BY SHANNON WILEY
As part of a free and open class by the Fulton Sustainability Committee of Salisbury University, author Antero Pietela spoke to the Salisbury community about the city of Baltimore, and the structural inequality that he believes has been built there.
Pietela is a former Baltimore Sun Reporter from Finland whose 2010 book “Not in my Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City” has become increasingly popular after the Baltimore Riots last spring.
The author was invited to SU to work with the Fulton Sustainability Committee’s “Interrogating Inequality” class, which is a free, one-credit class in which the lectures are open to the public.
“It’s looking at the intersection of sustainability and inequality today,” SU Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement Co-Director Sarah Surak said.
As a foreign journalist, several at SU have remarked about how Pietela’s take on U.S. race relations is unique.
“Mr. Pietela is especially interesting because he’s European… and he doesn’t have the sort of Americanized way of looking at race,” Surak said. “So she was able to look at it from a very different perspective then we sometimes are.”
“Antero brought a unique perspective to coverage there that even the best of us reporters had,” Environmental Studies Professor Tom Horton said, who previously worked with Pietela at The Baltimore Sun. “He really approached America, especially the subject of race in Baltimore, as a foreign correspondent.”
During the lecture, Pietela spoke about the history of Baltimore as far back as 1904 with “the great fire” and how since then, he sees that the city has structurally developed segregation and cultivated racism.
Since then, the municipal government launched “negro removal projects,” transforming historically black communities into office buildings so those businesses lost in the fire could rebuild. However, this left the black community completely displaced.
Several of these projects happened, leading to the creation of “ghettos,” living areas officially called “slums,” public housing and neighborhood covenants disallowing blacks, Jews, and other groups from being allowed to live in other areas.
“I think that what Mr. Pietela does quite well is focusing on structural inequality and structural racism,” Surak said. “And if we want to understand what happened in Baltimore, we need to understand how racism has been built into city planning, very specifically… This was not something that just happened in the post-Jim Crow era. This is something that was built into the fabric of Baltimore city planning and Baltimore neighborhood planning.”
Right now, Pietela said, the school system is the most important aspect of the city that needs attention right now, followed by the water system.
“Baltimore could be the next Flint,” he said. “We are running out of drinking water.”
Looking forward, though, and despite questions and comments from audience members asking for a silver lining or hope for the future, Pietela said that he does not see Baltimore getting much better any time soon.
“I’m sorry that I am, I don’t want to sound negative,” he said. “I’m realistic…We are an extremely poor and dysfunctional city.”
The next open lecture for the Interrogating Inequality class will be next Monday at 7 p.m. in the Teacher Education and Technology Center building room 153, discussing the film “Living on One Dollar.” The movie will be screened prior to the lecture at 5:45 in the same room.