Questions for a Baltimore Journalist

For Ron Cassie on the occasion of your interview by WYPR’s Tom Hall about “If You Love Baltimore, It will Love You Back: 171 Short, But True Stories”

Another Way of Seeing the Same Thing

Sean Yoes wrote: “I am a journalist and a student of history; for me, the two are interdependent when telling the story of Baltimore.” (Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities)

Q: How do you balance the weight of that history in chronicling Baltimore’s present?

Nina Simone sang: “Oh, Baltimore, ain’t it hard just to live?” (“Baltimore” by Randy Newman)

Q: In this marvelous, but too often tragic “hard town by the sea”, how do you portray reality unflinchingly while navigating outsiders’ tropes and from heres’ frame of reference for what’s normal without succumbing to sugar coated boosterism or perpetual, complacent hopelessness?

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote: “The meek were battered in West Baltimore, stomped out at Walbrook Junction, bashed up on Park Heights, and raped in the showers of the city jail. My understanding of the universe was physical, and its moral arc bent toward chaos then concluded in a box.” (Between the World and Me)

Q: As a white journalist, editor, and author in a majority Black city, how do you attempt to view these geographies of violence perpetrated by white supremacy and anti-blackness against the Black body while limiting the harm inflicted by the white gaze itself?

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “Baltimore is warm but pleasant… I belong here, where everything is civilized and gay and rotted and polite.” (letter)

Q: But John Waters wrote: “I would never want to live anywhere but Baltimore. You can look far and wide, but you’ll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style. It’s as if every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay.” (Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste) [Answer as a northerner who ran out of gas approaching from an altogether different direction.]

H.L. Mencken wrote: “The government consists of a gang of men [and now of women, too] exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government, they have only talent for getting and holding office.”

Q: Acknowledging this is equally, if not more true for white politicians in Baltimore as for Black elected officials, how do you cover the gross failure of our misleadership class without falling into racist discourse and ways of thinking?

April Ryan wrote: “It always makes me think of the great Harriet Tubman who said when she was praised for going into the dark of night in the South and helping to liberate hundreds and hundreds of slaves, ‘I could have liberated many more if only they knew they were slaves.’ We must always remember it is about consciousness.” (Under Fire: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Trump White House)

Q: Do you advocate, or raise consciousness, or something else with your writing about Baltimore?

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