“I Am Baltimore”

Well, he’s done it again. The current occupant of the White House has declared that the city of Baltimore, Maryland is a rat-infested city in which no one should live. If you’re anything like me you are growing weary of these childish tantrums and rants that are mere distractions from his ineffectiveness, bad policies, and possible high crimes and misdemeanors. But the slap at Baltimore and Congressman Elijah Cummings in particular is infuriating and insulting. How can someone call himself President of the United States but decide that many of the cities, that are the economic engines of their respective states and that he ultimately presides over are unworthy? The pattern of attack is clear. Find a city with a large number of Black and Brown residents, a Congressional representative or Mayor of color and denigrate it. These statements are raw meat to the White nationalists who fawn over him. He has derided Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. His comments are not dog whistles—they are bullhorns. We all hear them and know exactly what they mean.

My own attachment to Baltimore began when I decided to attend Morgan State University in the mid 1960s. Morgan State was named a National Treasure in 2016, only the second Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to receive this designation from the National Preservation Trust. The first HBCU to be named a National Treasure is Howard University in Washington, DC. As someone born and raised in Philadelphia I found Baltimore a very comfortable place to live and study. It was similar to Philly in many regards—large number of African Americans, temperate climate, home to culture, arts, sports, and a vibrant music scene. What it lacked, in my opinion, was a subway system and decent cheese steaks. However, those shortcomings did not keep me from appreciating its many assets. In addition to Morgan State, Baltimore was home to Johns Hopkins University and Loyola University of Maryland. It had the wonderful Enoch Pratt Library System and an amazing history. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman came from nearby parts of Maryland. Geographically, Baltimore is perfectly located between Philadelphia and Washington, DC. And, no place has better crab cakes!

More important, Baltimore was the place where I really did grow into adulthood. My college career was bookended by the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. I came to true political awareness in Baltimore. Most of my professors were African American and I had the privilege to study with the eminent historian, Professor Benjamin Quarles—foremost authority on the African American contribution to the Revolutionary War. I learned to mount cogent arguments in Baltimore at Morgan State. My budding activism was encouraged and cultivated in Baltimore. I participated in housing discrimination protests and sat in auditoriums listening to Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure), Nina Simone, Muhammad Ali, and others who were at the forefront of the civil rights struggle. Yes, Baltimore was the place where I had to put on my “big girl panties!”

To hear the alleged leader of the free world talk about such an iconic city in such a demeaning and disparaging way is more than offensive. It is racist and there is no skirting around that. He does not talk that way about cities and towns struggling with opiod and methamphetamine challenges in West Virginia, Kentucky, or parts of Ohio. He deliberately targets cities that are home to large numbers of Black people. Perhaps if he knew anything about Baltimore he’d realize that it has a vibrant Inner Harbor that is home to the National Aquarium. He’d know that the city is home to Camden Yards, one of the best baseball venues in the country. He’d know that Baltimore is home to Fort McHenry where the National Anthem he claims to revere was written. He’d know that his own Health and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson came to fame as a neurosurgeon at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University Hospital. He’d also know that his favorite son-in-law Jared Kushner owns more than a dozen apartment complexes in Baltimore that have been cited hundreds of times for mice infestations.

Baltimore is no different from other major cities in the US. It has a combination of pluses and minuses. Yes, there is traffic, crime, struggling schools, and a lack of quality affordable housing that leads to homelessness. But, there are also museums, parks, street festivals, music venues, theaters, restaurants, sports, and most of all hard working Americans who are building their lives and contributing to the economy and the body politic.

It is clear as we get closer to the 2020 presidential the more outrageous the tweets, statements, and actions that emanate from number 45 will become. We have to be focused on what we need to do to get government that is responsive to our concerns and that embraces a vision of the country that includes people from different races, ethnicities, linguistic groups, national origins, religions, sexual and gender orientations, abilities, and political perspectives. Right now we are dealing with our very own circus clown who is the laughing stock of the world. He has as much right to criticize Baltimore as he has to criticize someone’s hairstyle. However, no matter what he says, I am proud to say, “I am Baltimore!”

Stay Black & Smart!

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