Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Darkest Baltimore

I took the day off from painting
to go to the eye doctor
and then spent a few hours
running errands
with my eyes watering from
the pupil dialation

I ended up at Barnes and Noble
picking out some books for me
and my class
while drinking coffee
in the middle of the day

An older guy from the next table
came over to chat
"Exscuse me, do you work at the Hopkins library?"
Nope.
"Do you live in Roland Park?" (VERY nice neighborhood)
No.
"Hmmmm...you look so familiar. What do you do?"
I'm a teacher.

At this point he begins asking me questions
about No Child Left Behind and
George Bush (who he doesn't like) he assures me
and standards and public education

I answer as best I can, trying to be properly
fair and balanced
talking about the importance of having a high bar
while also explaining that many standardized tests
are mostly a test of class
and the more you were read to or talked to
before school even starts
the better advantage you have
not counting the stress of poverty
and violence some kids face

He's amazed I work at a city school
and asks me to explain where it is
none of the cross streets ring a bell
so I pick out a notable neighborhood, Bolton Hill
and explain it's just a little west of there

"Yes. Things start to get really bad past Bolton Hill
I mean it's pretty unsafe there. I wouldn't walk there
even in the daytime. That's deepest, darkest Baltimore."

If you don't know Baltimore, you don't know that
Bolton Hill is primarily a white neighborhood
with this imaginary line down Eutaw Street
so that when you cross over, the neighborhood
is mostly black.

Because he's older and I'm automatically respectful
plus I'm not quick in the moment
and I believe he has good intentions
I let the subtle racism slip by

But what I would like to say
is that it's not so scary over there
across the invisible line.
Kids ride their bikes around the block
and laughter drifts down from the playground
people sit out on their stoops and chat
walk up the block for a snow ball
and grill food for dinner

What makes a neighborhood
good or bad?
Is it geography
race, class?

Or is it something else
we can't put a finger on
or find a word for
but we carry along
in the deepest, darkest corners
of our heart.

3 Comments:

Blogger Kathleen said...

cheers to crossing that invisible line!

1:20 PM  
Blogger Deezee said...

while I too often can't think quite fast enough on my feet, the response you would have liked to have given would have been beautiful. and maybe he would have listened, but you would know that better, for you know the face you were looking into. but I'd like to believe that he just needed a nudge to see things differently. I live in a horribly segregated city where crossing the divide - whether it's racial or social or economic or a combination of the three - is sadly far from easy. I hope that doesn't sound like an excuse...

7:49 PM  
Blogger snowsparkle said...

"... i let the subtle racism slip by" i know that "not quick enough" feeling. deep dark corners of our hearts... i'm always surprised when some odd remnant of a past impression resurfaces and shows me my own subtle prejudices. strange negative associateions, but sometimes they're positive ones; such as:
all my gay, irish, or jewish friends are brilliant so the "halo" effect makes me react in a positive way to all members of those groups. me? i'm a polish/norwegian/french, blond haired, green eyed buddhist.

2:28 AM  

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