Ownership of the City
One issue that Toni Morrison tackles in “City Limits, Village Values” is the concept of ownership of a city. From the first page she begins to address whether African-American members of the city have had any real voice in the formation of the city, writing, “it brings up the question of how a dispossessed people, a disenfranchised people, a people without orthodox power, views the cities that it inhabits but does not have a claim to” (35). This lack of ownership is reflected in the opening epigraph of the essay, showing the marked difference between the viewpoints of the dominant group and powerless group. Morrison makes this divide all the more stark when she says suburbia is a part of “the constant effort to avoid unmanageable minglings with the lower classes” (37). That quote takes the absence of ownership to a new level, by attributing part of the disconnect to the lack of an overall community in a city.
Instead, Morrison theorizes, “the affection of Black writers (whenever displayed) for the city seems to be for the village within it: the neighborhoods and the population of those neighborhoods” (37). For Morrison, the value of the city is not in the celebration of differences, since those differences had stopped her community from exercising its rightful voice in the city. Instead, it is the sense of belonging in the smaller community and the history and identity that go along with that village. In this Year of the City, we are constantly reminded of the different smaller neighborhoods that make up Baltimore. Maybe these smaller neighborhoods are Baltimoreans’ attempts to feel a sense of ownership or belonging- or, as Morrison sadly said, to avoid mingling with other people that are dissimilar.