Writer (and speaker and educator) D. Watkins has written so much, and so movingly, about life in Baltimore that he has become, in his words, “the go-to guy on issues concerning the Negro culture of our city.” In his new essay at Salon, “Black History Bulldozed for Another Starbucks: Against the New Baltimore,” Watkins wonders aloud whether he even still loves Baltimore, which, despite his frequent meetings with “politicians, investors,” and other local mucky-mucks, has changed into something “alien.”
“Baltimore is Brooklyn and D.C. now,” he writes. “No, Baltimore is Chicago or New Orleans or any place where yuppie interests make black neighborhoods shrink like washed sweaters. A place where black history is bulldozed and replaced with Starbucks, Chipotles and Dog Parks [sic].”
The essay stays very personal throughout. It’s not so much an investigation into the mechanisms of “gentri-f***in-cation” as it is an elegy for the author’s personal history. And that’s shaded some of the reaction to the piece.
The blog “Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space” devoted a post to explaining “that a Starbucks location is a follower of success not the creator of success,” so Starbucks itself is not causing “black history” to be “bulldozed.” (It’s an interesting piece in its own right.)
One Salon commenter informed Watkins that there are “[p]lenty of bad neighborhoods still left in Baltimore if you want to get a nostalgic bullet wound.”
Still, some are sympathetic, even in unlikely places. When one user mockingly posted a link to the article at an online forum for “Maryland’s premier shooting community,” another rose to Watkins’s defense, comparing to the way he feels about the changes in Southern Maryland:
“I watched it grow from 1-2 stores to strip malls and more damn Mexican restaurants than any bathroom should be able to handle. I liked ‘the way it was,’ and I suspect many of us here on the forum do as well. Just because your, or my ‘way’ is different doesn’t make the longing for that ‘old way’ any less powerful.”
I’m not sure if that’s where Watkins expected to find a sympathetic viewpoint, but there it is.
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