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When I first learned about what the Baltimore cops did to Freddie Gray, I wrote this post about how I was not only completely unsurprised that something like this happened in the city of my birth but I expected something like this to also happen in Glen Burnie, the town located just south of Baltimore where I lived from ages 5-19 (when I went away to the University of Maryland in College Park) then again for 10 months from the time I graduated from college at 22 until I got married and moved closer to Washington, DC at 23. I wrote a subsequent post reiterating why I thought Glen Burnie is such a toxic powder keg that could go off due mainly to the people who live there. I cited a bully in my middle school who not only made my life a living hell but she even managed to sign my yearbook where she essentially confessed to everything and I even provided the evidence in that last post.

Well recently this retired Baltimore police officer named Bobby Berger announced a fundraiser that would help pay for the legal defense of the cops who were indicted in connection with Freddie Gray’s murder. (And, yes, I and many others consider it to be murder.) Okay, one could argue that under the U.S. Constitution everyone should be entitled to legal representation in a court of law. Berger announced that he would perform Al Jolson songs. That’s not so bad on the surface since Jolson had released such memorable songs as “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.” But Bobby Berger wasn’t going to just appear on stage singing Al Jolson songs as a benefit fundraiser for the legal defense of a few cops accused of police brutality. Here is what the British newspaper The Guardian has to say about it.

A former Baltimore police officer has said he plans to perform an Al Jolson routine in blackface to raise money for the six Baltimore officers who have been indicted in the death of Freddie Gray.

Let me get this straight: This man, who’s white, had planned to perform in blackface as part of a fundraiser for the legal defense of six Baltimore police officers who were not only accused of murdering an African American man but he was targeted for his race in the first place. And guess where this fundraiser was going to take place: GLEN BURNIE!!! That’s right GLEN BURNIE!!! As The Guardian explained:

Bobby Berger, whose performances as Jolson created tension with the department in the 1980s, said on Wednesday that 610 tickets have been sold in eight days at $45 each for the 1 November fundraiser in Glen Burnie, Maryland.

Before everyone goes to Glen Burnie with their pitchforks and torches, the venue where the event was going to be held, Michael’s Eigth Avenue, had decided to cancel the event while stating on its website:

Bobby Berger will not host a fundraiser at Michael’s Eighth Avenue for the six Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. No contract was signed with Mr. Berger. Michael’s does not condone blackface performances of any kind. As an event venue, it has not been the practice of Michael’s Eighth Avenue to pre-approve entertainment that is planned as part of a contracted event. This policy will be carefully and thoughtfully reviewed. Michael’s regrets any concerns that the discussions of this event may have caused in the community.

One can hardly blame Michael’s Eighth Avenue for canceling that event. Had it gone through, that venue would’ve gained a racist reputation and it would’ve ended up as being a magnet for hate music bands and the Ku Klux Klan. It would’ve been ultimately toxic given the fact that the Baltimore-Washington, DC area has gotten more and more racially diverse over the last few decades and being known as a racist venue would’ve been the kiss of death for Michael’s Eighth Avenue.

And Bobby Berger’s protest that wearing blackface have no racial overtones rings hollow when one considers that Berger could easily sing Jolson’s songs onstage without blackface. In fact there are YouTube clips of Jolson singing without blackface that exist such as these.

It also figures that he attempted to hold it in Glen Burnie where there are plenty of like-minded people who probably would’ve attended had Michael’s Eighth Avenue not cancelled that event. When I was growing up I not only heard the notorious “n” word on a regular basis but also slurs against Poles, Japanese, Chinese, and Italians as well. Even if you were a white person of Northern European descent you could be targeted if you acted in a way that others perceived as being “not normal” and, at times, those standards seemed random and arbitrary to me. Hence, I had that “retarded” label that stuck with me from elementary school all the way through high school and it even affected how people from my old high school treated me during my freshman year at Anne Arundel Community College. It was only after I transferred to the University of Maryland when I finally began to learn what it was like to be fully accepted for myself and I no longer had to walk on eggshells because I feared other people bullying me. Nor did I had to face people talking down to me like I was nothing because they still perceived me as being inferior. At least I don’t have to worry about living in Glen Burnie again. With shit like that aborted Al Jolson blackface fundraiser for cops accused of police brutality against an African American man, I don’t even want to consider moving back there.


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