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Charlottesville and the Worship of Whiteness (an Afro OpEd)

August 28, 2017

by Karsonya Wise Whitehead, published in the Afro


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.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Uche Uchema permalink
    November 17, 2017 9:33 pm

    November 17 2017
    WEAA Today with Dr. Kay

    In Baltimore, Crime is “Out of control.”

    Ah Dr. Kay. I listened to your show today and was again dismayed. The question “crime is out of control…what to do about it” was met with the usual self deceptive responses. “Safe Spaces. Rec centers. Etc. Or, “.. we need to keep our youth occupied…”. All of those responses have one thing in common, they are not solutions, only words to make one feel like one has attempted to do something. You are right though, prayer is, in my opinion, a waste of time. The black community needs to face some truths.
    1. No society on earth succeeds when it’s parents and elders have abandoned their earthly responsibility of directing and shaping their offspring and youth towards a vibrant future. Pretending that they have no power to shape the morality of their offspring and that the society in general is responsible for this task and thus is the problem is such a weak cop-out.
    2. In our present state, we need to start directing our efforts towards the family. Rebuilding it, re-educating it on it’s responsibility and failure there of and how to resume doing the right thing. In that sense, the problem is two-fold. One. We have a whole host of youth ages 8-12 and older who have never been socialized – by their parents, from birth, to love themselves and their fellow tribes people. Thus the growth of Rap music and the mad murder rate among our people. These youth are prime fodder to be directed into the life-path of crime, anger, etc. They will see the rappers and drug dealers with money and they begin to be socialized to the false reality that “that’s how you get that money”. Two. Those young black men past 14, 15,16 and 18 years of age are already cemented in their “wayward” socialization, anger and their habitual way of overcoming obstacles – violence.

    There is no universal solution to the two aspects of our problem. Couple that with the fact that the school system is failing so badly that a 12th grade graduate from a Baltimore city school can only read at the 5th-6th grade level. No comprehensive skills. No education. No skill sets. Those kids will be rejected by the work-force because they offer nothing. Thus, they turn to the one profession that they can qualify for – drug dealing, jacking, etc.

    To complicate the problem, the black community has not had a cadre of quality black leadership in decades. Baltimore is 67% black. Yet, we have never attempted to move to seize control of the school system to ensure that our youth will be highly prepared to function in the economy.. We have never placed any type of emphasis on strengthening our families so that they can better prepare our youth for a better future. The black leadership in this city has and continues to pretend that the only thing we need to do is open three or more rec centers and everything will be OK. Essentially, after the FBI destroyed our quality leaders around the nation and we were left with the bottom of the barrel, we have suffered. We can see it all around us. An example, The Baltimore Development Corporation(BDC) has billions to invest in luring “well-to-do” people into the city to live in Separated well to do communities that they finance yet, they have no interest in doing anything to make the lives of the existing citizens better. Yet, every Black city council representative elected in the last 20-30 years has gone along with the BDC agenda and has never challenged it to re-direct at least some of those funds towards programs to re-educate families in Baltimore. That’s our failure.

    I don’t know you. Today is the first time I’ve heard you yet, when I listened to your program today, I felt dismayed. You sounded like the “substandard” leadership class we are saddled with today. Sound pleasant always. Speak with authority and don’t challenge anyone. Malcolm X would never act like that. He challenged us. He pointed out our flaws. Today’s black “would be leaders” appear to have no courage. That’s our failure too.

  2. Uche Uchema permalink
    November 17, 2017 9:51 pm


    Soon after I posted my writing, I heard you reference me with a totally different point of view from what I said. Intentionally missing my point of family responsibility and the two-fold problems we face. This is one of the problems we face, people who have an audience always manipulating the opinion of others. That too is our failure.

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