Thursday, November 09, 2006

Physical and Social Barriers in Baltimore

As a Loyola College student, I still find myself at a loss when I try to determine my “place” in the city. How do I fit in? Who am I as a resident of Baltimore? In Laura Lippman's Butcher's Hill, Tess and Kitty made it a little clearer when they spoke of the different kinds of Baltimores. Tess asks her aunt, “do you ever feel like there are two Baltimores out there (Lippman 110)?” Kitty understood and responded, “More like three or four, maybe five. But it’s always been that way… Rich Baltimore, poor Baltimore. Black and white Baltimore. Old Baltimore,… and immigrant Baltimore (110).” I feel that since there are so many different subcategories of Baltimore, I have a harder time identifying and considering myself as someone who lives in the city.

The problem with this theory is that nearly all cities, New York City for example, have different subcategories. I feel if I lived in New York City, I would automatically feel like a New Yorker, and I feel that this is a result of their strong sense of overall community. Sure, New York City is extremely diverse with all kinds of different neighborhoods, but when it really comes down to it, each individual citizen feels like a New Yorker, and that is where I feel Baltimore fails. These subdivisions of differentiating characteristics in the larger category of Baltimore are set up too strictly with barriers, both physical and cultural. Lippman explains, “She [Jackie] had succeeded so quickly where Tess had failed. That’s why Tess had recruited her, yet it still needled, this sense of barriers, of places she could not go, people to whom she could never really speak (Lippman 86).” Not that there is a problem with a diverse city, it is just when high walls are built between different cultures. Tess is not being snobbish and petty; she is faced with the generations of physical and social barriers constructed by cultures in Baltimore.

Over time, these barriers have created physically apparent communities in Baltimore, and it is often difficult to travel from one to the next. “Tess knew, much in the same way she knew certain facts about Bosnia, Singapore, and the Gaza strip. Parts of Baltimore were foreign countries to her, places she couldn’t reach even with a passport. That was just the way it was, the way it had been, the way it was always going to be (Lippman 16-17).” It was strange to see Tess, as a native Baltimorean, comparing such neighborhoods to such foreign places; but there is truth in her assessment. I do not think I could even locate such places as Bosnia and Singapore on a map without struggle. In the social barrier created by generations of Loyola administration and students, such places seem so far away, but they are in fact closer than we would like to believe. With the Year of the City, maybe we will start tearing down the wall; the wall that has been cutting off our arteries and separating our own community from the other communities of Baltimore.