Nextdoor Roland Park tells you what residents really think about black kids in the neighborhood | COMMENTARY
By Tracy Gold
For The Baltimore Sun|
Jan 28, 2020 | 12:13 PM
I was not there when an altercation with Roland Park Middle School boys outside Eddie’s grocery store and Starbucks on Roland Avenue led to a middle-aged white woman calling said boys the N-word. I was around, however — on my phone — when a letter about the incident from Amanda Brown, the Principal of Roland Park Elementary Middle School, was posted on Roland Park’s Nextdoor site.
I live a few blocks away from Eddie’s, and I’m active on Roland Park’s social media community on Nextdoor. Most posts ask for plumber recommendations or offer free furniture. Yet when a post about bike lanes, racism or political signs surfaces, so does hatred and vitriol. In response to Principal Brown’s letter, many neighbors on Nextdoor responded with horror and disgust — directed at both the woman who said the racial slur and the students.
Residents of Roland Park and surrounding neighborhoods compared the students to thugs, and complained that students did not have adult supervision after school. While no one said the students deserved to be called the N-word, I sensed that sentiment in the flood of comments. Other neighbors pointed out that no amount of bad behavior merited the use of a racial slur, yet commenters kept criticizing the students, until the post was closed to comments by a Nextdoor moderator. I wasn’t surprised by the incident outside Eddie’s, or the reaction on Nextdoor. Behind Roland Park’s lush azaleas is a history of racism, antisemitism and exclusion that lingers today.
My house has two staircases, one cramped and hidden behind a doorway. My unfinished basement has a toilet — with no sink — that might have been taken straight out of Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.” Black people were originally not allowed to live in Roland Park, unless they were live-in servants. These servants were shamed and hidden by their homes’ very architecture. While I am white, if I had tried to buy my house in Roland Park earlier in its history, my paperwork might have been stamped with “exclusion file” because I am half Jewish.
Most neighbors I’ve met in Roland Park are kind and inclusive, but for the last few months, I’ve been reminded that Roland Park includes bigots and hatred every time I walk to Eddie’s. “Trump 2020” stickers and graffiti vandalize almost every public sign I pass on Roland Avenue. I stop and take down every sticker I can reach. A few days later, they come back. I am a sexual assault survivor and view Mr. Trump, who bragged he could “grab” women by their private parts, with impunity, as a symbol of hate, bigotry and exclusion. Let’s remember that he called Baltimore a “rat and rodent infested mess.”
What if some of the students who congregate outside Eddie’s are sexual assault survivors, and think of the president’s words every time they see a Trump sticker? Others surely think about his comments about immigrants or people with disabilities. When I posted about these stickers on Nextdoor, asking the perpetrator to stop spreading hate where the neighborhood’s children gather, my post was quickly deleted by a moderator. Guessing that not everyone appreciated my connection of Mr. Trump with hatred, I posted again, removing the line about hatred and instead focusing on vandalism. In response to my post, many neighbors commented that they, too, took down the stickers. Others told me to get a life, personally attacked me and squabbled about immigration — until comments on that post, too, were closed by a moderator.
Of course, Trump 2020 stickers still pop up on street signs. I’m sure they were in view when a white woman chose to use the N-word to describe children. I’m still taking down those Trump 2020 stickers, and talking with neighbors about ways to build a better, more inclusive neighborhood. I’m glad bystanders reported this racial slur to Roland Park Elementary Middle School staff. Speaking up when you see something wrong can be scary, whether it’s a call to the police or a school administrator, or a post on Nextdoor. It’s not fun to be called “unAmerican” for complaining about graffiti, and I’m sure the reaction to this article won’t be fun, either.
However, maybe each phone call, each article, each comment explaining that no behavior merits a racial slur is one small step toward convincing our neighbors in Roland Park — and all of Baltimore — to fight racism, hatred and exclusion, whether it happens outside Starbucks or in the White House.