By Dr. Kaye Wise Whitehead, Special to the AFRO
A few nights ago, while my sons were sitting and doing their homework, I stood at the doorway, and I just looked at them. I thought about how much I loved them and about what it takes for me to send them out into a world with people like you, the ones that do not value them or see their genius and their brilliance. I watched as they struggled with their physics and double checked their calculus, and I thought about the letter that James Baldwin wrote to his nephew in 1963 where he told him:
“You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity.”
I thought about this and had to stop myself from crying or screaming because, with all of the work that we have done to make this country better, Black children should no longer have to make peace with mediocrity or failure, suffering or poverty. They should not have to make peace with racism and injustice. They should not have to think about being harassed by the police or being called the n-word by their teachers. They should not have to worry that they will get arrested because they are selling water, mowing a lawn, or ordering food.
I stood there and realized that no matter how far we have come, this country still has a long way to go before it can both recognize and practice equity and social justice. We are in the midst of some very dark days. These are the days that my grandmother warned me about when she said that the real battle in this country is the work to change the hearts and minds of racist white people. I used to believe that America, as a whole, had a race problem because we were unwilling to do the hard work to bring about the changes that needed to happen. I have since come to a different conclusion. America does not have a race problem; it has a problem with racists because it refuses to recognize or accept itself for how much it has changed and how much change still needs to be done. Dear racist White people: You do not realize that your time is up.
Here is what you need to understand, racism is an Ouroboros (a beast) and all of the tenets that come with it and help to maintain it—from white complicity to privilege, white nationalism to white supremacy—must be destroyed. If not, then it will regenerate. It will be reborn, and it will help to shape the next generation. This is why it feels like we are fighting the same battles and no matter how much things have changed; things have remained the same. I believe that no amount of marching or praying, crying or mourning, teaching or talking will bring about the change we need to see. The system itself must be dismantled. We must drag this beast of racism and everything that comes with it, to the altar of Whiteness and sacrifice it there.
I thought about all of this as I looked at my sons, realizing that this is a battle that they now have to fight. And where my generation has failed, I hope and believe that they will succeed. Khalil Gibran once said, “Our children are not our children. They are the sons and the daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through us but not from us, And though they are with us yet, they belong not to us.” I have taught my sons how to fight. They are sober-minded and self-aware. They have the tools, where their pens are their swords, and their words are their weapons. They are well-trained, and they are brilliant. They know that they are the hope and the dream of the slaves and because of this, I know that they will win.
Karsonya Wise Whitehead ([email protected]; 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 the forthcoming “Dispatches from Baltimore: The Birth of the Black Mommy Activist.” She lives in Baltimore City with her husband and their two sons.
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