person that did that was the author herself.

  • 17

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