Taking Exception Was Kajiyama Right about Blacks?

Garland L. Thompson

November 01, 1990|By Garland L. Thompson

THE LETTER came from overseas, but could have come from anywhere. It was long, but here are a few excerpts:

Dear Mr. Thompson, re: ''The Insensitive Japanese.'' You may consider the words uttered by Japan's Justice Minister Serioku Kajiyama as racist diatribe. He in fact spoke the truth. I was born and raised in Baltimore and until the late '50s the word ''ghetto'' wasn't in our daily vernacular.

Our city was a beautiful place, i.e., the white marble steps of Wilkens Ave., the proud people of Hollins Market and surrounding West Balto. areas, Gilmore and Pratt streets. White people built and maintained a heritage and it was passed from one generation to another.

Now look around at the degenerate unkempt neighborhoods after blacks moved into same. What further proof do you need? . . . Mr. Kajiyama was absolutely correct and was later to apologize due to uproars from the Congressional Black Caucus and others, but the truth remains as I've stated it.

I now live in a beautiful little place in County Antrim, Ireland (Northern), where homes and properties are still maintained with pride of ownership. The people in general here may not have per capita income that equals the blacks of America, but their homes don't reflect it. . . . Now what feeble excuses can you conjure for a reply if you dare?

-- Robert L. Kemp

We'll start with the facts, Mr. Kemp. No feeble excuses or conjures are necessary.

1. Baltimore's black community predates the 1950s. It was the country's largest group of free blacks before the Civil War, and remained the biggest urban black population until surpassed by Philadelphia in 1900. Those blacks, many of whose families are still here, scrubbed their steps and maintained traditions like those you remember so fondly.

2. Poor people of all colors live in Baltimore now, and all the poor neighborhoods look the same -- run down. Generations of use eventually wear out the houses and wear down the streets, utilities and parks. City governments no longer have an expanding tax base to support the neighborhood beautification you'd like, and people thrown off the economy by the closing of so many factories have little money to do it themselves. It's interesting that you'd focus on only the poor black neighborhoods but ignore Ashburton, Pimlico, Mount Washington or other city areas where blacks' homes will rival anybody's.

3. It wasn't that long ago, Mr. Kemp, when the things said about blacks were being said about the Irish. They weren't true then, and they aren't true now. Irish immigrants rioted during the last century over the same kinds of exclusions and prejudice that sparked black riots in the Sixties -- and received the same kinds of responses.

Lest we forget, America's diocesan schools were mainly founded by Irish people tired of the foolish claims of educators that Irish children were uncivilized and couldn't learn. In college, I read the old newspaper classifieds -- ''no Irish need apply'' -- and the damaging 1899 book by a New York policeman on the city's ''99 Most Dangerous Criminals.'' Every one was Irish, but most were just petty thieves.

I grew up with ''Shanty Irish'' boys who were smarting over the ugly image of the drunken Irish brawler still current in society. I marveled at the tenacity of the Irish in fighting off such prejudice, and I'm more than a little surprised you have forgotten what it was like. I'll continue my respect and admiration for the Irish and continue my fight against racist insults from Japan. Unlike you, I don't think the worst failings of some individuals stand for their entire communities. Sorry you don't share that approach.

And here's another one, from Douglas B. Hermann of Baltimore:

Twenty-six years of affirmative action have left the cities of America lawless ghettoes for black animals to rape & mug & steal & murder & destroy. All the while, blacks of good character have defended these filth & white liberals have looked away, keeping their prissier-than-thou politics intact. Any white who speaks up is called a racist. . . . I was born in 1949. My descendants [I think he means ancestors] came here in 1883. I'm sorry that yours were brought here against your will in the 1600s. But I didn't do it, nor did my descendants, nor did MOST white Americans' descendants. I'm sorry, truly! But I don't owe you. . . .

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