Wandering Eye:

On the 'Afraid to move to Baltimore' op-ed in The Sun

Yesterday, The Sun published an op-ed from a freelance writer, Nidhi Kaith, who is moving to Baltimore from Lubbock, Texas, with her husband and fears what she will find upon her arrival. Her introduction says she likely won't be leaving her house at night, afraid of the violence that grips many parts of the city. Here are several reactions from the staff of City Paper, one from a fellow Texan sharing her positive experience moving here, another analyzing "the worst tendencies of bougie liberals," and a third looking at the surprising reaction the piece has spawned.

This year it will be 21 years since I moved to Baltimore from Lubbock, Texas. I was newly married and we were told that there were lots of opportunities for artists in Baltimore. My husband at the time had just graduated from Texas Tech with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and we were so exited to come to the city that had such promise. It sounds very similar to Nidhi Kaith's situation except for the chosen professions of our spouses. We researched our move by watching John Waters movies back to back. We were familiar with the crime as well.

On one of our research trips, we stayed with a friend who lived just blocks from Mondawmin Mall, and the graffiti marking the place where a young man had been shot down was visible from their living room. I never felt unsafe, though. The neighbors were welcoming and we got to know them pretty well. This was also our temporary launch pad. We stayed there until we found an apartment in Charles Village.

I don't think we had the mindset that we had to find people "just like us" to be comfortable, however. Texas is different than Maryland, but not as different as India is different than Maryland. But, as with anywhere, a place is made up of people. And when you take the time to get to know those people and they stop being this uncomfortable "other," the fear dissipates. I'm not going to say, "Stay away, we don't want you here," because that's not the attitude we were shown when we moved here. I was always surprised at how friendly people were. I've met some amazing, wonderful, talented people here, and not one person has ever told me to, "Go back home to Texas." And I'm glad because, frankly, my home is here in Baltimore now. I have planted roots and have grown as a person here. And now that I have a son, I'm glad he's growing up in a city that has things like the Walters Art Museum, the BMA, and the Peabody Library. We can drive to Washington, D.C. in a blink and New York on a whim.

In Lubbock, you have to drive everywhere because it's so spread out. Here, you can walk to so many awesome places. I will say that there have been times that I've felt unsafe. It's a complex city. But I didn't feel unsafe simply because it was dark and I was outside. I go to clubs and bars in the city and have done so by myself.

The streets here are more walkable than in Lubbock. There are more people here walking and going about their business than in Texas. As with anywhere, if you use common sense, you will be fine. If I feel uncomfortable, I call a cab. I hope you find the same welcoming atmosphere we found when we came here in our pickup truck bursting with all of our possessions. A lot of time has passed since then, but the people are just as genuine. (Athena Towery)

 

This piece doesn't quite anger me the way it seems to have angered my peers (I'm more angry that it is part of this anything-goes, hate-read-encouraging culture that The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune have been riding for a while now via op-eds), because I think the person is at least trying. It isn't quite the same as the endless white whines we endure about the city. And I'm not just saying that because of that crowbarred-in "Hey, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates, by the way" line or a half-hearted nod to police brutality either, though those help (this person is savvy enough to throw those things in there).

Mostly, it's a look into the mind of the kinds of people Hopkins brings into the city and where their heads are at. Her fears are reasonable (though "the fear of a young black man gone astray lurking around the corner, a man who might mug me and stab me or shoot me in the process?" which she calls "a fear too well known to be said out loud" is fucking outrageous; speak for yourself, lady) but her comfort with those fears and only those fears is frustrating.

And so, it is only useful as a case study in the the worst tendencies of bougie liberals when it comes to systemic racism and crime: They have absorbed the lingo of understanding and tolerance and progressivism but put none of it into practice because it might involve some discomfort and effort. And that one would think this is a useful piece to put into the world—an essay that basically goes "I don't know what I am talking about, but still: Baltimore! Black people!"—is an exercise in privilege-flaunting. The way it revels in its ignorance and tries to be all Socratic with that shit at the end strikes me as ultimately more toxic (if less full of malice) than Sun commenter-style racism. At least your work-a-day racist doesn't couch it in NPR-brewed, middle-of-the-road "understanding," you know? (Brandon Soderberg)

 

The comments sections of Sun articles are usually cesspools of bigotry that are to be avoided. Somehow, this article, which is ripe for either blind, chest-thumping hometown pride or coded racism from suburban readers, elicits mostly—though not entirely—thoughtful comments urging the writer to keep an open mind.

Here's one commenter called "A4Q96RM": "I'm Indian American and have found all the resources you could hope for. I've lived in Baltimore for 15+ years. My wife and I are raising two children here, and we love it. No, it isn't perfect, but few places are. Stereotypes like this aren't helpful. Perhaps your goal should be to first give Baltimore a chance, and learn about the great people to meet, places to go, and things to do."

Another, "janjamm," offers: "As a city, as citizens, we are confronting this dilemma of crime together. We're not perfect, but our imperfection calls us to care more, talk more, meet more and generally celebrate the good things. Baltimore is a very vibrant city. I love Baltimore, as I know thousands of others do. I think you are in for a wonderful surprise."

It would be easier to get all worked up at yet another piece that paints the city with broad brush strokes and attempts to use the work of David Simon—though she didn't go for the overused "Wire"—as some sort of skeleton key to understanding the city. But the above commenters, and the others echoing their sentiments, are showing the warmness and hospitality that really do make our city great. (Brandon Weigel)

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