By Karsonya Wise Whitehead
Growing up, I spent every summer on my grandmother’s farm in South Carolina, and she would often use farming metaphors to teach me lessons. Every time a boy broke my heart, or I dealt with racism, she would tell me that it was time to do some threshing, which is the first step in sifting wheat. During the threshing process, the goal is to loosen the chaff from the edible grain. My grandmother did it the old fashioned way where she spread out the wheat onto her stone floor, and she would beat it with a stick. It was hard back-breaking work, but it had to be done. It was a necessary step; she would say, to separate what was needed from what had to be discarded. She said that sometimes when things happened to us when things were holding us back from becoming the best of whom we were supposed to be, we needed to be relentless, to act without emotion, and separate what was needed from what had to be discarded or left behind.
This summer, it feels like Baltimore City desperately needs a threshing process as it is becoming painfully apparent that we need to separate what is needed to help move this city forward from the things (or people) that are holding us back. In the past two months alone, we have seen city shootings increase by 20 percent, a spike in our homicide numbers (we are on pace to reach 300+ for the fifth year in a row), a gnawing sense that there is a lack of police presence and involvement, a community that went without water for over a week, and, an increase in teen crime and violence. Some residents genuinely believe that our elected officials have no concern about our manqué de bien-être.
We need threshing, and though it will be back-breaking and hard, it is necessary. We live in a “no snitching” culture, either out of fear or out of loyalty. In either case, between no-snitching and the failure of the police to solve crimes (according to the Washington Post, approximately 65 percent of crimes in Baltimore go unsolved), we are at the threshing point. We are at a moment where we need to speak up when injustice and crime are happening, we need to hold our politicians and ourselves accountable, and we need to lean into the lives of some of the young people in this city who seem to be careening along a path toward destruction.
I believe that Baltimore City will survive, but I am not as optimistic as I used to be. I have seen too much suffering and pain in this city. I have watched, with despair, how it is increasingly becoming more dangerous, more hostile, and more frightening. There are days, and this is one of them when I look at the landscape of this city, and the challenges that we continue to face and I wonder why—with all of the smart and dedicated people that we elected—it feels like we are falling apart. I wonder if some of the leaders of this city understand what their responsibility is to us, their constituents. As elected officials, they are supposed to do more, to care more, to show up when our hearts are breaking, and when our neighborhoods are falling apart. They are supposed to be there when our children are scared and when our elders get robbed at gunpoint. They are supposed to see us, to take our calls and answer our messages, to help shoulder our burdens, and to speak for us when we are unable to speak for ourselves. They are supposed to be our beacons of light, illuminating a path that will move us forward from this seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty, crime, and violence. They are supposed to be there on the first day when our entire community does not have any running water, or when the lights go out on our block, or when our community is in desperate need of a respite from the violence.
These are not new issues I discuss them almost every day on my radio show, and there are moments, like when Poe Homes was without water, or the teens attacked an older man, when I am not sure how we can go forward. I am not sure where we go from here or how we end the pain that is so evident in this city. I do not have any solutions; I just remember that when things were falling apart in my life and when it felt like I had lost control, my grandmother would say that it was time for threshing. Baltimore City, we need threshing, and though it will be hard back-breaking work, it must be done. It is a necessary step where separate what is needed to save us from what is destroying and killing us. Once we thresh, we will then start to winnow.
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 the author of the forthcoming “The Souls of (my) Black Boys.” She lives in Baltimore City with her husband and their two sons.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Afro-American Newspapers.