So I was at Beltane high rite and it was a cookout. When I went over to the condiment table just to get a hot dog bun for the second time because the first time, someone yinked a hot dog right from under my nose when I was away fetching a bun and this time, I was gonna make haste. Three folks were talking, two ladies, one dude, all White (like the majority of the people here with exception to five people), and one talked about how she’s from Detroit and watched The Wire before she started teaching in Baltimore public schools and how much information that gave her. Since the other two people she was talking to was White, they marveled at how that was so smart and that it was such an interesting show because of the grittiness of it and other crap that White folks who are not from the background of the average character of the Wire say.
I immediately turn around and ask, “Hey, what part of Baltimore are you from?” The lady remarked, “I’m not from here.” Yep, exactly. The other woman, asked me am I from Baltimore and I said that I was originally from Sandtown, Mount and Baker to be exact. And, of course, they asked how I felt about the show and I immediately said, “It’s like watching Harry Potter to understand London, it’s a stupid show.” They, of course had twisted faces because they could tell I, the person who has more authority to talk about the condition of the hometown and area I lived in, wasn’t too pleased. I explained to them that it’s just a show, like any other show, not a training video for White folks who are about to visit Baltimore and how annoying it was that those people would constantly refer to the show when visiting my city, even if it is just the Inner Harbor.
I explained that locals don’t like the show as much as people who are not Baltimore because it’s one sided. I mean, a cop and a journalist made the show. To native Baltimoreans, that means two professional spin doctors made this. It doesn’t matter that one of the creators of the show taught at my high school when I was there, it matters that journalists and cops aren’t high on the People of Trust bar here in this city because of their proclivity to make stuff up enable to suit their own means. Plus it’s poverty porn, the modern day Arabian Nights where here you have these people who don’t look like you, act like you or live like you in this far oft distant place called The Hood. It’s a ball of complex problems turned into primetime cable entertainment for people who are not from here to treat it like a freakin training video. It’s a fictional show.
They asked if I attended Baltimore public schools. Yep, all my life. We have dealt with teachers who came from White, middle-class (or higher) backgrounds. We usually set bets to see how fast we can make them cry, leave, whatever because we knew they weren’t here for us, they were here on some White Saviorism nonsense a la Dangerous Minds. They’re here to pump themselves and their resumes up, to treat being in the inner city like it’s a tour of Iraq to their friends on Facebook. Dude, even if Baltimore has been rightfully compared to a war zone, it’s not exactly cool to treat yourself like the American soldiers who invaded the area because you’re not saving anyone when you instinctively look down on them. Those teachers were here because they thought that the kids needed saving. Not saying we don’t but pint-sized imperialism isn’t the solution. Baltimore is a 64% Black city, if you don’t even know 25% of Black history or culture, then you’re 100% incapable of doing the job effectively. Regularly telling kids about people who don’t look like them and probably would be too scared to meet said kids because all that person knows is whatever The Wire told them helps no one. Of course, the trio I was talking to wasn’t too happy but hey, I don’t care. You brought up my hometown and upbringing like it was sport scores, deal with it. They could have easily talked about how nifty the lights looked.
The other lady (the one who wasn’t the teacher) continued asking if were there any teachers from the White middle class background that I could remember but I think I couldn’t really come up with any. Maybe three, one Black teacher getting tucked in because he wasn’t from Baltimore but from North Carolina and thus an outsider but he taught really well. The other two were decent because they treated us like human beings and not personal goals of White saviorism. They understood that, hey we’re kids and yeah, a lot of us came from really messed up backgrounds thanks to the city and its history of not caring via drug abuse, broken families, corrupt politics, things like that, but still spoke to us and our very real problems like we’re people. The problems that plague the city and its students aren’t easy to solve, especially since the adults do a horrible job of solving them each and every time out of political selfishness, but at least the teachers tried to understand the culture and background the same way one would if they made a friend from a different area than them. I mean, if you made a friend from France, you’re not going to watch Amelie and then come back saying, “I totes know you, now. Totes,” because while it is a French movie that is immersed in French culture and is from France and is very Frenchy, it’s not all of France nor even the area they may be from. It’s a fictional movie. A well-made fictional movie but still a work of fiction nonetheless. Same with these kids, they’re not extras from The Wire. Hell, some – if not most – have not seen The Wire and therefore not know that these yuppies are staring at them through the frames of an HBO show. They just wanna go to school, deal with a super incompetent school system that has a very evident pipeline from the school house to the jailhouse mainly for the minority kids, go home to their ripped up neighborhoods, engage in media that doesn’t depict them or simply depict them in an unfriendly light, wash, rinse and repeat.
Another way I tried explaining the ridiculousness is using the movie Hairspray. Also made in Baltimore by a Baltimorean director, John Waters, it’s one of his most well-known works besides Pink Flamingos and A Dirty Shame. I have never seen a beehive ever in my life. A beehive where bees actually live, yep but not the hairstyle. The lady who was asking me the all questions (because the teacher one was uncomfortable talking to someone who was a result of the school system she currently teaches in) quipped, “They do that in Hampden.” I wanted to retort, “Not everyday, only when Honfest is around and notice the festival has the reputation of being racist,” but said, “That’s Pigtown, though. We’re different in different areas of Baltimore. That’s one neighborhood and sometimes we don’t always get along. Like, when I bring my friend from the Bronx and the other who is from Brooklyn together, they don’t always get along, especially when discussions of New York come up.”
This is where the teacher finally decided to interject, “I teach in Sandtown.” I think I remember saying, “Ohhhh,” in a super dismissive manner. I still have grudges about yuppies messing with my old area because it doesn’t come from a place of “I want to make this spot better” because trust, it needs improvement badly but not from people who probably plan to gentrify it and only is helping the area because of whatever kickback they’re getting, be it in the form of tax money, resume bolstering, feeling like a White Savior, whatever. The teacher shrinked back, this is probably the first time someone was not showering praise on her work due to being from the area.
It wasn’t long before all three people felt so uncomfortable about interacting with someone who was from the areas The Wire depicted and how that person had actual opinions that weren’t pleasant, the teacher one just shouted, “FACEBOOOOOOOOOK! How about Facebook?” and the other two (the guy did not talk much at all) just responded, “Faceboooooooook. Facebook.” I have successfully bothered these people on a subject they had no business discussing like it was no big deal and now they wanted to actively ignore me, like they attempted to repeatedly for the rest of the night. This means that I get my hot dog bun and left in hopes to harass whoever is thieving the hot dogs before I get there. I only got in two or three hot dogs that night. And I had to witness a “twerk” line. Thanks for stealing parts of my culture and waving a butchered version of it in front of me but don’t want to talk about the more problematic aspects of the whole ordeal.
See, I don’t really like yuppies for reasons like this. It’s one thing to go, “It’s just a tv show, let’s talk about the merits of the show from the perspective of filmography and drama.” It’s another to treat the show like it is a training video for how to interact with a group of disenfranchised people. It’s disrespectful, especially when you’re shrinking like a violet when someone from that background is around and saying, “This show is awful because of reason A, B and C. People use the show as a guidebook of how to treat me and people like me and it’s always degrading and dehumanizing.” Want to watch a show like The Wire but don’t want to talk about systemized racism and prejudice? Then you should just stick with My Little Pony. I don’t watch The Wire because what’s the point? I remember my neighborhood when I was growing up and still don’t live far from it, I don’t need to spend money to see a dramatized version of it. Dude, it’s the reason I have C-PTSD and a therapist, I’m good.
Granted, The Wire is just another of a long string of slice-of-life/cop shows from Baltimore such as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Corner. Actually, The Corner in its book form was a personal favorite because regardless who was holding a copy, I’d always yank it away and flip to the map at the front of the book and get excited, saying, “This a map of where I lived! There’s my house, that’s my grandma’s house, there’s where I went to elementary school….” and if the person was a yuppie, they usually had a horrified look because oh hey, one of them got out. I just was excited because it was a detailed map of my old neighborhood in a mass produced book. It was the same excitement anyone gets when they see a glimpse of their city or usual stomping grounds in a movie. And of course, that yuppie never want to discuss the themes or ideas of the book, even if they were itching to prior. Apparently, talking to someone who actually is from that background is “intimidating”. Talking to others who are not from that background just like them is “interesting”. Riiiiiiiiiiight. And I personally liked the show Roc, a tv show that was based in Baltimore and showed it through the casting and the setting. At least I could sit through an episode without being triggered and it was actually enjoyable for people who are actually from here.
And folks wonder why I only go to Pagan events during high rites and never any other time and even then I have to think about it. I just wanted a hot dog.
Since it is coming up, Black Witch Anniversary Ustream cast is going to be June 9th at 7 PM EST. Be there! I will be taking questions from the live stream itself and via Twitter (@thisblackwitch).