Monday, May 19, 2008

Preakness: A Highlight of Economic and Racial Inequality

I went to Preakness in Baltimore this weekend with my wife and her cousin, but we didn't go to enjoy the festivities. We went to join the PETA protest against the inhumane practices allowed within the sport of horse racing. While this is a noble cause, the real story during Preakness was on display on the streets of Baltimore. Horse racing, a traditionally white, upper class activity (dubbed "The Sport of Kings"), attracted a cadre of white, upper class people to one of the poorest, African-American areas of Baltimore.

The whole experience was quite surreal. African-American people of all ages and genders were on the streets offering to shuttle the belongings of white people to and fro the arena. I even witnessed one white kid having paid to have himself carted into the arena. The African-American residents of the neighborhood were offering their lawns, streets, and driveways for people to park their cars. African-American residents were out in their front yards cooking food for the mostly white attendees of Preakness.

Even as I walked down the street to raise awareness about the realities of horse racing, African-Americans had already assumed I was there to take part in the drinking and partying of Preakness. And why wouldn't they? On any other day, there's unlikely to be that many white people in that area of Baltimore.

The image was glaring -- poor, unprivileged African-Americans were catering to the needs of affluent, privileged whites to watch a sport that has its roots in Nobility.

Baltimore is largely African-American, has the highest proportion of impoverished residents and the lowest median household income of any other area in Maryland. Baltimore City also has the highest proportion of residents without any health insurance in Maryland.

I found it striking that such an event as Preakness would happen in Baltimore, and how the socio-economic climate created through this clash of cultures, economically and racially segregated, would be so ignored.

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