Tuesday, June 2, 2020

to Baltimore, with love

Things in Baltimore are interesting right now. Some strange mix between déjà vu and.... pride? Like... not the sort of pride that comes with watching a baby take her first steps, but maybe like watching a kid finally ride his bike without training wheels?

I grew up here. This is my city. My dad also grew up here, and his dad. Third generation Baltimore City right here. And fucking proud of it. 

gettin crabby in baltimore a couple years ago with Austen and Megan
Baltimore has a long and complicated history, tho, all the way back to the Civil War. Partly for geopolitical reasons. Did you know the Chesapeake Bay is the largest such estuary in the United States? And the third largest in the world? Baltimore City's harbor has bustled with industry for a very long time -- particularly, steel. And obviously, steel was a fairly strategic and critical resource in the Civil War. 

If you've ever visited our lovely downtown neighborhood (like our awesome waterfront aquarium!), you may have looked across the harbor at a small green hill dotted with cannons -- Federal Hill. Called so, because, you see, Maryland is an interesting place. Again, geographically. 

camden yards - a beautiful old ball park if you're into that sort of thing
Technically, we're south of the Mason-Dixon Line, but fought with the North in the war. As with many border states during the war, sentiments were fraught and complicated. Baltimore, notably, was the scene of an alleged conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln en route to his inauguration in early 1861. A couple months later, Baltimore broke out in riots between militia units on one side, and antiwar protesters and confederate sympathizers on the other.

By the end of springtime in 1861, Union troops, under cover of darkness, occupied Federal Hill, overlooking the harbor and Baltimore's business district. There they erected a small fort and cannons, in order to guarantee (via implicit threat) continued allegiance of the city and Maryland to the US government. The Union army presence would continue through the duration of the war, and cannons still stand on the hill today as a monument.

looking over the harbor at dinner with Austen!
Historically speaking, Baltimore has a reputation for unrest, ya know? And in more modern times, that reputation has morphed into one of crime. Hit tv shows like Homicide and The Wire perpetuated these perceptions. 

I remember in high school visiting San Francisco and having a trolley driver jokingly ask me how many bullet wounds I have. Even today, folks who live out in more suburban or rural areas literally do not go into the city. If I had a nickel for every time someone said, "Aw I'm sorry" (in voices dripping with condescension) when I tell them I live in Baltimore... Ugh. 

But I do love this city. I love living here. The city has major problems tho. Leadership, corruption, management, crime... And massive inequality. 

when i was so proud of learning to parallel park my truck in the city!
Which... ya know... even in high school we understood. My friends and I (always a mixed group bc, again, Baltimore City Public School) would jokingly talk about getting pulled over, and say things like, "if you're white you're right!" -- an explicit acknowledgement that our black friends faced greater consequences for similar indiscretions. 

And I distinctly remember actually getting pulled over with my best friend one time in high school, and having police officers on both sides of the car shining flashlights on us, asking for my licence and registration. I didn't have even a moment's concern, and was just like, "Sure yea - Hey D, grab it from the glove compartment!"

that time i had rig envy walking around my neighborhood
At which point, I realized that my friend was sitting there staring dead ahead, stock still, not moving and totally mute, both hands palm down on the dashboard. Not even flicking an eye in my direction when I called her name. So I just reached across in front of her to grab the registration myself. At the time, I thought she was being ridiculous and overreacting. But... I've also never forgotten what she looked like in that moment. I texted her this weekend tho, and asked if she remembered that night. And ya know, she did

Years later, after college, my boyfriend at the time was browsing the mall trying to figure out what to give me for Christmas. He then noticed a woman wearing a beautiful sparkly bracelet that he knew I'd love, so he approached her to ask where she found it. Later, he recounted to me how -- although she recovered quickly and was very polite and directed him to the exact store -- she had startled and shown a moment of fear in her eyes when he first addressed her. He told me that he got that reaction just about every single day. 

historic fells point! one of the oldest ports in the country
I look back at my post about Baltimore's riots following the killing of Freddie Gray and... Idk. Maybe it was a missed opportunity. I was sorta newer to blogging and not very confident or secure in my voice at that time. So I wrote a cautious conservative post conveying my sadness at the events, without risking an actual opinion on the matter. 

I don't regret that post, and am not necessarily embarrassed by it, tho it does ring sliiiiightly empty bordering on tone-deaf. Which... is a shame. Especially considering how it compares to my thoughts on ICE raids, mass shootings, and the petty misplaced outrage against policies like Safe Sport, designed to protect our community's most vulnerable members. 

a shot from my apt window of one of baltimore's arabbers
And dear lord, it is nothing compared to the absolute FURY our comfortable coddled little horse community conjures against the likes of Marilyn Little and her godforsaken bit choices and horses with bloodied mouths. Oh the humanity, indeed. 

Have you considered that it's entirely possible people were so disgusted by Amy Cooper in NYC bc of how she handled her dog?! Never mind that the unfolding scene was basically something straight out of To Kill A Mockingbird. Never mind that at all, bc omg her dog. Also.... if you don't get that reference, go read that book again. 

these are historically black fruit cart operators that serve inner city neighborhoods with limited access to actual grocery stores (bc yes, that's a thing here)
Idk. These are strange times. In a way I feel like the protests and riots happening right now are in some sort of way the 'next generation' from what we saw here after Freddie Gray's death. Bc it almost felt then (and still feels now) that Baltimore's riots were basically kinda shrugged off by the rest of the country. Like, of course Baltimore would riot. Baltimore always riots. We're all fucking criminals and drug dealers and gangsters here anyway, right?

But... Minneapolis? The Twin Cities?!? How could something like this happen there? Right smack in the center of Minnesota Nice country??? In a way, it feels like suddenly folks are like, "Wow I guess maybe there is actually an ISSUE here, maybe the problem is REAL. Maybe something is WRONG. Who knew?!?"

I'll tell ya, tho. The people of Baltimore knew. 

my cats + some of my baltimore artwork
There's a lot of disinformation out there right now. Trust in our institutions has eroded to such an epic degree that... It's so hard to know what to believe. 

Different news outlets present such shockingly different perspectives on the same events that... depending on how you consume your information you will believe very different things about our country and its citizens.

more of my baltimore art - Hamden's 34th St, and the Stieff Silver building
Furthermore, in recent years there's been increasing talk of foreign interference and provocation. Divisions sown and exploited for political gain. And ya know. It's exhausting. It's so so so exhausting to not know what to believe or whom to trust. 

And it's really tempting to just want to bury your head under a pillow, and say, "Wake me up when it's over!" And ya know. I understand that. I'm no hero, I'm just another white middle class woman who has found herself basically insulated from all the terrible shit that's going on around me for... basically my entire life. Who am I to say a word about any of it? 

the ubiquitous "baltimore bird," always flying the skies
But... There's something to be gained here. And it starts with conversations. With listening. It's an opportunity to reach out -- especially to someone whose experience and perspective might be different from yours -- and ask what they're thinking and how they're feeling. 

Bc there are real problems going on and it will be an absolute tragedy if those messages and that suffering get lost in the shuffle by the very folks who seek to maintain the status quo.


  1. Hey Emma..
    I know you have the best intentions in writing this and you certainly have an interesting perspective to share living in Baltimore - but I'd like to gently challenge you to think how this post focused on your experiences and your world. I'm no expert and I am certainly not trying to criticize anyone trying or say they are being outraged in the "wrong" way.. but perhaps instead of using this space to talk of yourself, consider using it to elevate the voices of BIPOC? There are some wonderful resources available and that might be more useful to your audience right now. <3

    1. I'm going to disagree Holly. I think it's really powerful to share stories of white people discovering how black friends experience situations differently. As someone who didn't grow up as aquainted with people who aren't white, I have found these stories really helpful in identifying my own biases and weaknesses in being an ally.

    2. I disagree too. I also grew up in a 98% white town, stories like Emma's help me go back into my own memories and identify moments where I didn't even think twice about a situation in which my black friends were uncomfortable. Keep on sharing your stories, they're helping all of us process and understand our own biases more deeply.

    3. Holly, I’m glad that you are feeling the urgency of this movement and amplifying the messages. I agree that now is a time for listening and learning from each other. You might be interested in reading the history of the Black Lives Matter movement (wiki has an excellent and extensive page), and also specifically Freddie Gray’s story. In 2015, Freddie Gray was taken into police custody for possession of a knife, and arrived at the police station in a coma. His injuries were… ‘extensive’ is one word for it, and he did not survive them. Really, you should read about it. Baltimore was outraged. There were protests and riots following his death. And again after his funeral, and again after the indictment of the police officers involved. And AGAIN when the charges against the officers were eventually dropped. The pain and suffering felt in this community is deep, and BLM has been a strong presence here ever since. Momentum since 2015 has ebbed, tho, or flowed into other communities as atrocity upon atrocity were committed again and again, always with the same outcome. Baltimore’s pain was just one more ‘incident’ on a very long list, and all we had to show for it were news reports dismissing protests for their violence and property damage. My story is not special, not unique, and not necessarily relevant to anyone else. It is a Baltimore story. And a reflection of my experiences growing up in this unique and special city, grappling with what it means to be a member of this society with very complicated roots, and recognizing that tho my friends and I shared experiences in the same spaces, places, even the same cars, we had massively divergent realities based on our race. This all bears examination as we look to be better as a society, bc I certainly hope that this new wave of momentum can finally break the cycle of repeated injustices.

  2. Thanks for sharing Emma. This whole time has been a long time coming, and I find a lot of feelings going through me and my city. I'm glad the message seems to be heard by some who haven't previously heard it, but the amount of work still to do can feel so daunting. ❤️

  3. I know what you mean regarding people assuming things because of where you live. I was born in Oakland California, a city that is primarily working class and populated with POC, whether it's the blacks like my father, aunts and uncles, the latinx community, or the asian population that resides there. The city of Oakland is a vibrant patchwork of diverse individuals with rich lives and rich stories.

    Because of this rich history and background, there is a lot of unrest around social injustice, top it off with the fact OPD is fucking terrible and politicians of Oakland have been fairly corrupt. It's a perfect recipe for many protests, marches and yeah eventually riots. And people think that is all Oakland has to offer, which is just sad.

  4. I am saddened by what is going on and by how everything is being protrayed and twisted. Honestly, as an outsider- it just seems that EVERYONE in the U.S. is angry and hates each other (races, religions, culture, political affiliation). I don't now how true that is in day to day but the entire country seems to be on fire.

    I grew up in a primarily white province. It wasn't until adulthood that I learned about how we treated our black settlers. In terms of indigenous I remember being outraged at learning what we did to them when we settled here and wrote that in a report. I failed the report for not understanding. I have zero regrets on that.

    It's easy growing up white to not see the injustice, especially the subtle ones. Same as men don't see the belittling of women even when you draw their attention to it (some do of course). We tend to think of our experiences as 'the norm'.

    I also worry that Canada is feeling pretty damn smug right now looking south. And we shouldn't be. We also are a racist system and have a ways to go to rectify it.

  5. Thanks for sharing Emma. I'm thinking so many thoughts and feeling heavy emotions and I am having trouble finding what to say in a productive way. So I'm just listening and learning right now. Thanks for sharing your story and giving me more to listen and learn from.

  6. Thinking of all of you in the US right now <3

  7. Thanks for sharing all of this Emma. I grew up in an upper middle class township that while predominantly white had a heavy asian population while I was growing up. To the extent that, in my small little world, I never really considered asian a minority race. The bulk of my friends were asian as well. I believe the demographics have shifted over the past 15-20 years.

    Obviously, since leaving my bubble, I've learned this wasn't the case. My college was 64% white and grad school 52% white. I went on to work at an HBCU (historically black college) where the student body was 70% black and faculty/staff was 60% black vs 30% white (so not a lot of representation from other groups). I'm back in a 70-78% white institution.

    Where I live is a very white, christian town (I was raised in a duel religious household and don't feel comforable with religion though identify culturally jewish and celebrate christian holidays for cultural holidays but nothing more --- being in a "religious town" with a heavy amish presence and neighbors constantly trying to get you to church is... strange. The thought of saying, hey I'm kind of jewish....) though we have an HBCU (not where I worked) right here providing diversity. Still, there is a lot of blame on the students whenever there are antics or crime or whatever. Honestly? I don't see most of this happening if it weren't an HBCU which is horrific. Some of the crap is typical college student stuff which happens anywhere there is a college so fine. The rest? People just blame the students because of their own prejudice. I don't call people I don't know out on social media because it doesn't end well (I've watched it happen), but I do my best to support the university in as many ways as I can. Can I do more? Yes. Should I do more? Yes. I'm still try and learning and engaging in conversation with my colleagues (I'm fortunate that library is diverse and run by a director that invites us all to discuss these issues together and our mission includes diversity, equity, and inclusion so we regularly have reading and training and uncomfortable discussions).

    This has gotten way too long so I'll stop here! Sorry for being wordy and long winded.

  8. <3 Thank you for sharing this, Emma. You are right that there's so much misinformation out there, and it is difficult to find the words to say just what I am feeling. So I am listening and learning.

  9. I've been struggling with the right way to address the world right now, and how to address it with my children. I'm so glad that you shared what you've been surrounded by and experienced as I think everyone's perspective is a little different - but the message remains the same. Change is needed, and I think people are ready to learn. :)

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