Following the news of the unexplained death of 25 year old Freddie Gray, the streets of Baltimore have been in turmoil. This is certainly not the first loss of a young Black man’s life but what is most interesting about this particular situation is the fact that it is happening in Baltimore, Maryland. No place could have a better foundation set for civil war.
Having lived in Baltimore for a period of time, I can personally attest to the segregation, inequality, and silent racial tensions. It reminded me of what I imagined it was like living in the south during the civil rights era. It was politically incorrect to speak openly about the truths that hung silently in the air with a tangible tension that is palpable. In Baltimore there is a well-known distinction made between Baltimore City and Baltimore County. The county has historically been more suburban with large homes owned by the residents, yards, and people who drive cars and work “good jobs.” The city on the other hand is where one would historically find government subsidized housing developments, drug infested neighborhoods and large amounts of boarded houses – abandoned by owners having given them up for any potential of profitability. The areas economics was even more insidious with the majority of Black people working blue collar manual type jobs for menial wages and the few that managed to snag white collar jobs were often undervalued and grossly underpaid. Such a climate creates a combative climate that is sure to ignite when met with the right flame. Freddie Gray was such a flame.
There are a mixture of legislative and cultural laws occurring in Baltimore that have allowed it to be number 7 of the 21 most segregated cities in the United States reported by Business Insider. Part of what has helped bring these truths to the light despite their having existed for many years is the fact that as the next generation comes of age choosing to live in more urban environments as opposed to the previous generation’s obsession with suburban home ownership. This has inverted the model of the inner city being a place for the unwanted lower class element. Instead the inner city has become a place where the affluent and up and coming live. subsidized housing has even transferred now offering coverage in the suburban areas where the previously excluded have longed to live. The trend has changed to a pushing of the lower income people to that which is now least desired: the houses in the suburbs. City development can now be seen investing its dollars in the development of chic lofts, studios and luxury apartment options. Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC makes poignant observations about the way that residential trends and policies have helped to support such an endeavor in one of her segments.
One thing that i have tried to reinforce is the fact that the face and language of racism and discrimination has changed in such a way as to allow those who perpetuate such oppression to hide behind the status quo and political correctness. For example, I was once in a conversation with a Latino gentleman whose entire work team was made up of young Black men and 1 Black woman. We were discussing his team’s efficiency and when remarking on why his team lacked in performance he said, it was because of the kind of people they hire and that “disenfranchised people are lazy” When I commented on how discriminatory his comment was he defended himself by saying “I didn’t say Black people,” to which I responded, “But you didn’t have to.”
The same has happened with policy and legislation. Who needs Jim Crow laws when the inequality of the economic structure has created the perfect foundation for policy to reinstate segregation. One such way is the legislative practices that Melissa Perry-Harris details. These actions – while they can be seen as benevolent business practices- have acted as a barrier against the progress of the Black community. So without having ever had to spit our faces and call us “nigger” or deny us access to the equal privileges and opportunities as White people – what need is there to call us a name when they have made us “niggers” without risking public persecution.
The point is that the climate of Baltimore is not a solitary occurrence. There are many cities throughout the country with similar makings to varying degrees that serve as nothing more than a pregnant breeding ground for racial tensions. And while there are many scathing criticisms regarding this generation of youth’s philosophies, methodologies and ignorance, the one thing that they have in common with their forefathers is the passion to speak out and take action. The audacity to believe that they their voices can make a difference. That is what is being seen in Baltimore and, I suspect, will be seen across the country. They may not be able to articulate the pressure they feel from the weight of the weapons of oppression but they know very well that it must end. The time for change is always now and this impatient generation born in the era of instant gratification will hardly sit back and wait for policy and politics to speak for them. Give ’em hell kids.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man