Tuesday, December 7, 2021


From the Brave Voices, Brave Choices initiative at the Howard County Library, this observation from a Howard County resident:

I was recently dismayed at a meeting with members of my community opposed to a new apartment complex in our neighborhood. People testified against it by saying 'you know how apartment people are.' I interpreted this as a racist comment and opposed to my strong views of why Columbia was developed and why we chose it as a place to live and raise our children.

In some ways I feel that this should be shared without comment, but…then it wouldn’t be a blog post.

I could outline in an indignant tone all the times in my life that I have lived in apartments and how “apartment people” are okay. But there’s nothing about this opposition to apartments that has to do with me. I could walk down the streets of this particular neighborhood and never be noticed. Everyone would assume I belonged.

I am white. 

Even when I was barely scraping by waiting tables, or a divorced mom working two jobs, my whiteness protected me. No one has ever locked their car or clutched their purse reflexively when they saw me walking down the sidewalk. No one ever worried that my daughter might attend the local school.

The unspoken argument is clear: nice people can afford houses. Apartments are for poor people. Poor people are Black and Brown. And Black and Brown people bring crime and drugs to your neighborhood, ruin your schools, destroy your property values. 

You know how apartment people are.

Do I think that people who turn out to oppose new apartments consciously go through this mental process? Some, yes. But for many it is so deeply engrained that their response is as reflexive as clutching a purse or locking their car doors. They mistake that response for civic responsibility.

It isn’t.

It is in these quite ordinary moments that we see racism’s ugly face: so many ordinary moments in which opportunities for others are curtailed or denied outright. A nice place to live in a good neighborhood. A job which pays a decent wage. A school that provides the foundation for a better life.

I have stopped believing that there’s anything innately special about Columbia/HoCo in the anti-racism department. It’s only special if we make it so. It’s not something that can be inherited; you have to work it.  It’s unproductive to ask, “ How can this happen here?” 

There it is. It’s happening. Either we challenge it or we don’t. Every day we have choices in all those ordinary moments. Some people chose to open their minds and to do better. Some people clutch their pocketbooks.

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