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Can Black Men “Save” Baltimore?

December 23, 2013

Has anyone ever posed this question? A few months ago, a cover article in the Baltimore City Paper asked “Can Station North Save the City?” with a subheader suggesting that some believe the neighborhood’s emerging arts culture can help solve “many of the city’s most intractable problems.” The question they are really asking is: Can young, white middle class artists revitalize a disinvested, historically Black neighborhood?

The answer to that question is probably yes. But saving Baltimore?

While the tech and creative classes bring a level of vibrancy to cities, hipster trickle down theory has proven not to engender broad based prosperity, and likely increases municipal inequality.

So if not the techies, hipsters, and creatives, what then? There is no single panacea for effecting widespread prosperity in Baltimore, but there is something that should be prioritized; namely, dismantling structural racism, as recently suggested by Laurie Bezold. And given Baltimore’s unique and complex racial history, it really begins and ends with the fight for equity and social justice for its impoverished and working class Black residents.

I recently spent several days in Miami with over 50 black male leaders, community builders, and social entrepreneurs from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit. It’s clear to me that these men–and others like them–are essential to their cities fulfilling their promise. However, these men and their communities are largely ignored–if not outright demonized and criminalized.

Take, for example, the ACLU’s War on Marijuana in Black and White report, which demonstrates that the drug war is wasteful, damaging, and “inherently racist in its execution.” The men gathered in Miami know first-hand the results of the drug war, and many of them work tirelessly to mitigate the negative impact it has had on the communities where they live and serve. In Baltimore City, 92 percent of all marijuana arrests are black, and over $30 million annually is spent on marijuana enforcement, during an era of rec center closures, increased funding for youth detention facilities, and a looming $20 million budget shortfall. Were it up to the men and women gathered in Miami, resources applied to marijuana enforcement and youth detainment would be reallocated to make investments in education, economic development, and recreation.

Unfortunately, structural racism renders these men and women (and their communities) as invisible, or problematic, or both; they are seen as problems that require solving, or “saving.” For Baltimore–an overwhelmingly Black city recently described by the Baltimore Business Journal as an island of poverty–to realize its potential, we need to prioritize social and economic development policies that result in equity, access, and increased social and political capital for its Black working class majority.

In other words, we should acknowledge Black Baltimore as an integral asset to fostering widespread prosperity and vibrancy throughout Baltimore City.

  1. What this post says, rings true to me and I believe is supported by facts. Ideas about revitalization and tech overcoming deep structural inequality is itself an expression of racism, in my view. What I’m unclear about is whether white people like myself can help at all, and if so, how. Will we all work together to solve problems? Should white people concerned about racial and economic inequality restrict their efforts to changing the debilitating social structures they put in place? In short, should white and black people work on different aspects of the problem, due to the fact that when white folks have traditionally sought to “help” black folks, they helped themselves more?

    One place I like to collaborate across races is in the world of ideas. Rodney, I’d like to talk with you about democratizing the local economy.

  2. Emmanuel permalink

    Wow. Thank you for sharing this information and perspective.

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