A Response to Antero Pietila’s “Not in My Neighborhood”

Growing up in Baltimore, I guess the different racial and ethnic neighborhoods that made up Baltimore were always in the back of my mind. I had justified them by saying that people wanted to live near other people with similar backgrounds (in other words race and ethnicity). I for one hadn’t experienced any problems with the way Baltimore was broken up because I lived in Roland Park , a neighborhood on the fringe of the city (that used to have a racially restrictive covenant allowing only non-jewish whites). As I got older, I began to wonder why the roads or houses in certain neighborhoods were in such disrepair, and why you could cross one street and it would look like you were in a different country in terms of the litter strewn about, along with the disrepair. It was only recently that I found the answer to the question “why does Baltimore look the way it does” in Antero Pietila’s book Not in My Neighborhood. Beginning with the Civil War, Pietila discusses the Confederate sympathies in Baltimore and the rest of Maryland due to it being a slave state and bordering the South. He also brings up the fact that Baltimore was a unorthodox mix of free and enslaved African Americans. As Pietila works his way through time and around Baltimore’s neighborhood, the prejudice and racism used to shape Baltimore becomes evident.

After learning about how Baltimore was shaped, I cannot even believe how wrong I was in thinking that people just wanted to live next to similar people. Even though laws that segregated housing were found to be unconstitutional, banks, development companies, and Baltimoreans were able to find ways to keep their neighborhoods exclusive through a handful of different practices including redlining and restrictive covenants. Redlining was a practice that was supposed to predict how stable an area was for banks, thus determining when/ how often banks could give mortgages. The center of Baltimore was given the poorest color rating of red, meaning that hardly anyone in those areas could obtain mortgages. It was not a coincidence that those areas were made up of blacks and sometimes Jews. Baltimore’s real estate market was set up in a hierarchy of three racial/ ethnic tiers. The highest group was whites, followed by Jews, and then African Americans. Whenever a neighborhood was “corrupted” by a lower group, most of the residents tended to flee outwards away from the city. The prices of houses then usually skyrocketed for the less desirable races, and because they couldn’t receive mortgages they would become house poor, sometimes having to foreclose. This was a vicious cycle, and one that didn’t allow for economic or social mobility. Reflecting on my previous thinking about how Baltimore’s neighborhoods were created, I am ashamed at how wrong my thinking was. Hopefully, now that I understand to some extent the reasons why Baltimore looks the way it does, I can use it to empathize with fellow Baltimore citizens who have been placed at a drastic disadvantage due to where their race, ethnicity, and where they were born.

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