Approximately one and a half years ago a group of intellectuals, organizers, activists, and concerned citizens got together to think through next steps after the Baltimore Uprising. Some of us work in academia, some of us as organizers, some in the nonprofit sector, some of us work as advocates. Although many of us were supportive of the political activity leading up to the Uprising and were and remain concerned about the level of police violence and the role policing plays in cities like Baltimore, we also wanted to ensure that the political-economic violence that indirectly led to Freddie Gray’s death— didn’t go ignored. Further we were concerned that too many of the attempts to solve the problems connected to the Uprising have been simply more of the same. What started as several, loosely-connected group conversations turned into a single, evolving document, reflecting a desire to reframe what we saw: Solutions that, at best, aimed to slightly modify the status quo, as opposed to overturning it.
To this end we created this document, the Baltimore Black Paper. Its purpose is to support efforts to bring about a new \ vision of the city that is less tied up in standard ideas of development, which focus narrowly on entrepreneurialism and top-down creative solutions, and more tied up in ideas that increase the capacity of Baltimoreans to exert their fundamental right to the city, and all that such a right should convey. And we believe it can best fulfill this purpose not by acting as a blueprint for specific actions or approaches that we expect everyone to follow, but by giving any other interested organizers and activists on the ground a shared vision of the interrelatedness of political tendencies for any other interested organizers and activists on the ground to use, to orient or coordinate their individual projects. What’s happened to Freddie Gray, Tyrone West, and by extension Korryn Gaines, is deeply related to what’s going on with young people trying to gain access to education or jobs, or what’s going on in Port Covington, which is likewise deeply related to Baltimore’s relationship to its (segregated) arts community.
How it Might be Used
We also believe it can best fulfill this purpose by giving people parts of a framework, pieces that can be used in support of their own visions. For instance, as Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods we understand that some neighborhoods may have different needs than others and may look at a document like this as something to repurpose rather than something to take whole. Or, a group whose work focuses on a single issue or topic that is written about here might take a small portion of this and expand—or challenge, redevelop, or refine. Or some might break the information down into social-media-viral-ready infographics, or use as background research for multimedia work or advocacy. We also know that the topics and information covered here is hardly definitive; many voices are missing. We write in hopes that others will add theirs.
In other words: the paper is less a complete paper than it is a still-growing project, or network of projects—most of which we cannot yet imagine, and may not ever know; it is intended as just a part, or seed, of other things that grow from it.
Who is Involved
Policy papers like this often aim to sway a particular group or person, and, likewise, are often designed to be cited and seen, increasing the profile of those responsible for writing and promoting them. This paper was not designed with that in mind. To that end, although the names of individuals involved with the paper are not a secret, we do not list them here. We do, however, cite the sources we have used, many of which are by Baltimore intellectuals—organizers and scholars—who are some of the paper’s authors or have in other ways been part of its creation.
We know that meaningful intellectual work happens everywhere, not only in institutions. And yet, as with other sectors of public life, a kind of privatization—or so-called “public-private” partnership—dominates, so that even so-called “public intellectual” work is either irrelevant to the grassroots, or, in worst cases, doubles down on oppressive structures. Idea-seeding in multiple directions, true cross-pollination that challenges and strengthens all, can thus not happen. Nor can a shared, and truly transformative, political imagination. Not to mention shared community.
Unfortunately, especially for those of us affiliated with institutions, we are also choosing to background our names because we know that our labor here may be used as a form of social-capital extraction, i.e., “credit” that our institutions have not earned, and that perpetuates the very dynamic described in this document, and which we seek to shift. We recognize that this is also a risk: the black intellectual labor here may thus become yet another example of unacknowledged, even co-opted, black labor by white or other gatekeeping “innovators” or scholars.
We view this gesture, which aims to undercut the tendency to commodify oneself and one’s labor, or, to allow institutions to do so, as part of creating transformative community. We are aware that the ideas here, which aim to overturn a status quo, require transformative relationships. We think it’s powerful that many people came together, across different roles and neighborhoods and institutions, and this paper, as it is so far, represents many circles of conversation, as well as kinds of communities and institutions, linking together. Our aim is for these ideas to continue to grow and connect. We have constructed this first phase, the collecting and writing and editing of these ideas, to be useful to practices, projects, and people on the ground. We do not see ourselves as central to that, or as organizers of it. But, in the spirit of transformative community, many of us are open to further partnership, if people ask for it, including help with infographics, connecting groups with one another, etc.
While we appreciate that our white friends, comrades, and allies will be interested in this paper and the ideas within, to avoid reproducing the extraction and co-optation common in a city dominated by white non-profits, government and philanthropic-led initiatives, we urge those friends who align with the views in the BBP to find ways to shift resources to black-led and community-based organizations, rather than reinforcing the capacity of white-led nonprofits. If white allies and policy-makers find themselves asking, “but how?” we hope they will note that such a question is, first, a hallmark of white supremacy. And, second, that they will remind themselves that, in addition to the ideas gathered here, there are a vast array of suggested, specific policies and practices, which we hope they will choose to act on.
Last, in view of the risks taken in support of this transformative gesture, we provide an appendix at the end of black-led policy and/or advocacy groups in which we suggest readers or collaborators invest, particularly those with access to intellectual, decisionmaking, or financial capital.
What Values We Want BBP Work to Express
As stated above, we do not envision this work as being part of any fixed organization, or any set, prescribed approach. You have the right to use and share this paper as you see fit, with only one caveat, that whatever project you use this paper on behalf of also express support for the heart of this effort: the proposition that people who live in Baltimore have more of a right to dictate what happens within it than people who own Baltimore.