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A Black Woman’s Open Love Letter to Her Teenage Sons #DontGetKilledToday

March 23, 2018

Boys:

  1. As the world continues to rally around #NeverAgain and Parkland, Florida, let us not forget to #SayTheirNames – Stephon Clark and Philando Castile and Alton Sterling; Terence Crutcher and Korryn Gaines; John Crawford III and Eric Garner; Rekia Boyd and Aiyana Jones; Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray and so many more

    2. As those young activists are being lifted up as touted as the future leaders of our nation, let us not forget that when you stood up for #BlackLivesMatter, you were called a terrorist, a hater of America, the worst thing that could happen to this country
    3. As colleges rush to send out letters of support to these young college-bound activists, let us not forget the number of black activists whose college offers were rescinded because they dared to raise their voice
    4. As the world supports their First Amendment right to protest and peaceably assemble, let us not forget that this white and black world conveniently forgot that you had/have the same rights to march and to assemble and to kneel before that flag
    5. As the world sends money and prayers and bodies to support the NeverAgain March, let us not forget the work we did to help raise funds, a dollar at a time, for #BLM work to continue

    6. As professional posters are being made and artistic t-shirts are getting printed, let us not forget the day you simply wrote your name and your phone number on your white t-shirt in case you were killed that day
    7. As some schools across the country continue to support walking out and protesting, let us not forget that you were threatened with suspension for trying to organize a peaceful sit-down on the front lawn of your school
    8. As we mourn and stand with the families and survivors of mass shootings, let us not forget to mourn and stand with the sister of Tyrone West on West Wednesdays and with Daphne Alston of Mothers Against Murdered Sons and Daughters and with the families of the 900+ people that were murdered in Baltimore City over the last three years
    9. As the world continues to move on from #BlackLivesMatter, let us not forget that earlier this week, a black man was shot 20 times in his OWN backyard
    10. As the world tries to talk about equality and justice, let us not forget the unspoken rules that govern blackness and that could easily result in our death: you cannot Wear a hoodie, Play in the park alone, Sleep on the couch in our living room, Walk or Run in the street, Ride or Sit in a car, Stand on a corner, Stand up or kneel down before this system, Have your hands in your pocket, Hold a cellphone or a wallet, and now you cannot even Walk in OUR backyard
             I offer you these words in love and I beg you #DontGetKilledToday

MOM (Your #blackmommyactivist)

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Fifty Years Later: America is Still Two Nations –one white, one black; separate and unequal

March 23, 2018

by Karsonya Wise Whitehead, published in The Baltimore Sun

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Fifty years ago this week, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders that was organized by Lyndon B. Johnson released the Kerner Commission Report, named for its chairman, Otto Kerner Jr. It attempted to answer three questions in the wake of intense racial riots and unrest that had swept through the country: What happened? Why did it happen? And:What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?

The report noted that our nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” Commission members concluded that this division was the result of failed government housing, the lack of decent education and social-service policies and the narrative that had been created by mainstream media who reported the news while looking out from a “white man’s eyes and a white perspective.”

They suggested that the main cause for urban violence was white racism and that white America needed to fully and completely shoulder most of the responsibility for the rioting and rebellion that was happening across the country. In 1967 alone, more than 1,800 (mostly black) people had been injured, and 83 people had been killed. The property damages were valued at upwards of $100 million in over 120 cities.

The Kerner Report outlined some broad solutions to promoting racial integration — on top of the laws that took effect a few years earlier: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination and prohibited unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment and public accommodation; and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting.

Specifically, the commission called for the creation of more jobs and job training programs, the establishment of decent housing and increased financial aid to black communities.

Johnson rejected the report because it did not praise his anti-poverty program, but conversations started taking place across the country as some black and white communities tried to work together to find solutions to bridge the divide. And, 30 years later, in 1998, the Eisenhower Foundation commissioned a follow-up report. The news was not good.

It found that there was more poverty in America; that it was “deeper, blacker and browner than before”; and that it was more concentrated in cities, which had become “America’s poorhouses.” Even with all of the conversations and policies, the laws and the direct intervention, America was still a racially and economically divided nation.

Since then, America elected the nation’s first black president (twice). We’ve seen the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the impact of the work many of us have done to help create a more diverse, open, accountable and inclusive society.

We’ve also seen the election of a president who actively works against us. Despite the protests and marches and ongoing pushback against him, with every decision, tweet or comment that he makes, Donald Trump encourages a world that is more white, more racist, more classist, more exclusive, more misogynistic and more frightening.

America is still clearly a divided nation. This is not a startling revelation. It is a simply a fact. So it’s no wonder that a new report released this week, “Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years After the Kerner Report,” says “there are far more people who are poor now than was true 50 years ago. Inequality of income is worse.”

This latest report — which included input from black people, Latinos, Native Americans and women — concludes that since 1968 the country has not only had a widening gap in poverty but there has been a noted and concentrated lack of, or reversal of, progress. In other words, the lines of division are getting worse.

Its authors also offered suggestions, similar in scope to the ones that were offered in 1968:

  • Spending more money on early childhood education;
  • Increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2024,
  • Adding more regulatory oversight over mortgages to prevent predatory lending;
  • Establishing community policing that works in concert with nonprofits in inner-city communities;
  • And adding more job training programs in an era of automation and emerging technologies.

They also called on the mainstream media to hire more people of color to cover and report the news, particularly in the communities of color.

So, 50 years after the Kerner Report, the country is worse off, but the solutions, the way to turn the tide, have not changed.

My hope is that this time, we will not let those in power forget. We will not let them dismiss the report. And we will not let them continue to move us farther away from where we want to be: one nation, one society, inclusive, diverse and equal.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead (todaywithdrkaye@gmail.com; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the #blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the host of “Today With Dr. Kaye” on WEAA 88.9 FM and the author of “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America.”

“At My Baltimore School, they played ‘Let’s get the black boy.’ I was the black boy.” –my son’s Wash Post OpEd

November 19, 2017
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Image Courtesy: Huffington Post

by Kofi Elijah Whitehead, OpEd published in the 11/19/2017 Washington Post

When I was little, my dad used to take our family to the track and let us race against each other. The winner always got to choose dessert. I used to try to figure out which lane I needed to be in so I could outrun my father and my brother. My mom used to laugh as she told me that the only person I was ever running against was the person I was yesterday. She said that the hard lessons are learned over and over again and that the real challenge is to come face to face with the person we used to be and outrun him. I knew she was not talking about track, but I could not understand how I could outrun myself.

I have been in private schools in Baltimore City all my life. When I was in elementary school, I was the only African American boy in my grade. Every day, I was reminded in subtle ways that I did not belong and that I was different. There were two communities: The first was built within the school, where teachers did what they could to include me. The second was harder to understand because it was built over the weekend and during after-school, parent-arranged play dates. My family and I were rarely invited or included.

When I was 6, a boy in my class made up a game called “Let’s get the black boy.” I do not remember the details, but I do remember that I spent the entire recess running. I do not know if it was because I was scared or if I was just playing the game.

I still attend school with the boy who made up the game and most of the boys who played it. They probably do not remember, but I do and my mother does. It was one of the moments that marked our family and defined who we were going to be in this world. My mother changed her career at that moment and devoted herself to doing diversity training to confront these issues within the schools.

I am almost 17, and I am still running against that 6-year-old boy who spent the entire recess running away. I tell myself often that if a moment like that happens again — when I am faced with racism, white supremacy and racial insensitivity, even cloaked in childhood games — I want to be able to stand instead of run, and I want to be able to clearly articulate what my white classmates are doing with those games.

I thought about this a few weeks ago when racially charged Halloween photographs showing white students dressed in prison garb went viral. The photos included racist captions as they were passed around social media. My white classmates seemingly could not understand what our classmate in one of the photos had done wrong.

There was very little empathy and few attempts to seek understanding; some students counterprotested to stand with our classmate. It was hard for me because I believe that there is a direct correlation between that childhood game that was never challenged or discussed and growing up to believe that racial insensitivity and intolerance are things that should be taken lightly.

My classmates and I talked about this recent incident almost every day. I tried to explain what was wrong with these photographs and what they say about race relations at my school and in this community. I talked with my parents, trying to figure out how to make my white classmates understand what it means to be black and male in America. There are days when I do not completely understand it myself.

There are days when I feel like every other 11th-grader, consumed with thoughts of the upcoming exams or college or girls. Some days, I do not think about being black, or that I attend schools that would have denied admission to my grandfather, or the gnawing feeling that I am, as Maya Angelou wrote, the hope and dream of the slave. Those are the days when I feel normal and when I can breathe. It is during those other moments, when I am trying to articulate what it feels like to be black in America, when I am painfully aware that the color of my skin is steeped in a legacy of enslavement, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, Black Lives Matter and white kids chasing a lone black boy around the playground while white teachers looked on but never interceded.

I know that for some people, the Halloween incident was just a set of photographs, but for me and for people who look like me, it was yet another reminder that no matter how fast we run, how successful we become or how hard we try, we will never outrun the image of the black man that the white world sees.

Kofi Elijah Whitehead is an 11th-grader in Baltimore.

 

 

 

Charlottesville and the Worship of Whiteness (an Afro OpEd)

August 28, 2017

by Karsonya Wise Whitehead, published in the Afro

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There is a chasm that exists between the created notion of Whiteness and the reality of Black and Brownness in America. It is neatly stitched into the social fabric that defines who we are as a country. At our core, we are a divided nation. It is as true today as it was in 1967, when in the midst of national civil unrest and rioting, Lyndon B. Johnson organized the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder  (the “Kerner Commission”) to study what happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

The Kerner Report, released in March 1968 (one month before Dr. King was assassinated) noted that our nation was moving toward becoming two societies, one Black, one White—separate and unequal. They blamed failed government housing, education, and social-service policies; along with the mainstream media for reporting the news while looking out from a White world with a “White man’s eyes and a White perspective.”

It is now 2017, and even with all of the strides that we have made to become more diverse, open, accountable, and inclusive, at this moment, it feels like nothing has changed. We are less than seven months into the America that Donald Trump is creating—the one where he has emboldened White nationalists, empowered White supremacists, and legitimized the rise of the alt-right neo-Nazi movement—and it is more divided, more White, more racist, more misogynistic, and more frightening than ever.

This past weekend as I watched the horrible events unfold in Charlottesville built on a foundation of horrible events that have been happening since the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement, I realized that though it has taken almost 50 years, the Kerner Report has finally been realized. We have truly become two nations: one diverse and inclusive, one White and exclusive.

We are at the moment when the level of tolerance for racial discourse has been reached. The worship of Whiteness is dangerous for everyone, including White people. It ignores the realities of history, namely that the policies that have dominated this country for years were put in place to support and encourage White advancement, and it looks for a common enemy (an other) to terrorize, to blame, to oppress, and ultimately to destroy. This new America, or Donald Trump’s bastardized version of it, is not the America that good and decent people should want to live in.

The Kerner Report noted that the only way for America to change is for everyone to adopt “new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.” I would add that it will also take every White American to bend their privilege and speak up against this new reign of terror. The time for contemplative silence and social media activism has ended. We are now in a place where we must look into the mirror and decide what type of country we want to live in and how do we want to be remembered by future generations. We can not be the generation that allowed the voices of the few who cried out for exclusion, racism, hatred, bigotry and Whiteness to drown out the voices of many who are shouting out, with every fabric of their being, for liberty and justice for all.

I believe in the idea of democracy and in wresting with our foundational documents as we seek to become a more just and verdant nation. I just do not believe that a demagogue, someone who has built their career and reputation on exclusion and who supports racist ideologies and policies, can continue to represent the interests of a diverse nation.

There is so much about this Trump’s America that is unclear—from whose voices and lives will matter in the end to who will speak for those who will be unable to speak for themselves—but there are some things that are crystal: this man cannot continue to be our President; the worship of Whiteness and the silent support of White supremacy must be stopped; and, what happened in Charlottesville supposedly over the removal of a Confederate statute cannot be forgotten.

The battle lines are being drawn and history will record the side you choose, either deliberately or through your silent complicity, to stand with—choose wisely this day the America that you want to live in.

Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead is an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the author of “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America” and “Notes from a Colored Girl.”

Reclaiming My Time & My Money (Afro OpEd)

August 3, 2017
by: Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Special to the AFRO

“Black Women’s Equality Day,” was July 31; Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead wants America to pay up.

Thirty-seven cents, less than the cost of a candy bar. This is what the gender and racial pay gap looks like in America. There is a deep economic divide in America, where Black women are paid only 67 cents for every dollar that White non-Hispanic men do, even after controlling for education and years of experience.  According to the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute (EPI), with this economic disparity in place, it takes Black women an extra six months per year to make what their White male counterparts made in 12 months. This year, Black Women’s Equality Day fell on July 31st.

 

Two days before my birthday, and I was reminded all over again that I am a Black girl in America and that means something. I was seven years old the first time I was told this reality. I had spent the afternoon fighting my boy cousins and beating them in foot races through the woods. They were wearing shorts and I was wearing a skirt that I had tied between my legs like makeshift bloomers. My grandmother called me over and told me that I needed to start acting like a lady which meant that I had to stop fighting and racing. I had to clean the dirt off my face and start getting my hair pressed. I had to learn how to set the table and wash the dishes; how to sew, and hem, and iron sheets. While my boy cousins fished and built sand castles, I learned how to wash clothes and make the bed. I used to look at them out of the window, wishing that I could be a boy so that I could be free. This is the first time when I felt like I could not breathe. There was a feeling of anomia where I knew what was happening to me but I could not name it and none of the women in my life seemed to have the capacity (or words) to say it out loud. This feeling of gender inadequacy was reinforced in my church where I learned over and over again that the sin that plagued and infected our world came from a woman who dared to make her own decision. It took me years to become a Black feminist, to be able to recognize my gender and racial oppression and fight against it; to stop thinking that I had to be twice as smart as White people or work twice as hard as a man, to stop measuring myself against them as if they were the standard. This is what true internal oppression looks like when it is formed and shaped over a lifetime by a coagulation of feelings, emotions, subtext, inequality, intentional erasure, and perceptions of inferiority.

Most days I am able to balance my anger at the system with incredible moments of joy but there are some days that are more difficult than others. Black Women’s Equality Day is one of those days. It is the one day where I am brutally reminded that no matter how hard I work or how many degrees I have or how many pay raises I receive, I still have to work an extra six months to catch up to my White male peers. It is a race that I will never win or tie as it is designed for Black women to lose. It is a very blatant reminder that Black women, as Zora Neale Hurston once wrote, have always been and continue to be the mules of this world. We stand tall and yet, this 37 cents difference only shows us that society continues to benefit from riding the backs of Black women and exploiting our labor.

There are approximately three million American families that depend on the income that Black mothers earn and with this pay discrepancy, households are suffering. The tentacles of economic oppression find their way into every aspect of a Black woman’s life, from mortgage payments to childcare; college savings to purchasing healthy food. At this rate, it would take a Black woman about 108 years to catch up and achieve wage equality (this is assuming that the pay rate for White males remains constant) This is unacceptable. We must work together to reclaim this 37 cents and reclaim the time we spend into the system without being adequately compensated. It really does matter, and until it is done and the ledger is clean, both systemic oppression and racial inequality will continue.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead (kewhitehead@loyola.edu; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the #blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the author of “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America” and “Notes from a Colored Girl.”

Blood On The Roots

July 8, 2017
by: Karsonya Wise Whitehead Special to the AFRO  July 7, 2017

Author and university professor Karsonya Wise Whitehead contemplated the concept of, “freedom,” as millions celebrated the Fourth of July.

I had a moment during Sunday service, when my pastor asked us to stand, turn toward the American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I cringed as everyone quickly stood, placed their hands over their hearts, and proceeded to recite the Pledge, without question and without hesitation. I sat there fighting against my desire to stand and be obedient because I knew that as a black person in America, I could not pledge my allegiance to this racist nation or to our bigoted president.

 

In psychology, they call this moment cognitive dissonance, which happens when a person is struggling with at least two contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. I am a descendant of enslaved people who fought to survive in America and war veterans who died while fighting to protect America. I am a walking contradiction where my American racist values and my black consciousness and pride are constantly warring against one another. W.E.B. Du Bois called it double consciousness, an oppressive way of viewing and judging yourself, as a black person, through the eyes of a racist white society.

I thought about all of this as the Pledge gave way to the singing of, “My Country Tis of Thee,” because I believe that this America, this bastion of white supremacy, is not my ideal home. It is not where I feel safe or where I feel like I belong. I am the Sankofa bird who flies forward across this red, white, and blue landscape with rivers that run deep with the blood of innocent black and brown people, while hopelessly keeping my head turned in search of something else, of somewhere else. This feeling of black restlessness, despair, frustration, and anger are not new. It always feels like it is our blood that is on the leaves and at the roots, fertilizing the soil that feeds the American dream of white exceptionalism. We have long felt like we did not belong here.

Langston Hughes in his poem, Let America Be America Again, wrote “There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this homeland of the free.”

But still, in church I wanted to stand, as this is what I have been taught to do by my father and obviously expected to do by my pastor. I wanted to be obedient and follow the rules.

I really want to be proud of my country and to celebrate her independence. I want to answer Frederick Douglass’ question, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?,” and tell him that although it has taken us 165 years, we have finally arrived. I want to say that the Fourth of July is now our holiday for we have been embraced and counted as part of the American dream; that we have been allowed to fully participate in the democratic process and have seen the day when a person is judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. I want to say that we have gotten past the racist notion that skin color is more important than skills and talent; that we no longer have to shout that, “Black Lives Matter,” for we have gotten to a point where those types of questions (about who matters and who does not) have been settled and that we have realized that we are stronger together as one nation than we are apart.

I want to say that but I cannot. I think of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling; Terence Crutcher and Korryn Gaines; John Crawford III and Eric Garner; Rekia Boyd and Aiyana Jones; Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray, and countless others. I think of their lives and of what we lost on the day that they were murdered. These are the moments when America — a beacon and shining light of white hope and pride — brutally reminds us that the Fourth of July is theirs and not ours, and as they celebrate, we must mourn. It is hard to pledge allegiance to a country that does not recognize your humanity. In 1852, Douglass noted that slavery was the great sin and shame in America; today it is oppression, and it is white supremacy, and it is injustice.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead (kewhitehead@loyola.edu; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the #blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the author of “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America” and “Notes from a Colored Girl.”

Should God Bless America?

July 3, 2017
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(Justin Sellers / AP)

by Karsonya Wise Whitehead (originally published in The Baltimore Sun, 7/2/17)

My entire life has been centered around the belief that God wants to bless America and that he is only waiting for us to ask.

Growing up as the daughter of a Southern black Baptist minister, my life was filled with church services, communion and prayer. I learned early how to get down on my knees at the end of every day and ask for forgiveness and ask God to bless my family and America. My dad is a veteran, having served during the Vietnam War, and he believed that we needed to remember that America was always primed to be attacked and that it was our prayers for her that kept her safe.

He was also raised in Jim Crow South Carolina and had been actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and he taught me that the America that we were asking God to bless was not the one that we saw in front of us, but it was the potential for what she could some day become. He said that when he would get arrested or spit upon or he was called the N-word, he would silently ask God to bless America despite the hatred and the inequality. When the Rev. Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy were assassinated, he told me that the only thing that got him through those days was prayer and asking God over and over again to overlook the sins of this country and bless us anyway.

We lived in a small black community in Washington, D.C., where most of my teachers were members of my church and when they spoke, in my mind, they had the authority of God behind them. Every morning, from 1st to 8th grade, we had to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. We were “under God,” we were “indivisible,” and we did provide “liberty and justice for all.” As a young child, it made sense to me. America was the center of the world, morally balanced and uniquely charged with the task of saving and protecting the planet.

In history class, my teachers buried us in stories of dead white men, the vaunted Christian forefathers, who worked hard to craft a more perfect union, without teaching us that they were racist, sexist, classist slave holders. We never talked about what or who was missing from these great American tales of courage and valor, never questioned the validity and reliability of these stories. We simply accepted them as the truth, praying for and pledging ourselves to a nation that denied our humanity, that fought a war to keep us enslaved, that set up laws to keep us separate and was comfortable lynching, beating and oppressing us.

I was 5 years old the first time a president ended a speech by calling on God to bless America. It was 1973, President Richard Nixon in the midst of dealing with the Watergate scandal and trying to cover up his lies, ended a speech by saying, “Tonight, I ask for your prayers to help me in everything I do throughout the days of my presidency. God bless America and God bless each and every one of you.”

This was a watershed moment, when God entered the realm of politics and became both a shield and a weapon. As an American citizen, how do we begin to question the actions of our leaders when they invoke the name of God and call upon him to bless us? This phrase was not used again until Ronald Reagan, and since then every president, despite his actions, has called on God publicly to bless this country.

I know that God can, but I am wondering if he should. Should God bless America, a place where economic and social freedom only exist in the lives of a privileged few; a place where women and girls are routinely sexually assaulted; a place where black and brown people have to proclaim that their lives matter? A place where the current president is, by his own words and deeds, a bigot and a demagogue who tweets out hatred on a daily basis and whose election (America’s whitelash moment) ushered in a new age of divisiveness, racism, xenophobia and hatred — a man who ends every speech by calling on God to bless America?

By God’s own words, recorded in his holy Bible — where he calls on us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, to practice radical hospitality, to be the good Samaritan, to shoulder one another’s burdens, to welcome the prodigal children home, to be kind and gentle and long suffering and peaceful, and to be slow to anger and quick to listen — America is not a country that deserves his blessing.

But then I think of my father and remember that we pray not for the ossified, divided America that this country is at this moment, but for the possibility of what she can become. And so, I will continue to ask God to bless America, while also advocating every day to change her.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead (kewhitehead@loyola.edu; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. A version of this editorial was aired as a public commentary on WYPR 88.1, Baltimore’s NPR station.

 

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