The racially restrictive covenants that maintained segregation for decades in North Baltimore may be gone, but their message persists in some ways in the affluent, mostly white communities there: It’s still true that not everyone is welcomed by everyone.
We saw it in the “racially charged” Halloween costumes worn by some private school students from Gilman, Boys’ Latin and Roland Park Country School in 2017. And then again that same year in the Roland Park Civic League’s request, later retracted, that a handful of residents remove yard signs supporting immigrants and the Black Lives Matter movement because such “clutter can be a nuisance.” It’s inferred from the way some white folks cut in front of some black patrons at Johnny’s restaurant and implied in the warnings posted on neighborhood social media sites about African American men daring to knock on doors.
This month, the message was overt. And it was directed toward children.
During an after school incident two weeks ago that was described to The Sun by parents and in social media posts, some Roland Park Middle school boys were acting like middle school boys can at their worst, yelling (and, some said, swearing) at a middle-aged woman, who’d yelled at them (and supposedly called them “stupid”) for messing around while crossing the street.
She was white; some of them were black. It got heated; others on the sidewalk took sides.
This all occurred on Roland Avenue around 5 p.m. on a weeknight, a couple of blocks from the boys’ school, in between a Starbucks and Eddie’s grocery store. The area is a popular hangout spot for Roland Park middle schoolers, as well as students from the area’s cluster of private schools; and residents come and go on their way to pick up students or shop.
Meanwhile, another middle-aged white woman, walking two dogs, came along and inserted herself into the mix. And what words did she have for the children?
Only one that mattered to onlookers: the N-word.
Think about that: An adult was apparently perfectly comfortable lobbing a racial slur into an argument with middle schoolers in front of other adults in the community.
With that one word, she brought shame on herself and the whole area by extension. And she taught the students of Roland Park a devastating lesson on the cusp of Black History Month: You, or your friends, might not be safe here in the community your school is a part of.
A parent watching this unfold from her car texted a teacher, who asked that parent to intervene. School administrators came outside, and eventually the police arrived. The first woman had called them, explaining to the intervening parent that she felt threatened, that she was scared to walk to her car.
Perhaps that’s true, or she felt it was.
But irrational fear of black children in white neighborhoods is also real. They’ve been profiled, harassed and killed for simply existing where they’re not wanted. (The Greater Roland Park area is 83% white, 7% black. Roland Park Elementary Middle School is 42% white and 38% black.)
Police handled the situation well, the parent said, and never had to involve the children. The slur-user had left by the time they arrived.
“We are disappointed our students were treated in such a manner, and it is never appropriate to degrade any student with hateful language in any setting,” School Principal Amanda Brown wrote in an email to parents last week, alerting them to the incident. “I am reaching out to neighboring businesses and community leaders to discuss these events and how we can work together to support our kids and have a nurturing community moving forward.”
She urged parents to support the kids — all the kids — and respectfully engage with them. And we know there are many, many area families who do, lovingly. And we hope more will join them in getting to know the young people they see regularly.
We also know there are some folks annoyed by the students swarming the library and coffee shop, who grumble about the foolishness of youth, and it has nothing to do with race. No one’s trying to excuse the bad behavior of the boys. But that’s not the issue.
Adult racism is the issue. The N-word is the issue. The comfort of children in one of Baltimore’s most affluent communities is the issue.
This ugly incident may boil down to one individual, but it’s a stain on everyone. And it will take a commitment from everyone to clean it up. The community owes the children who live there, and those who come into it for an education, freedom from fear and hatred.