COMMENTARY: Still Building – 5 Years after the Baltimore Uprising

Apr 25

Five years after the Baltimore Uprising there will be a lot of reflections on the progress that has been made in Baltimore is since the events of 2015. A recent article written by Jean Marbella in the Baltimore Sun is an example of the way that insidious notions of Black inferiority and white supremacy are reproduced in the way Baltimore is represented in mainstream media.

There two major elements of her article that are extensions of the problematic narrative that continues to do damage to Baltimore.

First, there is no legitimate way that a retrospective on the Uprising can be done without addressing itself to the institutions and individuals who are perpetrators of the inequities that the article references. The societal dynamic of the system of white supremacy, some may use the term institutional racism instead, is not a phenomenon that just drops out of the sky.

There are people and institutions that have put these inequalities in place. Martin O’Malley and his regime of zero tolerance, a State Senate President that once referred to Baltimore as a “goddamn ghetto,” a philanthropic community that has made lukewarm commitments to racial equity but has failed to really disrupt the white corporate power that would push for policies like mandatory minimums and criminalizing “Squeege Kids.” To leave out any mention of institutions that are responsible for these inequalities gives way to the logic that Black people are just prone to pathology and oppression and obscures examples where Black people are exercising our agency to empower ourselves.

This leads to the second element of this story that is problematic.  The article mentions two Black led efforts that are described as having been derailed, but gives examples of mainstream institutions (mostly white led but all appendages of the philanthropic and corporate mainstream) that are having continued success. There are a bunch of examples of Black led efforts that have emerged since the Uprising that do not get the attention in the mainstream media that they deserve:

  • The Black Church Food Security Network Food “utilizes an asset-based approach in organizing and linking the vast resources of historically African American congregations in rural and urban communities to advancing food and land sovereignty.” It has laid the foundation for the creation of an independent network of food production and distribution that is headed toward the development of food sovereignty in Baltimore.
  • The new state designation and development of the Pennsylvania Ave Black Arts and Entertainment District is an ongoing effort to do culturally affirming community empowerment that can also thwart gentrification.
  • Cllctvly is an online platform that is developing a repository of information about Black led efforts in Baltimore and has given out microgrants to organizations doing good work.
  • The Baltimore Ceasefire, that designates certain weekends as “Ceasefire weekends” where there are life affirming events designed to address violence. There was a recent study that demonstrates that violence decreases on Ceasefire weekends, proving that the effort has saved lives.

These are just a handful of examples of organizations that are led by Black people and are rooted in the community that are ongoing efforts that have emerged since the Uprising that would disrupt the mainstream rendering of Baltimore as a place that is just mired in (Black) pathology. The highly circulated images and narratives of Black people primarily as pathology, proliferates the idea that Black people are problems to be fixed, instead of people who need more investments and support for the work that Black people in Baltimore are already doing to empower our communities.

We are not making the point that we should not talk about the challenges that exist in Baltimore, but that we have to talk about them in context. Its not just that Baltimore takes “two steps for and then one step back,” but its that in-spite of the system of white supremacy that continues to govern the body politic of Baltimore, there are people and efforts that are smashing cracks in the pavement of a system that continues to preside over this white supremacist institutional arrangement.

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