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Trump Comes for Baltimore, Baltimore Claps Back: raceAhead

July 29, 2019, 7:09 PM UTC

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump launched a now-familiar style of attack on Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings. Racist.

“Rep, Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous. His district is considered the Worst in the USA……” the president tweeted.

It continues: “Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” And, “If racist Elijah Cummings would focus more of his energy on helping the good people of his district, and Baltimore itself, perhaps progress could be made in fixing the mess that he has helped to create over many years of incompetent leadership.” And more today: “If the Democrats are going to defend the Radical Left “Squad” and King Elijah’s Baltimore Fail, it will be a long road to 2020.”

CNN anchor and Baltimore native, Victor Blackwell, broke down Trump’s attacks on-air on Saturday’s “CNN Newsroom” program. 

“Donald Trump has tweeted more than 43,000 times,” Blackwell said. “He’s insulted thousands of people, many different types of people. But when he tweets about infestation, it’s about black and brown people.” Pausing to collect himself, and with water in his eyes, he said, “You know who did [live there], Mr. President? I did. From the day I was brought home from the hospital to the day I left for college. And a lot of people I care about still do.”

It was a powerful reminder that “diversity” is personal in newsrooms and in public policy.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board also wasted little time responding to the president’s Twitter rant, part political analysis, part Maryland pride. It’s a clapback for the ages:

“[W]e would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are “good people” among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.”

There are many things at play here, mostly political. Cummings has earned the president’s ire by leading investigations into his administration as chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The tweets, and Baltimore’s grim crime statistics, have become partisan talking points. Turns out, Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law, owns more than a dozen Baltimore-area apartment complexes in low-income zip codes that have been cited for code violations. Baltimoreans and their supporters are defending their city and killing it in the hashtag game.

My best (and perhaps only) contribution might be a little context. It all starts with Jim Crow. 

To have a serious discussion about what’s happening in Baltimore, it’s smart to start with the apartheid-style residential segregation ordinances that the city’s mayor put into place from 1910 to 1913. I’m not being hyperbolic: I’m summing up a 1982 paper published by law professor Garrett Power in the Maryland Law Review. In it, Power explains how a generally progressive administration purposefully segregated a reasonably integrated city—“to promote the general welfare of the city by providing, so far as practicable, for the use of separate blocks by white and colored people for residences, churches and schools.”

That decision helped ensure low-income black residents were isolated in slum-like conditions with substandard services, which eventually became codified in every kind of public policy. It led to, among other things, decades of housing equity failures.

Fast forward to 1995. Thompson v. HUD was a groundbreaking fair housing lawsuit that claimed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968 by concentrating African-American residents of public housing in the most impoverished and underserved neighborhoods of Baltimore. The suit was triggered by a plan to demolish a dangerous high-rise public housing development, which should have ben an opportunity to introduce affordable housing across the city. Instead, rampant white NIMBYism made sure that replacement units would be relegated to segregated neighborhoods. The suit was filed on behalf of 14,000 African American families living in public housing.

It was 10 years of legal grinding before the team behind the lawsuit earned a victory lap: In January 2005, a federal district court judge found that HUD “failed to achieve significant desegregation” and accused them of treating Baltimore City as “an island reservation for use as a container for all of the poor of a contiguous region.”  

Not a long hop between 2005 and today, am I right?

The Thompson summary is an easy read and offers a helpful primer on how housing segregation created two separate and profoundly unequal Baltimores. And this analysis from the Poverty and Race Research Action Council helps put Thompson into a broader context of similar lawsuits around the country.  

I recommend reading both before you gear up to fight your political opponents. 

I’ll also leave the last policy word to Professor Power who warned 37 years ago that without real system change, Baltimore’s ugly past would persist.  The history “cautions us to discount the righteous rhetoric of reform; it reminds us of the racist propensities of democratic rule; and it sets the stage for understanding the development of a covert conspiracy to enforce housing segregation, the vestiges of which persist in Baltimore yet today.”

On Point

Puerto Rico’s governor-in-waiting says thanks but no thanks Puerto Rico Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez is next in line for the governor job, but the controversial figure and close ally of the recently ousted Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has turned down the job, most recently, via Twitter. "I reiterate, I have no interest in occupying the position of Governor," she said. "I hope that the Governor identifies and submits a candidate for the position of Secretary of State before August 2 and I have told him so." The secretary of state is the preferred candidate for the position. USA Today

Barack Obama endorses an op-ed critical of the Trump Administration The opinion piece was published Friday night in the Washington Post, with the title: “We are African Americans, we are patriots, and we refuse to sit idly by.” The piece was co-signed by 149 African Americans who worked in the Obama administration, and serves as a rallying cry. “Witnessing racism surge in our country, both during and after Obama’s service and ours, has been a shattering reality, to say the least,” they write. “But it has also provided jet-fuel for our activism, especially in moments such as these.” The former president rarely comments on politics. “I’ve always been proud of what this team accomplished during my administration. But more than what we did, I’m proud of how they’re continuing to fight for an America that’s better,” he said, tweeting a link to the post. It’s an impressive list of names, by the way. Washington Post

A content creator is under fire for a cartoon character that turns black when she ‘loses her beauty’ Dina and the Prince Story is a cartoon uploaded by My Pingu Tv, a YouTube channel that animates, and occasionally ruins, popular children’s fairy tales. Such is the case of Dina, who is an angel, whatever, and who has caught the eye of the prince but has been warned not to talk to him. When she does anyway, blah blah blah, a curse is fulfilled: The lovely young white angel is magically transformed into a human with dark brown skin and kinky dark hair. “Dina turns and we see she is not as beautiful; her glow is gone, and her face is scarred,” yadda yadda. I suppose it could have been worse if ugly Dina was wearing a Baltimore t-shirt, but not by much. “Fans” were not having it. Come for the story, stay for the comments. Shadow and Act

On Background

Blue Note Records turns 80 Fans of John Coltrane, Art Blakey, and Herbie Hancock already know and love the Blue Note story, a label born in the waning days of the Depression and responsible for finding and amplifying the bebop trailblazers. Co-owners Albert Lion and Francis Wolff even gave an 18-year-old Sonny Rollins an early shot. But they didn’t stop there. Everyone will enjoy this history from Giovanni Russonello, complete with short clips from some of the great artists. My Blue Note fandom began and ended with ‘Trane, so I was delighted to learn that they never stopped producing cutting-edge talent, from Bobby McFerrin in the ‘80s, James Hurt in the ‘90s, and Ambrose Akinmusire more recently. And Norah Jones! Who knew? New York Times

Today’s essay: On being, joy, and loitering Ross Gay is a writer, gardener, former college gridiron player, and an English professor at Indiana University Bloomington. But in this resplendent conversation with On Being host Krista Tippett, he’s also an expert in “adult joy.” Gay describes it as “[J]oy by which the labor that will make the life that I want, possible. It is not at all puzzling to me that joy is possible in the midst of difficulty.” Joy is always possible, a valuable framing for troubling times. The interview itself is a delight; Gay’s parents were a mixed-race couple in the wake of Loving vs. Virginia and he explains how his life experience has helped him understand joy. “I have really been thinking that joy is the moments—for me, the moments when my alienation from people—but not just people, from the whole thing—it goes away,” he says. Then he reads aloud his extraordinary essay, “Loitering.” Take a break, listen to the whole interview, and know joy. On being

How to cover immigration This resource, from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy is designed for journalists, but it works for anyone who wants to publish anything from a memo to public remarks on the subject of immigration. The number one issue with immigration reporting is a lack of context. Is the event you are highlighting a single event or part of a broader history? “It’s really tempting, I think, at this moment for journalists to say the Trump administration is doing x, y, z. I think it’s really important for journalists to ask the question, ‘When did this program start?’ Or, ‘When did this issue start?’” says PRI’s Angilee Shah. Click through for more, including a public Google document with over 89 immigration data sources. Journalist’s Resource

Tamara El-Waylly helps produce raceAhead.


“wow man last year i was sleeping on my sisters floor, had no money, struggling to get plays on my music, suffering from daily headaches, now i’m gay.”

Lil Nas X, via Twitter