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.”