The Honeymoon is Over

Layers of Baltimore 2

As quickly as it started the honeymoon ended just as suddenly. I was ready for the moment, but I was not prepared for the impact. I started an anti-racism course for People of Color at the Baltimore Racial Justice Action (BRJA) after work on Wednesdays. Though I have taken anti-racism training before, I thought it important to take this course to help me understand Baltimore better. From the news and being an outsider I heard that the racial tensions in Baltimore were prevalent. The first 29 days did not reveal such understandings as depicted by news media, but on the eve of the 30th day that layer was revealed.

I was returning home from class and as I stated in my early post the neighborhood where Liv and I stay in is gentrifying. After about 5 pm parking is a complete nightmare. So, after circling the blocks (literally multiple blocks were driven) I came back to the block just above the house to find an empty space. Praise the Lord!!! There was a man on a bike looking at his cell phone so I figured he moved to the side to be safe in the darkness. I pulled up preparing to master a smooth parallel park, rolled down the window and asked if he would kindly move. Now, my Chicago living taught me that people put random objects to save parking spaces during the winter so I am used to the behavior. Be mindful that it was closer to mid-July than the depths of winter in Baltimore, so I was not in the mindset to hear this man inform me that he was not being safe on his bike and just randomly on the phone, but saving the spot for his wife who is coming up the block. I uttered my thoughts of unfairness to him and sat there in my car to see how long it would take his wife to arrive. She arrived a few minutes later, but my disbelief and frustration at possibly taking a few more turns around the block had me stuck. I sat there until she parked. I sat there until they walked together across the street into their house. I sat for a few more seconds until I realized that I still needed to find a spot and get home. As I sat, there were emotions building up inside that I had not felt in a while. I felt alone. I felt extreme sadness and hurt. I felt lost and I started to feel angry. I moved up the street slowly and sure enough I found a potential spot at the other end of the same block. I looked around for the signs to tell me if it was legal or not. I backed in as far as possible to ensure that I wasn’t crossing too far over the line into the walkway. As I parked I prayed that this spot was safe. I sat as a few cars came to the intersection and turned. I moved the car a few more times to ensure I was close to the sidewalk and out of the way from the corner. Then I sat there for a while longer. I wanted to cry. I wanted to go back to Georgia. I wanted to walk into my parent’s house knowing my car was safe in the driveway. I wanted this feeling of being defeated and helpless to go away. I got out the car still looking for signs to ensure that I would not wake up to a ticket or a towed car.

So where was the tension? It was internal. The incident itself had nothing to do with race, but I realized that the feelings I had was my awareness of blackness that I had not had to face in this way in a long time. When I was just starting the workforce I had an older white man tell a client that I had no international experience (though I had traveled several times outside the continental states at that time). He deflated who I was based on assumptions rooted in racism. In this moment those feelings returned.  Feelings that there was no way for me to defend myself or insist that the man saving the parking spot was truly unfair. There was no way for me to be assertive and confident that if anything escalated between me and ‘my neighbor’ that I would be treated equally. I realized that I was a Black woman in Baltimore, where tensions between Police and Black citizens is not on the best terms. That evening my mind began to understand what my body and soul already knew. I was not some new resident from Georgia, to my neighbor and to those who I encounter I am a Black woman from Baltimore. My race and my gender precede any other information or knowledge one might gather in our interactions. I uncovered another layer of Baltimore--internalized oppression covered in white privilege.

Update: I had another almost similar incident that ended up in a $50 parking ticket because the spot was not legal. With only 15 days to pay before penalty I understand the reason many get jammed up with parking fines. I am fortunate to have a few surplus dollars to handle surprise expenses, but for many this is another layer in the battle.

-Melva, Hands and Feet Fellow