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Strange Fruit: Baltimore Rising, Black Jockeys in the Derby, and Unlearning Childhood Racism

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On Friday, state’s attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn J. Mosby, announced that six officers would be charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Mosby made the announcement soon after the medical examiner's report classified Gray's death as a homicide.

This week, Baltimore hip hop artist Born Divine brings us a local perspective on this week's protesting in the city, and a sense of how people are feeling in the middle of it. He says over-aggressive policing is a long-time issue there, and that only full-scale reform will solve it.

"We're looking for justice from a system that was never created with us in mind to begin with," he says. "When the foundation is cracked on a house, what happens to the house? It falls apart. And until you fix that crack in the foundation, it's not going to get any better. It going to get worse."

He says poverty and joblessness are to blame for some of the violence in Baltimore this week, and that despite some media reports, the vast majority of protesters have peaceful aims. "We're just trying to get justice," Divine says. "We don't want to tear the city down. We don't want a war with nobody. We don't want to beef with the officers. We just want justice."

This week, we also spoke with author Jim Grimsley about his memoir, "How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Lessons of a Racist Childhood."

Grimsley grew up in a small town in North Carolina, and was in sixth grade in 1966, the year federally-mandated integration of the schools went into effect.

"I didn't really understand anything about the prejudice built into me until in the sixth grade, when three black girls came to my all white classroom," he says. He reacted by calling one of the girls a name, not expecting her to respond. She called him the same name back. Then she looked at me and said, 'You didn't think I'd say that, did you?'"

His book recounts how those personal interactions challenged, and eventually overcame, the racist ideas he'd been raised with. "By encountering them, I came to understand that I had all kinds of racist programming in myself," he says.

Many activists' attention was divided this week between the Supreme Court hearing on gay marriage, in Washington, and the unrest in Baltimore. Grimsley, himself a gay man, helps us parse out how black people and gay people are sometimes pitted against each other in what he calls a divide and conquer strategy.

"You want to set them against each other and get them to quarrel against each other," he says, "because that way they're less effective at working to better themselves and to better their position, and to help one another out in their strategies to move toward equal rights with the white majority."

We also shared with Grimsley some frustrations about this week's events. "It breaks my heart to see people misreading what's happening in Baltimore so deliberately," he says. "We've gone through this set of steps so may times just in the last two years ... white people don't chime in until they see the anger and the violence, and then they start talking about the issue."

And here at home, it's Derby Week! In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we learn about the history of black jockeys in the Derby, and how their contributions to the sport are honored—or not—by racing fans today.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.