(About 98.3% of #welcometoBaltimore tweets were not things to be proud of)
Dear Charm City,
We made it. We trended. We went worldwide on Twitter. In this case it wasn’t for something to be proud of and now I’ve noticed what’s wrong with our city. It seems we’ve lost our charm. I don’t know when. I don’t know why. But I think I do know how. We forget what its means to be charming. We stopped exuding the pleasing personalities that not only attract people within our neighborhoods but people from other cities. Our city’s population has declined every 10 years since 1950 from over 940,000 to barely above 620,000. A combination of factors contribute to the population decline including the loss of industrial jobs like steel processing and shipping, white flight, and of course the inner city drug epidemic in the Mid-Atlantic from the 1980s and ‘90s. Despite these unfortunate circumstances affecting our city, we, the people who remain in Baltimore, are still responsible for the energy of this city. The people who were here don’t determine what our city is known for now, we do. We haven’t left the city and as long as we’re here we should treat it as the best city every because it’s the only city that we reside in at this moment. It appears that Baltimore as went from being a persistent, hard working city to a series of distracted, segregated neighborhoods. Instead of being known for our great tasting seafood we’re now known for having fishy attitudes. Instead of receiving praise for our great tasting crabs we’re known more for our “crab in the barrel” mentality. (In fact, I move to have to any symbolism relating crabs to Baltimore City banned)
First let me explain the fishy attitude. There’s a face most people make when they smell fish or a fishy scent. They instantly cringe, grimace, and flare their noses. Well I see people all over the city make this face when there isn’t a fishy scent within miles. This face reflects their attitudes towards their fellow neighbors. Far too often I see people make this face and show this type of attitude when they see someone doing something different from how they think they should do. “Homeboy has tents on his car. I wouldn’t have done it like that.” Fishy attitude. “My neighbor has friends at her house who don’t live in this neighbor and I don’t like that.” Fishy attitude. “I mean Eastside dudes are cool but there’s nothing like a guy from over West.” What is that about? Fishy attitude. Baltimoreans don’t seem to understand that just because you were born and raised on one the opposite side of Charles Street you are NOT from a different planet. Even though this city is more than 60% African-American I’ve witnessed all races hold tight to this provincial, super-local, neighborhood-centric attitude. Having pride in your neighborhood is great. It’s uplifting. It’s necessary. It can also be crippling if you believe that you and your neighborhood are the only things that matter and everywhere else in the city and beyond deserves the fish face. Let it go! Open up. Open up your minds, your eyes, your hearts, and your doors. Let in your immediate and extended neighbors. Let in the world! There’s so much more to life than your block, your neighborhood bar or the deli that’s been run by the same family for the last 27 years. Not only should we open up to let in new experiences, we should open up to let ourselves out and share our own experiences.
Baltimore is considered southern although not deep south by far. So we do get credit for being a bit hospitable to each other and to outsiders but that’s fading away. Here’s one example. Ever since I can remember from the late 80’s through the entire 90’s Baltimoreans, especially from the inner city, do not like New Yorkers. We all have our reservations or believe certain stereotypes about people from all over but what’s really the big deal. Most people back then didn’t even know why they had a problem with New Yorkers. The dislike is so notorious it was even portrayed on “The Wire” as some dealers had beef with a rival gang and had to make a statement by killing “one of them New Yawk boys”. Judging something or someone you don’t know much about is ignorant. We’re all guilty of it but we should be aware of it. If we’re aware of it then that means we should be able to change it for the better, except I think that judging someone else is the only thing that makes many of my good people here feel they’re worth anything. Let’s loose the fishy attitudes, stop judging without knowing anything at all and let’s open up because charm is a two way street, unlike Charles.
If it’s not the fishy attitude that’s negatively affecting how we treat each other in this city it’s the close cousin known as the “crab in the barrel” mentality. This is the premise where crabs that have ascended to the top of the barrel try to escape and get out but the other crabs violently claw and grab at the top crabs to pull them back into the barrel. I’m from Baltimore. I’ve watched live crabs in a barrel do this to one another just as I’ve watched my city take on this exact same behavior. Maybe there’s some truth to the saying ‘you are what you eat’. This mentality isn’t just about being a hater although that is involved in many cases. It pertains directly to survival instincts. If you’re trying save your life, or in our case bettering our lives, then naturally you may push, pull or block someone else from getting ahead of you especially if you’re in a tight closed in, limited space like a barrel. Here’s the thing Baltimore…we aren’t in a barrel. We’re in a metropolitan city. In fact, we’re living on an entire planet where you can go pretty much wherever you want whenever you want, except China. Seriously, there’s really no need to be so crabby with each other throw shade or try to prevent some one else’s attempt to improve and succeed. This is a citywide issue. This doesn’t just happen around the way or at your job or between cutthroat business rivals. It happens on ALL levels in Baltimore. The overall standard for Baltimore can be very lowbrow. The city shuns all things that are middle to highbrow. Mention the words upscale, high-end, progressive or diverse and you know what happens? Fish face! Take action to build on ideas of upscale, high-end, progressive or diverse and guess what happens? The crabs come clawing. It can be your community leader, your family member or even a local politician. If ideas are shared that are a bit too different from what’s already going on or will take people to far out of their neighborhood or comfort zone it gets rejected or out casted somehow in this city. That’s why the most talented people from our city leave and only come back to visit. The crab mentality is not very nurturing to people who want better. I feel like this city fears rising to another level. Most Baltimoreans passionately despise begin amassed with the rest of the “DMV” little do they know most of the country outside of Maryland sees us as one big unit anyway unless they’re familiar with the area. God forbid our city grows in population and productivity and gets compared to Philadelphia or even worse, New York. It’s become a learned behavior for the majority here to resist growth and change. We don’t like when progressives progress. We don’t like to see real leaders lead. We don’t want developers to develop. That has to change. The city has to collectively get out of the barrel. There are some bright spots but the crabbiness overshadows. But this is also a two way street as well. When a few of us make it out of the barrel we have to throw a rope back one at a time and give a chance to the rest of the crabs to climb out of the barrel too. Teach them along the way as the climb so they can continue throwing back the rope and change the mentality of the entire city.
I wrote this little letter in plain language so that it’s easy to understand by most but I feel the people who need to read it may not. That’s ok I’m sharing anyway. I could have taken more direct swipes at things I see and don’t agree with. Things like inappropriate and tasteless party pictures, unfair business practices and a struggling education system but that may have been a distraction. Along with that I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even know all the problems. I do know that Baltimore once was a great city. There’s a lot of history here to build on and there’s potential for the city to be greater now that it has been in the past. That responsibility lies with its citizens though. Not just with our community leaders, delegates, and our mayor. We all play a part even when it seems like a lot to bear but we can do it. We can be responsible for the man next to us. If we know the way then we can show him. It won’t be easy but its necessary. We can and should build together. Take a city like Atlanta that’s very similar to Baltimore in the fact that it’s predominately African American. The city is fair newer than ours but the people there, natives and transplants, do as much for themselves as they do for others so it seems. Networking is much stronger. Neighborhoods are further apart yet the entire city still seems to thrive as one community. I’m not saying we should try to become Atlanta but if we all adopt a more neighborly, progressive, uplifting way of thinking and communicating it would do us some good. I wrote this as an open letter because I want us all to be open. Open to new. Open to better. Open together.
Your little homie,
Quintel aka iQuell
Always hope more for my hometown