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9-28-12: The Lines Between Us
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Here's an essay from Maryland Morning producer Lawrence Lanahan about why he wanted WYPR to make a platform for a sustained conversation about inequality in the Baltimore region:
So the federal government did this thing in the Baltimore region where they essentially said, and said officially, “Here are the nice parts of town, and here are the parts of town you should avoid.” This was in the 1990s. It wasn’t the first time the federal government had done this. In the 1930s, the government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation created a map that showed the relative riskiness of lending in different areas. It correlated closely with the racial and ethnic makeups of neighborhoods. Black neighborhoods were rated very poorly.
This time, in the nineties, it was HUD--the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They had decided that, okay, maybe creating concentrated pockets of poverty by building high-rise public housing projects in disadvantaged neighborhoods wasn’t going to work. So they knocked the high-rises down.
And they moved residents—who were poor and mostly black—to other neighborhoods. Turns out most of those neighborhoods were poor and segregated, which means, if you look at the data: higher crime, fewer jobs, below average schools…they were just as far from opportunity as they had been in the projects.
So, somebody filed suit.
HUD ended up starting a program to move these former public housing residents to quote “communities of opportunity.” HUD actually defines “communities of opportunity”--it’s right there in section four, subsection C-2 of the settlement agreement. And they got someone to make a map to show where the opportunities were…and where they weren’t.
If you pay attention to race and class in this region, you can probably picture this map in your mind, and you’d probably be pretty accurate.
The lines on that map—they are the lines between us, the lines that show disparities in opportunity. We’ll have the map on our website, linesbetweenus.org. Take a look, see if you live in one of these communities of opportunity. If I had to guess, I’d say most public radio listeners do. I thought I did, but--looking at the map, it turns out I do not live in a community of opportunity. However, if I just walk east from my house for thirty seconds, I’m in the very bottom corner at the very edge of one of the very few communities of opportunity in Baltimore City.
My first child will be three months old on Monday. He lives with my wife and me in our community of opportunity—or at least very proximal opportunity.
One day he’ll be a white man.
When he’s my age, he’ll be a white man in a country that is majority-minority, where white people will be less than 50 percent of the population. Among babies his age, that’s already the case. And who knows what the economic landscape will be by then, whether inequalities of income and wealth will increase or decrease.
But as much as race, class, and even gender dynamics will change as he gets older, my guess is that being a white male, particularly in Baltimore, will still mean differences in opportunity for him. Just a mile to the west of us, further into a vast stretch of communities of low opportunity—just down Union Avenue, and up Druid Hill Drive over into Park Heights, say—parents will still be giving their children “The Talk”: the talk about interacting with police and white people who might have unfairly low expectations of them, about the shooting of Trayvon Martin, about why this city is the way it is. What will my talk with my son be like? What will I tell him about why this city is the way it is? And, of course…where are we going to send him to school?
This series is an chance for people in the community and civic leaders and elected officials—for everyone to talk across the lines about why this region is the way it is. To talk about how it got that way, and about what people are doing to erase lines of race, class, and other factors to build community and opportunity in their place. We’ll start with housing, and then we’ll get into employment, education, the criminal justice system, health, and many other facets of social life in the region.
We’re just starting the conversation. We hope you will take it to new levels—in your neighborhoods, your schools, your churches, your workplaces. We’re hoping you’ll use our website, linesbetweenus.org, as a central place to have that conversation. We’ll post our on-air stories there, as well as the stories you tell us, and we’ll have data and maps and other resources about inequality in the region.
Starting this series, like having a child, is an act of hope, a reconciling of the past with the possibility of a better world in the future. All of the children in the Baltimore region have promise, but promise means nothing without opportunity. Let’s talk about where those opportunities are, and why.
“The Lines Between Us” is made possible by grants from Associated Black Charities, Cohen Opportunity Fund, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Baltimore Community Foundation, and Open Society Institute-Baltimore, as well as support from members of the WYPR Board of Directors.