As a white person, I can only speak of undoing racism from that perspective. Therefore, in my opinion, in order to create real transformative change in Baltimore we have to educate ourselves and organize our institutions to help dismantle the structures in place that perpetuate racism. Racism is the cause of the inequity we see every day in Baltimore. In order to really begin to heal and change the city, we all need to understand the history and how racist practices still embedded in our institutions have created the disparities that exist today.
I’m not from here — I was born and raised in Detroit and also lived in Oakland, California. At least in those two cities, which are predominately black as well, race is talked about more widely, whether productive or not, and it is much more obvious. It feels unacknowledged here and very few people talk about the inequity we see every day described in those terms. We talk about lack of jobs or housing or treatment programs. For both blacks and people of color and for whites, it’s likely because of the deeply ingrained internalized oppression and superiority within ourselves that we choose to ignore. We need to look at how the systems we are all involved in work to uphold power and privilege for white people. Just take a look at the criminal justice system. Despite the fact that whites use and deal drugs more than people of color, there is overrepresentation of people of color for nonviolent drug offenses in the system. In fact Black, Latinos and Native American are overrepresented in every aspect of the criminal justice system – from arrests to the court system to incarceration. (Here’s a great resource to explore: Shinin’ the Light on White Privilege by Sharon Martinas.)
This is not a dynamic that can be shifted overnight but takes real effort and understanding of how the system works. Whites especially need to be engaged with other whites in this process. Racism is dehumanizing to all of us. We need a common definition of what racism is, an historical knowledge about what has happened since the founding of this country, and we need to look deeply within ourselves and our institutions on where we can organize and create impact.
For those of us who want to start but don’t know how, we can begin with conversations with others, and seek out knowledge from those with expertise. There are many resources that we can make use of right here in Baltimore – Baltimore Racial Justice Action, Equity Matters and the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond. But if we don’t even have the conversation, we will never be able to dismantle something that is truly destroying us all.