Terms, pt. 6: They'd Better Get It Together

Oftentimes, when we talk about racism, someone chimes in talking about "black-on-black crime." "If black lives matter," they say, "then why do they keep killing each other." People assume that black people are only outraged when an unarmed black person is killed by a white police officer; and that, they say, is hypocritical. The terms and conditions that usually follow are that black people ought to focus on "cleaning up our own neighborhoods" before we go marching the streets in protest against state violence.

The Ghetto is No Accident

Before we go any further, it bears saying that the entire notion of "black-on-black" crime is misleading. It's true that sometimes black people commit crimes against one another; but that is not some social phenomenon that is unique to the black community. People generally tend to commit crimes against people that look like them, because people tend to live close to people that look like them. On that note, we'd do well to remember that the racial lines that divide our neighborhoods are to some degree the accomplishment of American racism--that white supremacy created the ghetto through legal housing discrimination. Historian Richard Rothstein explains:

We have a myth today that the ghettos in metropolitan areas around the country are what the Supreme Court calls ‘de-facto’ — just the accident of the fact that people have not enough income to move into middle class neighborhoods or because real estate agents steered black and white families to different neighborhoods...It was not the unintended effect of benign policies...It was an explicit, racially purposeful policy that was pursued at all levels of government, and that’s the reason we have these ghettos today and we are reaping the fruits of those policies [1].

Furthermore, when we compare crime statistics from black communities to white communities, the proportions are nearly identical. So, the idea that black people are just inherently more prone to violence is just an updated version of an old lie that black people are savages. It isn't true. From here, I could go down a rabbit trail digging through the relationship between systemic oppression and many of the challenges that plague marginalized communities, but there are better places to look for that kind of information (and I've included a link or two at the end of this post).

I want to speak to these terms and conditions from an angle that I don't think we hear enough: the fact that even if it were true that "black-on-black" crime were special (which it isn't!), it still wouldn't automatically mean that black people have to fix it before we can resist all of the other ways that we experience racial injustice in America.

The Problems With These Terms

The first problem with those terms and conditions is that they establish an unnecessary order of priority. People can (and do) care about crimes within their communities and state-sanctioned oppression at the same time. There is no choice to be made there. 

Second, sending black people to end a problem that exists in all communities is a fool's errand. Crime is a human problem, not a black one.

Finally, the logic of these terms and conditions suggests that it would be okay for the state to treat black people as though they were disposable if crime rates in black communities were incredibly disproportionate to crime rates in white communities. That simply doesn't make any sense. Even if it were true that "black-on-black" crime was some incredibly unique social phenomenon (it isn't!), how would that justify crimes against black people from external players? If you saw a young man threatening to jump off of a bridge, would be justified in shoving that young man to his death because he was endangering himself to begin with?

 

Citations:

Historians Say Don't 'Sanitize' How Our Government Created Ghettos

For Further Exploration:

[1] On the Myth of Violent Black Culture: http://bit.ly/2tlXfzk

[2] Why Black-on-Black Crime Isn't a Thing: http://bit.ly/2tmfQfb

[3] All Crime is About Proximity: http://bit.ly/2tZnjy4

[4] An Infographic Debunking Popular Crime Myths: http://bit.ly/1Qz1A7L