Roland Park: Don't take down supportive signs, put more up

The Roland Park Civic League should be commended for its swift reversal of an ill-considered request to residents — many of whom found it offensive — that they remove a handful of yard signs proclaiming support for immigrants and the Black Lives Matter movement because “sign clutter can be a nuisance to your neighbors.”

But the fact that members issued it in the first place — along with the league’s failure to, as its president said, “anticipate that doing so could be interpreted as opposition to the content of many of these signs” — is worth exploration.

Let’s call it a teachable moment for a neighborhood that’s one of Baltimore City’s wealthiest — and whitest.

It’s safe to say that the ideology of many folks in the greater Roland Park area leans left, hence the signs, which feature positive messages in this post-Freddie Gray/President Trump era, including “hate has no home here” and “all are welcome here.”

And residents there have every reason to be “woke,” as the kids say, regarding the particular pressures put on marginalized communities, given that they live in a city that’s 63 percent black and are well educated: More than 80 percent of the adults there have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

But just how woke they actually are is debatable. The claim to “fully support the sentiments expressed by these signs” by one resident, while asking for them to come down, is instructive. It suggests she only “supports the sentiment” when she can’t see it — and there’s already too much that section of the city doesn’t see.

Less than 7 percent of their neighbors are black, and fewer than 3 percent are Hispanic or Latino, according to the city health department, which counts greater Roland Park and Poplar Hill as one neighborhood for health profile purposes. Their poverty rate is less than 5 percent, compared to the city’s 29 percent; the unemployment rate is 2.3 percent, compared to 13.1 percent; and their median household income is $104,482, compared to $41,819. They have fewer liquor stores, more green space and a rat population that’s at least 17 times smaller than the city’s overall, according to complaints made to 311. Shootings are rare in their area, along with homicides, vacant buildings and lead-paint violations. Almost all of their children are reading well by the third grade, and they’re expected to live an average of 10.3 years longer than the average Baltimore resident (83.9 years, compared to 73.6).

In short, they’re the definition of privileged.

And with that comes a greater responsibility to both see the world for what it is and stand up for the rights of others, whose voices are often shut out. Because silence on issues of equity and equality from those in power perpetuates the status quo, which fills our prison beds with black bodies, teaches boys they’re better than girls, deems all Muslims suspicious and generally sows division among people.

The Roland Park Civic League should know this; it was established in 1895 by the company that developed the neighborhood – and successfully sought to keep black people out through racially restrictive covenants. Those covenants, initially outlined in an 1893 letter unearthed a few years ago by a Johns Hopkins historian, furthered segregation throughout the city for decades. League members should therefore be especially sensitive to how a request to remove these particular signs because they were “starting to look messy” may be received.

So instead of asking others to take down their signs to achieve a uniform look, I have a suggestion: How about knocking on your neighbor’s door and asking where they got their sign.

Then get one of your own.

Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is tricia.bishop@baltsun.com; Twitter: @triciabishop.

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