Baltimore: The (Double Stuffed) Oreo City
I’ve been trying to unravel the paradox of white supremacy in a Black-run city. While it is true that many of the city’s Black leaders are functioning as “operatively white” (as UB professor Audrey McFarlane argues persuasively in her excellent paper), there’s something else going on.
Baltimore’s government officials are actually majority white once you peek inside the bureaucracy itself. Take a look at Mayor Pugh’s cabinet at the bottom of the page. Out of 32 positions shown on the city’s website just 9 of the cabinet members are Black. Powerful city departments such as Police, the Baltimore Development Corporation, Housing & Community Development, and Planning are all run by White men. Our health department is run by the amazing Dr. Leana Wen who is Chinese American.
According to the New York Times, Baltimore’s police force is 44% Black, 48% White, and 7% Latino/a. The Baltimore Office of Sustainability has only 1 Black person on their staff (and I was told their food policy staff is all White). The Steering Committee for the 2015 Bike Master Plan was all-White and key policy group Bikemore only has 1 Black board member (Delegate Robbyn Lewis) and zero Black staff members.
Now I would be the first to tell you that Black folks can be crooked and/or corrupt while White folks can be “woke” allies, but these numbers are disturbing in terms of the absence of Black perspectives in our city government. While undoubtedly all of these departments and organizations mentioned above will view themselves as well-intentioned and “working for everyone,” there is a lack of equitable representation in Baltimore city government, especially for a city that is 63% or so Black and 5–6% Latino/a.
Essentially then, Baltimore is a (double stuffed) Oreo city. It is majority Black in population on one side and the majority Black elected political leadership is on the other side. Spatially, Baltimore is Black on the east and Black on the west, but White in the middle! Also on the inside of the Oreo city is a “double stuff” of majority White corporate campaign donations and a majority White-run government bureaucracy. What looks to be a Black-led city on the outside is upon closer inspection a White controlled city on the inside.
This is a clever arrangement is reminiscent of neocolonialist projects overseas and highlights what Leaders for Beautiful Struggle’s Dayvon Love meant when he masterfully discussed the sophistication of white supremacy on Melissa Harris Perry’s show in 2015. This arrangement has given rise to hypersegregation, hyperpolicing, transit/food apartheid, and enviornmental injustice in the Black Butterfly along with the neoliberal stripping of public goods from Black neighborhoods (i.e. privatizing public housing, recreation centers, and public schools).
Baltimore’s leadership must begin to reflect the fact that is a true Chocolate City with a beautiful Black Butterfly. This means the sophistication of white supremacy has to be understood and confronted in order to not only create a more racially representative government, but a more racially equitable government that dismantles the architecture of policies and practices that create and sustain Baltimore Apartheid.