In response to the widespread protests of police killings of black people, many individuals — white and black, conservative and liberal — have noted what they believe to be hypocrisy in black communities across the country.
The question they ask is: “Why is there such fervor over the death of black people destroyed by institutionalized racism, but little to none over the destruction of black people by other black people?”
Aside from the fact that this question is merely an attempt to sidestep the blatant effects of institutionalized racism and ensure that white supremacy remains invisible and unnamed, it is a question that insults the intelligence in its inaccuracy, superficiality, and lack of context and nuance. Not to mention that the question sets up a false premise because black people are definitely concerned about crime in black communities.
(Speaking of which, there will be a rally in Brooklyn about this very thing — policing, protecting, and addressing the violence in our own communities — on August 6, 2016 at 12 p.m.)
There is no such thing as “black-on-black crime,” but let us, for the sake of argument, treat it as though it were not a disingenuous question.
To begin, the fact that the term “black-on-black crime” exists in our lexicon, but not the term “white-on-white crime,” is one of the clearest signs that racism is a guiding principle in this country. And all one needs to do is look at the facts: 94% of all crimes committed against black people are committed by black people; 86% of all crimes committed against white people are committed by white people.
Surely, 86% is a number at which we can safely say that white-on-white crime is a very serious problem. Yet, we never do. The term is not in the dictionary. There is no Wikipedia entry for it. It is not browbeaten into the public consciousness. The media makes little to no mention of this term. There are no news specials dedicated to looking at this problem. Neither Fox News nor President Obama have touched on the topic.
As a result, black people are scapegoated and pathologized as especially criminal when, in reality, we are merely, pretty much, keeping pace with the rest of a society that thrives on violence. If black people are being asked to focus on black-on-black crime, then why aren’t white people being asked to focus on white-on-white crime? Why are some people so focused on black-on-black and black-on-white crime, but get upset when we focus on white-on-white or white-on-black crime?
If it seems as though black people are more criminal than white people, it is because the racist institutions of American society — namely, the criminal justice system, prison industrial complex, and the media propaganda apparatus — have conspired to make it seem that way. Numerous studies have shown that black people and white people commit crimes at pretty much the same rate, and any differences in the rate can be attributed to poverty — which, in the United States, affects black people disproportionately due to structural impediments that are sourced to racism.
Honest law enforcement officers and administrators of all races have admitted that their directives from the top have forced them to focus on crime in black communities in a way that they do not in white communities even though crimes are, indeed, happening in white communities. The perception, then, is that black people must be committing tons more crimes than white people when, in fact, they aren’t really, particularly when one controls for unemployment and wealth. Research shows that white communities, in many cases, have more crime than black communities. But since the criminal justice system’s focus is on crime in black communities, the statistics they eventually release about criminality are, naturally, biased in favor of white communities.
This does not even take into account the fact that when black people and white people are processed through the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex, it is done in a way that is inherently inequitable.
Black people are more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement even though white people are more likely to resist arrest and be disrespectful or violent toward police officers. Black people are more likely to be stopped and frisked by police even though white people are more likely to be carrying contraband. Not even black cops are exempt from this treatment. White people are more likely to abuse and sell illegal drugs than black people, but black people are more likely to be arrested for those behaviors. Black people get harsher sentences than white people even when the exact same crime is committed and the perpetrators have similar criminal histories. Juvenile delinquency is much more likely to be viewed and treated as criminal when committed by a black child or teen than when committed by a white child or teen. A white person with a criminal record has a better chance of obtaining employment than a black person with a criminal record — and just as good as chance as a black person with no criminal record; the justice system is much more sympathetic to white people who commit crimes than black people who commit crimes; and on and on, ad nauseum.
It is my belief that the hyper-criminalization of black people is wholly intentional. In order to exploit a failsafe in the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment that allows for slavery as punishment for a crime, it is in a racist nation’s best interests to present black people as especially dangerous and especially in need of oversight, surveillance, and discipline. A racist regime can, then, return black people to a previous state of bondage in a way that is as legal as it is immoral.
To add insult to injury, the United States, united by nothing if not racism, builds prisons — public, private, and for-profit — mainly in white, suburban areas, locks up black people disproportionately, disenfranchises them, and counts their bodies (full bodies, not 3/5ths this time) in the census not for the areas in which they were born, raised, and lived, but for where they are currently warehoused. As a result, these white, suburban areas obtain higher population counts and, therefore, higher representation in local, state, and federal governments. This would be genius if it were not so insidious.
If it seems as though some black people are more concerned with instances of racist murders than we are with so-called “black-on-black crime,” it is probably because:
a. white people and cops are more likely to get away with murder — especially if the victim is black;
b. with the exception of wealthy black people whose wealth grants them momentary, honorary Whiteness, or white adjacency, no black person would ever get away with murdering a white person (white people will, in fact, invent a black perpetrator where none exists);
c. many black people believe black-on-black crime in the United States is a by-product of racism-induced poverty and ghettoization as well as internalized racism, as black bodies are continually and consistently dehumanized and devalued, which makes it, in a sick sense, profitable and cache to destroy them;
d. when law enforcement is involved in incidents of black-on-black crime, it is not because they wish to bring a perpetrator to justice and avenge the loss of black life, but that they want to add another black body to the modern-day slave trade as they could not care less about the loss of black life. In their minds, the murdered black person and the captured black person means there are two less black people in the world for them to contend with.
Certainly, it is my sincerest hope that we, as black people, divest from the violent pathology that infects this country and the world in regard to the treatment of black people, but I also think it would be unrealistic to expect black people to be superhuman rather than human.
When the whole world is rife with turmoil, why are black people held especially accountable? And how can white people — inventors of the most deadly weaponry and guilty of the most egregious and heartrending genocides known to humankind — be considered the civilized arbiters of what is or is not moral?
In other words, black-on-black crime will end precisely when white-on-white crime does.
So I believe the individuals I mentioned at the beginning are asking the wrong question. The right question is:
Why are we so satisfied with a global system that cannot seem to function without and only seems to be able to resolve conflict using holocaust and bigotry?
(This essay was originally published on the Son of Baldwin Facebook page on July 18, 2013 and has been slightly updated for posting on Medium.)