Light Up Lexington is an evening event organized by the Bromo Tower Arts & Entertainment District and Lexington Market in which the multitudes-containing market with a reputation that precedes it is open a little later than usual and features hot collabos between market vendors and chefs from bougie Baltimore restaurants along with live music and DJs. It is way less terrible than you would expect. So far, the performances have consisted of fairly daring, local black acts and though it feels exclusive (and in that sense is different from the radical, takes-all-kinds inclusivity of the market on a regular day), it also feels very Baltimore—or Baltimore enough, at least.
People dance at this thing and they holler when the music gets really good and it doesn’t really sweep the daily market-goers out, but rather brings more people—white people like myself, mostly—into the market. It truly believes in the idea that hey, maybe these Lexington newbies will return on other days. The most recent event (there have been three so far, I attended the past two) back in June featured DJ James Nasty mixing everything from club to Michael Jackson into an aggressively crowd-pleasing DJ set, while Lafayette Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes cranked out searching, jittery jazz that sounds like the music for a 25-minutes-straight blaxploitation-flick chase scene. While I listened, I had some duck BBQ over french fries, the work of Clementine and Dudley’s, and it was fucking delicious.
That night felt a bit more genteel than the previous Light Up Lexington, back in March, which had a more political edge to it. There, Jahiti of Brown F.I.S.H. performed ‘F.I.S.H. Bowl,’ easily one of the top three best Baltimore-brewed songs of all time, and it seemed to address concerns that the evening’s bougie occupiers would rather not consider. “We’re living in a fish bowl,” Jahiti howled, and I immediately thought of blue-light cameras which observe crimes but are not necessarily used to stop them. They do later pull the video out as evidence against criminals, and I thought of the cruise-missile-detecting blimp out in Middle River that you’ll sometimes catch flying in the sky that pretty much everyone I know believes is also being used to spy on people.
March's Light Up Lexington also featured a DJ set from Abdu Ali that bounced between aggressive club music and soft R&B—a mixture that characterizes the jumbled mood of this city quite well. A highlight was when Ali played DJ Dizzy’s remix of O.T. Genasis’ ‘CoCo,’ which cuts that rap hit into a frenetic, loop of the line, “I got baking soda, baking soda, baking soda.” Those lyrics boomed through the market and it was as if one of the guys there casually offering you some drugs when you’re in line at, say, Italian Stallion on a regular day had a megaphone. It seemed as though Ali’s set was kicking against the intentions of Light Up Lexington a little bit. I also had some biscuits and gravy prepared by Blue Moon Cafe and sold at one of the stands, though honestly, I can’t remember which one because the foodie element of the event is less a collaboration between vendors and more like occupation by the non-Lexington Market restaurant but hey.
My favorite part of the evening, though, was a dude wearing a black baseball cap that said real big on it “FUCK THE WORLD,” which, well, I feel you on that one, man. His cap made me feel satisfied in a way that artisanal biscuits and gravy or duck BBQ on french fries does not.
Still, I’ve left these invigorating Light Up Lexington events feeling hopeless about Baltimore’s future precisely because Light Up Lexington, which strikes an all right balance between making the market more appealing to people who don’t usually go there and not making the people who usually go there unwelcome, is a success and the success of Light Up Lexington, I think, will just expedite the cleaning up of another area of Baltimore. This is how the city works. Something is built up by people with a good idea who care and know how to compromise and play the game and then it’s snatched away from them and changed once it’s worth snatching up. A few recent examples: the sweeps of DIY spaces over the few years; the shifts happening in Station North right now; the slow bleeding out of Mount Vernon’s gayborhood; the mayor’s attempts to turn #FreddieGray into #OneBaltimore.
Anything that seeks a compromise between the so-called two Baltimores, which Light Up Lexington does, is the beginning of the end. This city relies on its white people and they (we) cannot be trusted to hold up their (our) end of the bargain, as years of colonization and racism and culture pilfering should prove. Soon, things will change. Jahiti and Ali and James Nasty and Lafayette Gilchrist won’t be the acts, safer ones will. And soon enough, it won’t be enough for more cuddly musicians to perform there, they’ll make the guy in the “FUCK THE WORLD” hat feel unwelcome and that’ll bring in more of the “right” kind of people: the kinds of whites that would never come to the market unless it is, inarguably, their market and their market alone.
This is how Baltimore operates because it is an apartheid city. Gov. Hogan killing the Red Line is an example of this too. The Red Line should be seen as another arm of the protest movement. It is a civil rights issue and it getting killed is illustrative of how white Baltimore wants things to stay the same, when following the Baltimore Uprising, nothing should stay the same. It doesn’t want those people to be more mobile. Meanwhile, our previous governor, Martin O’Malley, now running for president but really just gunning for some cabinet position, has made it a habit to morph issues of race into talking points he feels more comfortable addressing. When he announced his run back in May, O’Malley told the crowd that the uprising, which was about the murder of an unarmed black man in the custody of police, “transcends geography and race” because white heroin addicts in the burbs are dying too or something? And in that “I’m pissed” email from June—a sad, corny attempt at appearing to be “down”—O’Malley used the white terrorist murder of nine black people in a South Carolina church to talk gun control and didn’t even acknowledge the racial animus that fueled the tragedy.
There are always more white people from farther out of the city, in the county, or in the surrounding states to pander to, so that’s what the city stupidly invests in over and over even though it hasn't really worked. More people who are, on paper, better bargaining chips for businesses and investors, and so the market will become one more example of white people walking into something that isn’t entirely theirs, that isn’t exclusively white, and taking it over because white people aren’t interested in sharing space or compromising and never have been. The game is so rigged that even encouraging events like Light Up Lexington exacerbate these changes.
Black Baltimore only gets to keep the things that White Baltimore doesn’t want. It seems like White Baltimore wants the market.