By Ralph E. Moore, Jr.
I have lived in Baltimore City for 70 years now. I left briefly right after college, getting a community organizing job in Buffalo, N.Y. I returned to Baltimore at the end of that summer of ‘74 to take a teaching job; I didn’t want to be in Buffalo, N.Y. during their brutal winters.
So, I’ve been here in Baltimore. It all always felt strange to me: slow public transportation, struggling schools, one of the last major cities to elect a Black mayor, lots of public housing (much poorly maintained), many domestics still riding the back of the bus as when I went to high school. They went to work in the suburbs where most nonprofits were run by White folks and many foundations favored contributions to Whites who ran organizations serving Blacks. Mostly…a jail and prison colony in the middle of the city and a highway to nowhere that destroyed homes, causing former residents to double up in several neighborhoods. I spoke about race and poverty to the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Leadership Program retreat for 22 out of 23 years.
Speaking the truth in Baltimore can make you feel like the skunk at the garden party in some corners here. But some of us ride buses, have worked daily in poor neighborhoods and hear and feel the seething anger that lingers in our little town even after it erupts.
The title of an editorial in the New York Times on May 10, 2015, during the uprising following Freddie Gray’s death, captured the story, “How Racism Doomed Baltimore.” While historic laws and public policies moved silently through Baltimore like an invisible knife cutting the city into unequal parts, the results were an advantage and a disadvantage: one person’s privilege is another person’s poverty (they are inversely proportional).
So here we are, studies are showing Baltimore is special in its treatment of its Black citizens. It is especially harsh in that treatment. Some would have us think that Black Americans are more criminally inclined, so that’s why a disproportionate number of us are incarcerated or have records. Some would have us think that Black Americans are uneducable so there’s been no hurry to fix the schools. Others feel we cannot be trusted, so that’s why the foundations don’t hire or fund us very much. Some would say we don’t want much for ourselves and our children so increasing wages for our labor has been stalled for the last forty years ($15 an hour minimum wage in Maryland will be here in 2025—folks have been waiting for it for years and there are three more years to wait).
White privilege is for too many the natural order of things. The price of privilege is the longstanding, deeply entrenched poverty we live with that is scaring someone away from the city. All the bad housing, all the sad schools, all the street corners occupied during the day by youth and adults unable to find work and to quote the poet, Gil Scott Heron, “All the lives of all the people that have been ruined” by privilege, corruption, politics and just “plain ole racism” is the society built in Baltimore. And now there is the epidemic, omnipresent violence.
Some of us have felt the heat of smoldering discontent in Baltimore for some time. We are neglecting Baltimore’s children with our emphasis on police over recreation. We are keeping folks angry or demoralized by denying them jobs or decent wages. We are sealing a troubled, dangerous fate to go back to business as usual.
The young in Baltimore are less patient than many in my generation. They can’t wait. They’ve waited all their lives: for a better Baltimore. It was never going to come before the uprising, perhaps someone “will listen now.” Summer and its discontents are coming. Let us hope and work for the best.
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