Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Land of the Free

I was on my way to a doctor’s appointment this morning when the thought crossed my mind of just how great the United States is.  I don’t know what made me think of this.  Perhaps it was the words of Meghan McCain when she eulogized her father stating in a direct rebuke of Donald Trump that “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.”

And to a certain degree, she was correct.

But in my thinking of the greatness of this nation, I realized that although many have fought and died for this country, this is not the land of the free.  It is not the land where opportunities are equal for everyone.  And it is most certainly not the land where immigrants are welcome even though this nation was built upon the backs of those said immigrants.

This country is, and perhaps has always been the land of equal opportunity for a few; and if you were a woman or a person of color, your opportunity was limited.  It has always been this way…we just don’t talk about it.

It wasn’t until I saw the image of Donald and Melania Trump standing proudly with their hands over their hearts paying homage to the American flag that I suddenly began to realize that this simple gesture offended me.  It wasn’t because the gesture was being made by a man that didn’t understand the constitution of this great land.  And it wasn’t because this same man used that gesture as a weapon to attack the people that chose to kneel in protest to citizens of this same country being killed for belonging to a demographic that didn’t fit the ideology of mainstream America.  It wasn’t even because I didn’t agree with or subscribe to the meaning of the flag.  I know what it stands for and I respect that meaning.

The truth is that this country is great for a few, and the few that it is great for is divided into categories of those that chose to acknowledge that their majority has it easier than those that don’t look like them.  And then there are those that will never acknowledge this and instead will elect to keep things status quo.
It has always been this way. But it took the rise of Donald Trump to bring this to the surface.  There is a large portion of this country that want to keep the opportunities to excel and succeed difficult for minorities and immigrants.  They want to be assured that their population will always remain on top and get the first fruits of the land.  And I say this not as a complaint or a gripe, but rather as a simple statement of fact.

There are millions of white people that want to keep this land great as long as the greatness is kept for themselves.  The rise of a Donald Trump could not have happened without this thought process being in place because he represents what they have been thinking all along.  He has been known for telling it like is which is code for saying what they didn’t have the courage to say but now feel emboldened to act upon.
The nation has now been split as a result of this.  Political parties that used to differ in governing policies have now been pitted against one another, each being designated as the formidable foe.  The issue of race has been brought to the surface with those of us pitted against one another.  And this was caused by a man that believes that everyone must have an enemy.  There is no such thing as people working together for the common good.  He has exacerbated the worst in us in the guise of patriotism, something that I’ve said all along.
This land can be as great as we profess it to be although sadly, it will take so much more for us to achieve the level of greatness that we all hold dear.

The divisiveness that separates not just political parties, but the American people is symptomatic of a greater problem that needs to be addressed before we can move forward as a nation.
We need to realize that for generations, one denomination of the American people has deemed themselves as being better than, greater than and more deserving of the greatness that this land has to offer.

We must address the fact that the only thing that separates us is the color of our skin and that we believe that it is in that color what determines the level of success that we should have.
There are those of us who will say that this isn’t true; that if there are people of color that have achieved an astronomical level of success then they never would have achieved this without the opportunities in this land being given to them.

I am not saying that immigrants and people of color could never achieve a level of success that is often attained by our white counter parts.  What I am saying is that the playing field has not been level for everyone regardless of race, religious affiliation or ethnicity.  This land has often been declared a place where everyone could excel if they put their minds to it.

But the realty of this doesn’t ring true.  African Americans have only had their civil rights for fifty years.  Women have only had the right to vote for ninety.  Up until that point, this land was not equal for all and to a degree still isn’t.

We must first admit that this land has been a white man’s world; and to be damned with the needs of everyone else.  And while there are people of color in various positions of authority, it isn’t at the level that guarantees that every single person of color has the advantage of those doors opening.
Until we address this, we will always have the problems that we have been battling with for generations.  


We have never experienced a time in history where we have been more polarized.  We have never seen the rise of the ideology of white supremacy since the fifties and sixties.

And maybe history is repeating itself in that white people will fight to keep their self-imposed superior status as it has been in the fifties.

Or maybe we are seeing the last gasp of what was, and the door is being opened, albeit slowly, to the wonders and possibility of a truly diverse society…a society where everyone gets an equal share of the proverbial pie.  A pie that everyone should have enjoyed an equal slice of to begin with.

~ J.L. Whitehead

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Now I understand why...

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a few days now.  Sometimes, I like to let an idea stew in my mind before I say anything about it.  I’ve been watching the documentary, “Surviving R Kelly.”  I listened intently as the commentators took me through the series of events that led to the heartbreak and abuse of several women of color.  And as I listened to the associates of the artist as well as members of his family, something jumped out at me.  The idea hit me so hard that I recoiled in my seat.  It helped me understand what is going on in mind of the average Trump supporter.

If anyone is familiar with R-Kelly and the story that surrounds him; it is alleged that he is a pedophile.  It is said that he had sex on multiple occasions with under aged women of color…and yet, his popularity has not been diminished in the least because of those actions.  Despite the allegations against him, people continue to not only buy his music; they still lift him up as a person whose musical talents supersedes his behind the scenes proclivities.  He is still held in high regard which isn’t as surprising as I once thought was.

There is a certain amount of tribalism that comes with persons that we deem as having a viable talent.  We believe that because of the individual’s gift, they are deserving of our adoration and praise.  We will overlook their past misdeeds with an ease that is incredulous to some and unbelievable to others.   Despite the allegations against R-Kelly, he is still considered to be a beacon of inspiration to some within the African American community.  The allegations have not hurt his record sales.  More importantly, he is held up as a shining example of what is good and decent.  In many ways, he is regarded as a role model despite what he is to have allegedly done.

It is in the same way that Trump Supporters love and trust the POTUS despite the things that he is to have said and done allegedly.  I say allegedly because like R-Kelly, the allegations have not been proven against Donald Trump.  The jury is still out on these two celebrities although they both may have been judged by the court of public opinion.
 We tend to do this with our African American celebrities.  We don’t want to see them fall from grace.  But black artists are held to a different standard than white celebrities simply because of race.  Trump’s popularity has stayed steady for the last two years.  His base…thirty-three percent of the country, still support him.  They attend his rallies and hold firm to their support for the president.

On the morning of June 13, 1994, OJ Simpson was acquitted of the murders of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her companion, Ron Goldman.  I remember that morning because I was in the bank cashing my check speaking with a teller.  I told her that even though OJ was found innocent, I believed that he was guilty.  In my mind, there was something about the evidence presented that didn’t add up.  Something was out of sorts and I couldn’t put my finger on it.  

 I still can’t.

The elderly black woman that was standing behind me became furious with me.  She said “How dare you say such a thing.  OJ was innocent and you have no right to say anything different!”

My response to her was just as swift.

“M’am, with all due respect, I am entitled to my opinion and this conversation didn’t include you anyway!”
I don’t remember the details of our exchange, but I recall clearly that she was furious with me, not just because of what I thought…it was because the court case had been divided on racial lines, and I had picked the wrong side.  Her anger was more about the perception that I had gone against my own kind and less about the outcome of the trial.

It was the tribalism that affected us then and it is that same tribalism that is coming into play now.
Trump supporters have lifted this man up to a level that to most of us may be undeserving.  He has not earned the office that he currently occupies; and many of them don’t care.  They don’t care that he lies.  They don’t care that he brings out the very worst in our elected officials.  They don’t care that he has brought out the very worst in themselves.  They have blind loyalty.  It is the same type of loyalty that keeps them tethered to him no matter what he does or what allegations are levied against him.

It is the same loyalty that those African Americans have for R’Kelly.  It is the same type of loyalty that this elderly woman had for OJ Simpson all those years ago.  It is blind and it does not adhere to logic.

People believe what they want to believe.  Even more so, people believe what they need to believe.  

 It’s scary.

But this may explain why with everything crumbling around Donald Trump, people still hold onto the image of him being their shining light.

It is the reason why people still hold onto their support for R’Kelly.  And yes, it is the same reason why people hold on to their support for OJ Simpson…although time has eroded that particular circumstance.

But I digress, this isn’t about Trump supporters or R’Kelly supporters.

It is about an observation.  It is about Tribalism.

And now I truly understand what it means.

~J.L. Whitehead

Monday, October 29, 2018

What to do about White Supremacy

I remember an incident that happened to me when I was a kid.  I couldn’t have been any older than fourteen or fifteen.  I was walking along Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia.  I’m not quite sure where I was going…but I remember that it was starting to get dark.  The weather was warm so I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that it was the early part of summer.  As I made my way towards Broad Street, two white men were walking dressed in suits headed in my direction.  They were tall…burly, at least by my standards; and as they passed me, one of them said, “Hello nigger.”

Even at fifteen, I was incredulous.

My response was to repeat what he said to make sure I had heard him correctly.


His response was swift.

“That’s what you are, aren’t you?” It was then that I realized that he was drunk.  His friend told him to come with him and they continued down Spring Garden Street.  Thinking back, I realize that they had just left an event hosted by the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police.

In that moment, I wasn’t sure how to feel.  I didn’t know what to say.  Up to that point in my life, no white person had ever had the audacity to call me a nigger right to my face; no matter what they secretly thought of me.

This was my first encounter with overt racism but it wouldn’t be my last.  But this initial encounter stuck with me.  It planted a small seed of bitterness that wouldn’t come to flourish until decades later because you see, I brushed off this man’s denigration of me easily.  I brushed it off in the same manner that I would change my socks or brush my teeth and then I went about my business.  But it stuck with me that regardless of this man’s intoxication, he felt as if he had the right to denigrate me as a human being without thought to how I felt or even how it would impact me as a child.

I tell you this because this has been the experience of millions of people of color for generations.  I say this because it angers me that even in the face of obvious racism, no matter how old we are, people of color are supposed to somehow rise above it.  We are supposed to take the high road and not react despite the fact that we have been subjugated into slavery, to later be freed and then be persecuted under Jim Crow laws, to survive that only to have to deal with being forced to live in ghettos, to get pass that only to have to deal with mass incarceration and then finally get to a point in time where we feel like we’ve finally made it…and then you realize that most of the people that look like you are in staff meetings while people that don’t are in board or managerial meetings.
For years, it was expected that I take the high road.  I was supposed to overlook or turn the other cheek when white people try to convey messages that echo ideology like I am not good enough.  I am not good enough to live in your neighborhoods, I am not good enough to go to your schools, I am not good enough to have the same types of jobs that you have…and yet, I am not supposed to offend you by bringing this to your attention.

And if I express to you how dissatisfied I am with the status quo, I reminded that I am lucky to have a job or even worse, branded a troublemaker.

I realized that I have lived my whole life placating white people…not all of you but enough of you.  Even in this statement, I have to make sure that I don’t paint all of you with the same brush of racism despite the fact that most people color have been painted with that same brush ten fold.  And it’s not that I am race baiting.  I am simply speaking the truth.

I will be accused of being a racist by writing about growing up African American in a society that will lend no value to my very existence.  Even now, at this very moment, there are white people that will view any attempts at people of color to legitimize their existence by marching in our streets to send a clear message that we are tired of our men and women being killed by the police; the very people that have taken a sworn oath to protect our lives, as being a hate group, or worse, a terrorist organization.

We are tired of having white people tell us that there is no such thing as white privilege when clearly there is.  We are tired of hearing the subliminal message that our sons and daughters are not as good as yours.  But mostly, we are tired of being denied the ability to voice our concerns without being labeled as rebel rousers or troublemakers…people that are going to somehow make things difficult for white people.
"There is simply no need to suppress, denigrate, cheat me or mine, lie and or attempt to take away my right to simply exist simply because you may feel threatened by my presence.  You do not have to call the police on my brethren, question me and press me for identification because you may feel like I don’t have the right to occupy the same space as you. J.L. Whitehead"

Now before you tell me that I am a racist for daring to pen commentary like this, I want to make a few points crystal clear to you just so that none of us gets this twisted.

1.      My husband is white.  He is a wonderful man who is kind and sincere.  He knows me, and he gets me.  He understands exactly what I am saying because he has seen the discriminatory behavior up close and personal throughout the years that we have been together.  I look forward to spending many more years with him because he is the one person that I don’t have to filter my words or emotions.
2.     Many in my inner circle are white.  These people have been with me in my greatest and darkest times.  They have celebrated with me, cried with me, lifted me up and been my rock during shaky times.  My love for them is not diminished by the actions of a few.
3.     My feelings are legitimate.  They are real.  For some white people to try to tell me that it isn’t that bad or to look at all the progress that has been made by people of color is ludicrous.  If you have to tell me that it isn’t that bad…trust me, for people of color, it is that bad.  You just don’t see it…willingly or unwillingly.
4.     White supremacy is a very real thing.  It is executed in ways that are visible to some, and invisible to others.  Whenever you can have white men and women marching with tiki torches and they are shouting, “Jews will not replace us” or “Blood and soil” or “White lives matter” means that the concept of white supremacy exists and is live and well in the United States.
5.     We have a president that has brought out the very worst in white people.  We see it in the news cycle day in and day out.  And just because he doesn’t want to take ownership for some of the hateful rhetoric that he espouses doesn’t lessen its effect.  More people will die because they are receiving their subliminal marching orders from a man who has labeled himself as a nationalist lending validity to all the racist men and women in this country including groups that identify with that ideology.
As a person of color, I am tired of having to be nice and rise above the rhetoric that clearly diminishes not just myself but my family…people that I’ve grown up with; people that love me unconditionally.

So, what do we do about this?  I’m not going to say that all of us should have a coming to Jesus moment where we all come together and sing kumbaya.  Instead, white people good and bad need to realize exactly what is going on and address it.  The good ones need to use their whiteness to call out prejudicial behaviors and take that step forward to erase the ideology of the color of a mans skin lessening who he is.  The bad ones…well, you will never address this.  You may want things status quo.  You may even fight as you see that the United States is becoming a visibly black and brown place.

But here’s the thing; that doesn’t have anything to do with you or your children.  The black and browning of this country will happen whether you like it or not.  But more importantly, the black and browning of America is not going to denigrate you in any way.  White people will continue to have babies.  You will continue to have access to education.  You will have healthcare…god willing.

But your race of people will continue to survive.

There is simply no need to suppress, denigrate, cheat me or mine, lie and or attempt to take away my right to simply exist simply because you may feel threatened by my presence.  You do not have to call the police on my brethren, question me and press me for identification because you may feel like I don’t have the right to occupy the same space as you.

I will continue to speak out about this until the inevitable change occurs.  It will not be easy because some of you will fight this tooth and nail.  Just understand that people of color will continue to fight hard for the same rights that you enjoy…and that’s the right to be.

 ~ J.L. Whitehead