Submitted to the AFRO by Wise Whitehead
Reading about Baltimore City through the lens of a Black mother offers the outside world an analytical framework for trying to interpret and understand the intricacies of what it is like to move through a city that is currently at war. This is not a war in the traditional sense of the word, as bombs are not dropping from the sky and Napalm is not being released into the air. But it is a war, being played out in real time, between the way things are at this moment and the way things ought to be. Baltimore City is a violent place. With 39 homicides within the last 30 days and 234 homicides (as of October 2) this year, it is a city that is at war with itself. It is not comfortable. It is not safe. And it is not normal. We are besieged with disturbing images and stories of community violence and predatory policing, coupled with the reality of our run-down neighborhoods, our food deserts, and our crumbling schools. This can only be seen as a set of social scripts that are, as Patricia Collins writes, “the legacy of racism, sexism, class exploitation…that assign categories of superiority and inferiority.” In this sense, a Black mother’s words and pain can then act as the critical social theory that is needed to explain how Black people, living within what Lawrence Brown calls a “Category Five hyper-segregated apartheid city,” are marginalized and oppressed through institutional structures and practices, social norms, and ideological elitism. It also can help to explain the violence and the rage.
James Baldwin once wrote that, “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” Rage leads to violence and it cannot be hidden though it can be dissembled and dissimulated. There are no simple solutions to ending the violence or the rage. Additionally, once you add race and you look at the work of psychiatrists William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs, you realize that “Black rage,” which stems from the desperation, the conflict, and the anger that comes from being Black in America, is what is being played out across this city. Black rage is what it feels like to live in a city where your children attend schools with leaky roofs, busted pipes, and faulty sprinkler systems. It is what it feels like when there are no recreation centers or green spaces for young people to go when the school day ends. It is what it feels like when politicians, once elected, spend their days talking about the problems without ever offering viable and workable solutions. Black rage is what it feels like to live in a city that gives tax breaks to millionaire businessmen while failing to raise the minimum wage for the working poor. It is what it feels like to work hard every day and never be able to work yourself out of poverty. It is what it feels like to watch a generation of young Black men shoot and kill each other without any regard for their lives or for their communities or for their futures. Black rage is what it feels like when your children are unable to drink the water in their school and you are unable to receive free services to help treat the lead that is already in their body. It is what it feels like to be in a war and what it feels like to live in Baltimore.
I have spent years trying to figure out how to navigate through my Black rage and how to operate within a city that is not designed for me to be free or to get free. It is complicated. It is messy and it is hard. This wave of violence, that is sweeping through our city, feels like a cancer that is feeding off of our terror and our pain.
Our children deserve to demand and expect more from us. They deserve to hold us to the highest standards; to expect us to do right by them; to hold us accountable for helping to maintain a system that is designed to fail them and is unable to protect them. They deserve for us to not just try, but to solve the impossible. We are at war and our terror-dome is filled with the loud sounds of gunshots and the silent screams of our children and we can no longer believe or pretend that just because we do not hear them or we do not want to, then they do not exist.
Karsonya Wise Whitehead 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 lives in Baltimore City with her husband and their two sons.
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