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Will Detroit media ever lift black businesses up to the same level as Sister Pie?

I really, really don't need to read yet another story about Sister Pie when there are so many other businesses to hear from.

Via Sweet Potato Sensations

This morning, I had the great pleasure of having breakfast with Ron Fournier, editor and publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business. I’m not job-hunting at Crain’s; this was simply a meeting of the minds.

There’s a lot in common between Fournier and me. We are both Detroiters, but a generation apart; he’s the same age as my parents. We’re both authors. And, at the moment, we’re both managing publications in a changing Detroit – not just demographically, but how Detroiters are consuming their news.

Among many things we discussed this morning was a recent column from Fournier about Heavyweights Cuts, a barbershop in Detroit’s West Village neighborhood. Heavyweights is black-owned and has been in the neighborhood for years, but hasn’t gotten a drop of ink in the press. What had gotten a lot of ink is the now-closed Parker Street Market owned by a young white guy who, like many young white business owners in the city, had instantly become emblematic of Detroit’s comeback while that store was in business.

Like in his column, Fournier expressed to me his desire to amplify the stories of “been-ups,” the types of businesses that have, well, been “up” during Detroit’s roughest times. The types of businesses that have never left Detroit, and the ones that continue to press on – quietly, as in that the patronages of those businesses know that they’re there, but still remain unseen in Detroit’s media.

It’s the responsibility of media to uplift these stories, and I explained to Fournier that sometimes that burden falls (sometimes unfairly) on identity publications like BLAC. BLAC’s circulation, print or online, is not large compared to Crain’s. Our staff is not as large, and our footprint is not as wide. But we do what we can.

What would give businesses like Heavyweights a boost is if more folks like Crain’s gave them shout-outs here and there (in addition to the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed white folks), which in turn would give them wider exposure, and perhaps catapult them to the same level as the newer, trendier places in town.

That sentiment brings me to this fresh pile of free-advertising, cheerleading, white savior dogshit in The Detroit News today. What the fuck is this?

If you haven’t noticed, it’s Pi(e) Day, March 14, which means Americans everywhere are treating themselves to slices of pie. And what did the News do? They beelined straight to fucking Sister Pie a-fucking-gain to repeat some non-news about how good Sister Pie is.

Is Sister Pie still news? Is it?

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a slam on Sister Pie; I was just there this weekend, and I have the Square receipt to prove it. The pies are really fucking good at Sister Pie. Let’s get that straight.

It’s just that, oh my God, does Detroit really need another Sister Pie story? Another one? Especially one that declares that the “top spot” in the whole fucking Southeastern Michigan metro area is this one and only this one? 

Would it have killed the News to have included a black-owned place in there somewhere, or did the quota run out in February? “Well, it is Women’s History Month,” you might argue – Sister Pie is owned by a woman – but damn, not even black women?

You can't help but to draw parallels between the type of coverage Sister Pie gets and the type of coverage Parker Street Market was getting. Didn't we just learn from this? And maybe, just maybe, could we also tell some black stories from West Village? (And not just Detroit Vegan Soul?)

Sister Pie makes good pie. After all, as the story notes, they are a James Beard semifinalist. And that makes them too fucking easy.

More than one thousand words on this story were given just to tell us shit we already know about Sister Pie. There’s the step-by-step on how to make a Sister Pie pie crust, a story the Detroit Free Press just did a few months ago. The tale of how its owner, Lisa Ludwinski, won a Hatch grant – we know this, because it’s mentioned in every single Sister Pie origin story, and goddamn, Hatch better be thanking their lucky stars for all of the free promo they’re getting out of this as well. And of course, all the flavors, information that could readily be found on their homepage or social media.

(Oh, but slices of pie are $3.14 on Pi Day. Thanks for making me wade through all that text to find that out.)

You know who else could’ve been included in this story? How about Good Cakes and Bakes (which is also running a Pi Day special)? Or Sweet Potato Sensations? Or Love’s Custard Pies? Or People’s Brothers Bakery? All of which have pie, but oops – perhaps too black, and not quite fitting of The Narrative.

I’ll reiterate that Sister Pie makes really fucking good pie, but they don’t need any more news right now. I mean, speaking of receipts:

Five recent mentions of Sister Pie on the News’ site, all of which prominently center on Sister Pie itself. Just two for Sweet Potato Sensations. (Hillary Clinton acknowledged Sweet Potato Sensations before the News did!) None for Good Cakes and Bakes, People’s or Love’s.

Or, let’s look for more examples in Google.

Damn near 4,000 hits for Sister Pie, and pitiful results for the next. Do we see what’s going on here?

Fournier brought up that maybe some of us (er, actually, some of y’all) working in Detroit media have unconscious bias. That we (y’all) just lean on easy stories from what we know from our own networks.  And too often, those networks are whitewashed.

What is it going to take for local media to uplift minority-owned businesses (let’s be clear, it’s not just black-owned businesses missing from the equation. We could go all day on how y’all only drop in on Dearborn and Southwest Detroit for immigration and terrorism-related stories) on the exact same platform as the new white ones? And if we ever get there, could we not frame them in the lens of white accomplishment? When are we going to let other businesses share the spotlight with Sister Pie (which, for the third time, has really, really good pie)?

The ways in which Detroiters consume their news are changing, and I’m not just talking digital platforms versus physical ones. We’re far past that. If I have to go to yet another journalism organization’s meeting about how more people react to countdown lists over longforms or whatever is the trend du jour, I’m just going to peace the fuck out. No, the way in which Detroiters consume news is totally unique to any other metro market.

Detroiters want to see themselves in these kinds of stories. We’re frustrated with the same stories about the same people and same businesses all the time. Oh, that’s not to say we don’t celebrate them. We love Sister Pie! But OK, where are the other Sister Pies? They have stories, too. And their stories are just as feel-good and shareable.

Fournier’s column, while very well-intentioned, had the misfortune of having its dominant photo for the web version of the story be it of the white guy that owned Parker Street Market, and not the black guy who owned Heavyweights. It was reverse in print, but most people consumed the story online. That meant there was a lot of grumpy, dismayed reaction to the lead photo of a black business (written from the lens of a white journalist, but that leads to a different discussion) being a white entrepreneur. You know what that means, right? It means black Detroiters would have had a better reaction to seeing themselves in the spaces they know they occupy.

Don’t tell me another Sister Pie story, please. Give me that same story from a black businesswoman. Or a gay businessman. Or a trans-owned business. Or a Yemeni-owned business. Or a Latina. Or someone living with a disability (and not just Richard Bernstein, find me someone else, goddamit!). That’s what we’re supposed to do, and that’s what we owe to consumers of Detroit news. 

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