Dear Decaturish – Consider reality for Black America

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt August 22, 2014
A mural showing what Decatur strives to be.

A mural in Decatur’s Oakhurst community. 

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Dear Decaturish,

In April my thirty-five year old brother died unexpectedly of a heart attack. It was a shock I still do not fully accept. The finality of his death haunts me every day and it, of course, has brought many morbid thoughts across my mind. My brother dying was never in the realm of possibility, at least until we were much older. Now it is a reality and with it comes thoughts of my own mortality and that of my family.

This includes the lives of my precious little boys, a four-year old and a five month old. As I bathed my four year old tonight, I thought of the grieving mother and father whose precious boy, Michael Brown, was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri. I thought of the grieving children in New York City who miss their father, Eric Garner, who was killed back in July. I then traced my own thoughts from the past couple months to the realm of possibilities I produced in my mind in thinking about the horrid possibility of losing my boys. One time it was the thought of a car accident. Another time it was a bike accident. A different time it was a jolt into the street while a car unknowingly passes. Still, at other points, it was a health issue unable to be beaten. We are a white family. I only thought of our racial reality, accidents or unfortunate health issues. At no point did I think of the possibility of my sons being gun downed by our domestic law enforcement.

This is a reality for Black America. It is not a reality for White America. If you are a white parent watch your child sleep tonight and allow the alternate reality of multiple gunshot wounds sink in. Shocking to even think about. I know. Wounds for being a teenager whose skin color drums up prejudicial fear and disrespect to the point where their humanity is devalued and defaced, where routine interactions on the street escalate to death.

I could go on now to discuss all the ways our political, social, economic, and criminal justice systems are set up to keep power within the privileged hands of White America but I want to stay close to the lives that have been lost recently. I’d rather focus on the loss of a son, a father and grieving families. BUT this wouldn’t tell the whole story. This wouldn’t do the stories of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, to name only two, justice. Their tragedies are a part of a racial reality in America that is not fair, equitable, or, most importantly, inclusive. Their deaths are a reflection of where we are as a community of Americans when it comes to what is valued (or devalued) across racial lines.

So, take a moment white folks, in between ice buckets, and think about this reality for Black America. Take a moment and think about the loss of a child through a systemic social perception of who is important and who is not important with your child on the outside looking in. Take a moment and discover your privilege. Take a moment and build community with people across racial lines. Take a moment and teach your child.

Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia is a multiracial congregation with a simple message: everyone is a Child of God. This is a powerful place to start. I am a proud member. Take a moment to actually talk about the issues with others. It’s amazing what you can discover. Today I learned about a co-worker’s son winning a civil suit for a wrongful termination of employment because his dreadlocks were too long. It started by us talking about Ferguson. Take a moment to speak up if others dismiss the social upheaval in the aftermath of these deaths by violence. Take a moment and realize Michael Brown and Eric Garner are not coming home. So, if this is the case? If this is where the nation rests, what reality are we condoning? Take the moments in each day, week, month, or year to build community and understanding across racial lines where ever you are. It won’t be easy but as we have seen, lives and the humanity of us all are at stake.

Charlie Copp-Decatur, GA 33

About Dan Whisenhunt

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  • Corey Anderson

    Thank you Charlie.

  • Shon

    Very well said, Thank you,

  • Jim


    Life is not fair, and it never will be. We are dealt the hand we are dealt at birth, and it’s up to each person to make the correct choices to improve themselves and their life situations. If one chooses to involve themselves with gangs, crimes and drugs, those are not prudent choices if one wishes to succeed and flourish in American society. If one chooses to quit school, that’s a life altering decision that usually brings with it dire consequences. These are all individual choices people make at specific moments in their lives. Pointing fingers at other people or races for the poor decisions one has made for themselves serves only to perpetuate the mentality of victimhood.

    My grandfather grew up dirt poor with illiterate parents who could not even speak English. His father was an alcoholic who relentlessly beat him until he was twelve years old. It was then he decided to alter and improve his reality by running away from home to stay with a school friend’s family. He knew the only way for him to improve his situation was to stay in school and away from his father so he could earn money and become a successful individual. My grandfather didn’t blame Jack Daniels for his bad situation. He didn’t blame the wealthy townspeople for not doing enough. He assessed his quagmire of a life and formulated a plan of action, a plan of escape. He followed through with that plan and became one of the most successful, motivated persons I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

    Sorry Charlie, I’m not buying into your mentality of victimhood. If I didn’t like my particular reality, I would do everything in my power to alter my reality in order to improve myself and my life. If the people (even family) around me were causing me problems, I would seek help if I was helpless and abandon those people as soon as I had the power to.

    • underscorex


      How did you make the jump from “Black children have to deal with a reality that white children don’t” to “gangs, crimes, and drugs”?

      Also, I’d be willing to bet money that if your grandfather was white, by simple virtue of that fact he had access to resources he would not have were he black in the same era.

  • Westchester parent

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece. Oakhurst Presbyterian is a wonderful church community and Decatur is lucky to have had it here for so many years. And Decatur is lucky to have you as a resident and coach. I’m so sorry about your brother. And I’m sorry for responses that are stock cut and paste vitriol–but those folks lose out the most by not being able to “Take a moment stop and think about the loss of a child…” They are victims of their own limits.

  • Chris Billingsley

    As much as as I admire Coach Copp, as a teacher, coach and father, I believe that it is fundamentally wrong to talk about a black America, white America or any other broad classification that stereotypes the true diversity in our country. I believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, maybe in the history of civilization but there are no guarantees other than what is expressed in the Declaration and our constitutions. Over the past several months, I have seen the phrase “white privilege” but I do not see this. Athose poor whites living in Appalachia and the Ozarks if they are privileged, they will say, “No, not privileged but proud”. Ask white kids with disabilities if they feel privileged when they cannot find a job because of a variety of government mandates that create employer fear and mistrust. In my opinion, if anyone has something to fear from the police and society in general it is citizens with mental disabilities. There are no protests or media eruptions when the police are forced to use excessive force on these people. But still, if given the choice, I would not consider living in any other country beside the United States. It is still the shining light for the world.
    One of the real dangers for Decatur is that this notion of white privilege will be accepted and even promoted by teachers in the City Schools of Decatur. Parents should be vigilant to see that their children are not penalized for expressing opinions contrary to the liberal agenda that in my opinion, dominates most of our classrooms.

    • Westchester parent

      I respectfully disagree. My forebears on all sides of the family come from hardscrabble backgrounds. That’s true for just about anyone whose family was here in America at the time of the Great Depression when people made fun of Okies and “white trash”. Nonetheless, I have never worried for a second that my son or daughter will be stopped by the police just because they are white. Every black parent I’ve talked to, even if they are an MD, PhD at Emory or highly successful lawyer in a big name Atlanta law firm, worries about their sons being stopped just because they are black. Do the experiment–ask every black parent you know the question “Are you afraid that your children will be stopped by the police just because they are black?”

      I do agree with you that people with disabilities, especially intellectual or behavioral disabilities, are also victims of unwarranted fear and suspicion and misuse of force. I agree that it’s just as wrong as prejudice on the basis of race. It’s another example of snap judgment based on unconscious, illogical, and disrespectful assumptions. And a callousness towards other human beings. Somewhat related, our school system, despite having wonderful ESS teachers, is not as proactive as it could be in making sure that all students reach their potential. Not every student has the same ultimate potential, given the variability in their biology, environment, life experiences, family background, etc. But schools should be making sure that they reach whatever their particular potential is. Unfortunately, the law only speaks to equal “access” to education not helping students reach their potential and that’s used as an excuse by some for acting like gatekeepers, not facilitators, of support services.

      The other group that is discriminated against, IMHO, is the frail elderly, especially those with dementia. They are too often warehoused rather than treated as human beings who still have thoughts and feelings, even if they cannot express them well or negotiate the world without help.

      • Westchester parent

        That would be forbearers, not forebears, although the old yellow photos do indicate that some of them looked like bears with their bushy beards and/or handlebar mustaches.

    • underscorex

      re: white privilege – I understand, Mr. Billingsley, that you are a relatively recent retiree from the City Schools of Decatur. Based on that, I’m going to do some crude math and estimate that you were hired to teach in CSD sometime in the late Carter/early Reagan years.

      How many Black men were teaching in CSD when you were hired? How many Black men were part of your educational cohort?

      You benefited from the racial politics of that era. Those policies have effects that are still playing out today.

      Or let’s take a more contemporary issue, since that was obviously a long time ago when things were different: Marijuana.

      More white youths report using marijuana than black youths do (about ten percent more). Yet, young black men are SEVEN TIMES more likely to be arrested for possession than their white peers.


  • Chris Billingsley

    Sorry. My edit doesn’t work properly.
    “…Ask poor whites living in Appalachia and the Ozarks if they are privileged, they will say, “No, not privileged but proud”

  • T Campbell

    I should have expanded on why my son had a blank stare on his face when he heard the description: he FIT that description down to the boots.

    • Westchester parent

      As a fellow City Schools of Decatur parent, who just loves the great kids that I’ve gotten to know over the years here, it breaks my heart that your son has had to have that experience. I truly hope that our kids are growing up with different perceptions of race, ethnicity, country of origin, disability, sex, and age. I’m optimistic that it’s so here in CSD. I just hope that it continues as we change socio-demographically in Decatur and that the generational change goes beyond our city limits.

  • I (state your name)

    First, your view of this country as White America and Black America is part of the problem not part of the solution. By viewing whites as being privileged, you too must automatically view blacks, or hispanics or asians as “underprivileged”, simply by the color of their skin. This is prejudice at it’s core and divisive.

    Secondly, what do you tell your child or team when they lose the game or don’t win the race? “It’s OK son, your simply a victim”. The other team should be ashamed of themselves for having better athletes, practicing harder and winning. Maybe I should talk to their coach and convince him to let you win next time. That should instill some strong values.

    I wonder where my family would be today, 3 generations after my Great Grandfather read those famous words… Irish need not apply, if he simply turned around a went back to Ireland a “victim”.

    • underscorex

      …are you really comparing the treatment of black people in this country to a game? That’s a pretty crass metaphor.

      This isn’t about self-pity or “playing the victim”, it’s about a realization that no, the deck IS stacked against certain groups in this country – that to be Black in America is to work twice as hard to go half as far.

  • Hey everyone: Thank you all for engaging in such a productive and polite discussion. I wanted to apologize for being so late on approving some of the comments. I was out of pocket most of the weekend (had zero Internet access) but I am back now. I just wanted to let you know that I wasn’t ignoring you or anything.

  • Ben Stone

    If you going to have a conversation about racial divisions in society, it is important to identify the self-imposed and self-perpetuating pathologies of black society. Instances of police brutality are terrible and should not be condoned, but most of the violence that kills black men today is the result of other black men. High joblessness and criminal behavior are not solely or primarily the result of racism. Until this reality is addressed, it is hard to have a rational conversation. In Decatur, the suspects in the overwhelming majority of burglaries and muggings are young black men/teenagers who are out of school or out at 3 am. Where are the parents? Are the police supposed to start targeting young white men so they won’t seem racist? If parents don’t want their kids to get arrested or stopped by police because of what might happen, then they should be better parents and teach them right from wrong.

    • Westchester parent

      Re “If you going to have a conversation about racial divisions in society”: Um, no, racial divisions is not what this thread is about. It’s about the reality for black parents that their sons have a good chance to be stopped by the police just because they are black. That is true no matter how good the parents are, how present the parents are, how good a student the boy is, how undeserved the stop is. The police should only be stopping a black child for what they would stop a white child for. I do not have to worry that my white son will be stopped because he is white, only because he is doing something suspicious or wrong. Black parents shouldn’t have to worry about their sons being stopped because they are black if they are doing nothing wrong or suspicious. Being black is not suspicious behavior under our current moral and legal codes.

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