White Power in the Chocolate City & The Need for Racial Equity

Baltimore is one of America’s few large and remaining Chocolate Cities (yall good DC? 😬). But white supremacy is just as powerful in Chocolate Cities as it is in most others. As Dayvon Love of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle once famously quipped on MSNBC:

Baltimore shows the sophistication of white supremacy and how it operates… how it takes Black figures, puts them in institutional positions — to give the veneer of justice — when really the same institutional arrangements exists.

Although Chocolate Cities have predominantly Black political leadership they are not necessarily the ones calling the shots. Let’s take recent instances of all-white (all right?) decision making, input gathering, and pontificating in Baltimore.

1) In 2015, the Baltimore Department of Transportation selected the Bike Master Plan Steering Committee: 16 members, all white.

2) In 2016, key informants contributed to the Sagamore TIF market analysis for Port Covington: 11 informants, all white (and all men).

3) In 2017, the Baltimore Business Journal’s “future of Baltimore waterfront” panel to be held on May 19: 5 members, all white.

What’s interesting is that this is happening in economic development and city planning spaces. The lack of Black perspectives and voices in development and planning means that Black futures are discounted and ignored in the economic development and planning of the city.

We don’t develop Black neighborhoods without displacement (see Hopkins/EBDI and the Innovation Village) and we don’t plan for racial equity (see Bike Share and Plank’s Sagamore in Port Covington). In Baltimore, the very sophisticated nature of white supremacy consistently utilizes Black faces in political positions while undermining Black futures and potential.

This is bigger than “diversity” and “inclusion,” as University of Baltimore professor Audrey McFarlane makes it clear that Black middle-class people often function as operatively white in her incisive paper. And in a city where Black politicians are funded in large part by White-owned corporate developers and must answer to the prerogatives of historically segregating, predominantly White “anchor institutions” like Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions or the University of Maryland, we see many instances of Black political leaders passing policies that hurt Black lives (see Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s mass closure of recreation centers or Mayor Pugh’s veto of the $15/hour minimum wage bill when Black workers have a household income almost half that of White workers in the city).

The answer is not simply Black faces in high places. The sophisticated nature of white supremacy in Baltimore is quite adept at utilizing Black people as tokens or buffers to appear “diverse” and “inclusive” all the while denying racial equity, destroying Black neighborhoods, and disrupting Black lives.

For instance, the Greater Baltimore Committee is 17.2% Black, the mayor’s agency leaders are 31.3% Black, and the police force is 44% Black (and only 10–11% of all police live in the city). By these measures, Baltimore is certainly “diverse” but in a city 63% Black, we find that Black people are either completely missing (especially in economic development & planning) or vastly underrepresented (in terms of influential power brokers such as the GBC or agency leaders).

The answer Baltimore needs is a relentless assessment of policies, practices, and systems to determine what damage has been done to Black lives and neighborhoods. Then we must assiduously work to pass and implement policies and practices while vigorously dismantling and creating new systems and infrastructure that will undo the damage that the litany of white supremacist policies, practices, and systems have caused to Black communities and people.

This work is not exclusive to Black people. Racial equity can and should be done by everyone who lives in Baltimore City regardless of their race or ethnicity. Racial equity is everyone’s work but it must involve deep democratic listening and equitable engagement with those who are most affected by white supremacist policies, practices, and systems.

In an article to be published in the future, I call for a $2 billion racial equity social impact bond to begin the work of systematically undoing racism in Baltimore. I believe this is one way to jumpstart the process in addition to Baltimore Neighborhood Reparations for disinvested, redlined Black neighborhoods. In the future, more details will be released regarding these approaches. But suffice it to say: we created Baltimore Apartheid and we have maintained it. It is now up to us to dismantle it and institutionalize racial equity in this beautiful Chocolate City.