What happens when Baltimore talks about race? City mom Edit Barry finds out when she calls Dr. Raymond Winbush — director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University and author of The Warrior Method: Raising Self-Reliant Black Men — to discuss the failure of integration and the future of Baltimore City Public Schools.
If you look at a map of Baltimore neighborhoods by race, you’ve got what looks like a white puff of smoke splitting the city in half. The divisions are so clear here. There was an attempt to integrate the schools, but the result of it was to further segregate them.
To desegregate Baltimore City Public Schools sounds good. It sounds wonderful! Is that ever gonna happen? I doubt it, unless we find whites moving back to Baltimore in droves.
There are new parents living in the city now — highly educated ‘white’ parents making a middle class living — who need public schools. What should they be mindful of — as outsiders?
The thing is this (laughs) — it’s like the privilege of being white in America, and Baltimore is no different, is that white people don’t have to think about the interests of black people in anything.
But what if they want to?
I’m not sure there are a lot that want to. There are some who do. But they’re definitely in a minority. But listen. Flip it around. See, as a black male in America, I — and when I say ‘I’ I mean ‘black people’ — we have to understand white America. We do! The problem is that whites don’t have to know anything about black America and they could still be quite ‘successful.’ Whites don’t have to deal with people of color.
But we do. In this city, we do.
You do and you don’t. I pick up certain magazines and newspapers and if I were a proverbial man from Mars I could flip through some of the publications in Baltimore — I’m not gonna name any, but you know some of ’em — and I would say, ‘God. There’s no black people living in this city.’ It’s almost like we say, ‘We’re just going to ignore the fact that this city is 70 percent black, another, what — we’re not sure now — 10 to 15 percent Latino, Asian and then white. You know, we’re gonna ignore it. We’re gonna pretend.’ We don’t wanna deal with it.
But I want to deal with it.
You sound very sincere. Look, you’re dealing with it when you’re talking to me, by the fact that you attended the Enoch Pratt thing, and as I’ve said to well meaning whites around this world, what you’ve gotta do, you’ve got to make an effort to understand people of color. White people who wanna understand, deal with black people — they’ve gotta go out of their way.
You know the charter school City Neighbors?
When they talk about themselves on their website, they say something like, ‘We wanted a school where middle class and poor and rich and white and black students could come together in a community and learn together.’
It’s a liberal ideal.
It is. And I think it should be mandatory, and I’ve said this publicly, that teachers, students, and parents engage at least four times a year in an open, honest dialogue about race the way you and I are doing it right now. That should be built into public school systems around this country. In Baltimore, particularly. We have got to talk about his stuff.
So how can parents go for that ideal in their neighborhood public school rather than starting a charter school?
You’ve gotta be subversive. You’ve got to infiltrate the school board. Well meaning white teachers, well meaning white people, have to push the issue to school officials to do that stuff. And it can be done. But, see, they won’t listen to the black community. White parents have to get–
Let’s include under ‘white,’ like, Korean…you know–
Yeah, I’m talkin’ about Asian, blacks, I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a coalition in Baltimore called PARE — Parents Advocating Racial Equality — and it would be like a multicultural coalition of parents, teachers, students, advocating at school board meetings for a more just education system where everybody can learn from everybody else? I think that takes subversive activity just like Occupy Wall Street.
What if right now in Hampden you got 30 white people together to go down to North Avenue and say, ‘We want a more fair and balanced’ — I don’t wanna sound like Fox News, but — ‘we want a more fair and balanced class and race school system in America and we’re gonna sit in the lobby of the North Avenue building until it happens.’ Whites ain’t willing to do that.
I think we want to change things, but I don’t know if that’s the way to go.
So how do you think we should change it?
I think we need, first of all, to get more middle class parents to consider the public schools. The narrative is so ingrained now of you buy your starter home in the city, put your house on the market when your kid turns four, and either move to the county or send your child to one of the private schools. And you can get financial aid to do that.
Well, it is never gonna happen. That’s the cement. We’re never gonna crack it.
I have to believe we can do it. Parents are organizing themselves to do it. Roland Park Elementary wasn’t the school that it is now except for a group of parents who got together and started sending their kids there. Now you have people lying about where they live so they can send their kids to that school. The change has to happen on a more personal level.
I think it can. But that’s not the only way. It’s a good way. It’s a more peaceful way, but–
You’re more radical.
Yeah, I am. I tend to be attracted to revolutionary movements. How do movements begin? Usually it is an individual saying, I am just fed up with this stuff and I’m going to do something about it. They garner the public’s eye and then people say, that’s what I feel, I wanna join that.
I think your dialogue and organizing is very, very critical. But you’re going to have to get to a point where you say, okay, now that these parents see the value of a public school education the way they do in Roland Park, we’ve got to do something more systemwide — and that’s when the rubber meets the road. I just try to get to that point as quick as I can, that’s all.
Edit Barry writes the blog Re:education in Baltimore — this story is original to Baltimore Fishbowl. Find her on Twitter@editbarry.