This is a question that I’ve often read or heard in conversations with white folks about racism, particularly when police brutality or “Black Lives Matter” are on the table. The challenge is used by the alt-right but also by sincere white questioners. So I’ve been taking a look at the contention to understand the issue, and why it is so often raised.
I’ll start with a few facts I’ve identified in my research (sources available on request):
90% of Black people who are murdered are killed by other Black people.
84% of white people who are murdered are killed by other white people.
Less than 1% of Blacks overall (2% of Black men) commit a violent crime in any given year. This means, factoring in interracial violent offenses, 99% of Black men do not commit Black-on-Black crime.
Violent crime correlates closely with poverty, and does not correlate with race. (This fact seems particularly salient here)
Neighbors in poor white neighborhoods brutalize each other at precisely the same rate as neighbors in poor Black neighborhoods. As one researcher wryly noted, “If we want crime to be more statistically even, we should have more integrated neighborhoods.”
In 2017 President Trump’s Justice Department based on in-depth analysis, issued a decisive repudiation of the notion that crime statistics correlate with race. Here is one analyst’s summary of that report:
“The Justice Department’s statistics-crunching arm just blew up a whole stack of white-supremacist myths about the nature of interracial crime and violence committed by minorities.”
Another factual view: as genetic analysis has become ever more precise, there is clear repudiation of stale and dis-proven pseudo-science that there are genetic differences among the “races”. Still, many white people consciously or unconsciously cling to this myth.
Bottom line: neither scientific/genetic evidence, nor criminal statistical analysis indicates any significant difference between the so-called races when it comes to violent crime.
Then what is the motivation behind the continued cry, “What about Black-on-Black crime?”
The underlying and rarely articulated contention is that Black people are inherently more violent than white people, though respectable white people would never make that charge so bluntly.
Why do we raise this misleading challenge?
A simple matter of deflection. Whether this is done consciously or not, if I can steer the question from any responsibility on my part for the state of many Black Americans, and convert it to an accusation against them, I am off the hook in the discussion:
“Look, over there!!”
This is the same tactic used by a man who, charged with sexual advances or rape, will point to “how she dressed” or “what she said”. Or if a parent is admonishing a child for some offense, the child-like comeback is, “But did you see what HE did?”
As I reflect on the times I’ve heard this question, I can see that this tactic of shifting the spotlight made perfect sense. It came at that precise moment when a white person was being asked to examine root causes of some racial inequity and the complicity of white people. The diversion fends off an honest look at the impact of redlining or poor education or poverty on violence. It also avoids exploring why so many Black people are poor.
Here’s another angle that reveals our skewed logic on this: Along with the fact that 84% of white people who are murdered are killed by another white person, there’s this stat: a white person is 6 times more likely to be killed by another white person than by a Black person. (Pres. Trump tweeted the famously fake stat that Blacks killed 81% of white victims) Yet I’ve never heard the plea “What about white-on-white crime?” We don’t point to the fact that the white race is clearly flawed and is brutalizing its own. In light of the facts, a significant dose of cognitive dissonance is required to believe that the white “race” is actually superior.
In my reading and in my experience, Black people are painfully aware that violent crime is a serious issue in their communities. Some bemoan the situation, some rail against their own race, many are engaged in countering it – parent groups, churches, neighborhood associations, etc. This is their work to do , and many are doing it.
In the meantime, white people of goodwill might best educate ourselves more about the facts, examine our reluctance to address underlying issues and white complicity, and get on with the work of cleaning up our side of the street.
Harvard Kennedy School Review of Black-on-Black Crime
The Dangerous Racialization of Crime in U.S. News Media
Two programs offered by the National Coalition Building Institute (click to learn more/register):
May 29 9:00 am to 4:00 pm: “LAST CHANCE FOR EDEN”: This workshop is based on a powerful film entitled “Last Chance for Eden”. The movie portrays nine people at a weekend retreat focusing on racism and sexism.
June 12 9:00 am to 4:00 pm: “PRIVILEGE”: Privilege and entitlement are trigger words, especially for white people on matters of race. This workshop explores how privilege shapes our sense of self and our interactions…
See list of upcoming events sponsored by 540WMain (click here to learn more/register) beginning with “Introduction to White Privilege” May 14, 6:30 pm.
Tuesday May 28, 6:00 – 8:00: Rochester City School District’s Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) Team, established September 2018. Open to the public. Meets at RCSD Central Office 131 W. Broad St. (Cor. of S. Plymouth Ave.). Be a witness to, and support, efforts to address racial inequities in the school system. Come and learn!
Follow United Christian Leadership Ministry on Facebook, to be alerted to their educational and advocacy actions. Most importantly: Rochester City Council Meeting Tues. May 21, 6:30. The Council plans to vote on the proposed Police Accountability Advisory Board proposal. Come early, since this is sure to be jammed!
10 thoughts on ““What About Black-on-Black Crime?””
“Whataboutism” is becoming so common now that when it does happen, for me at least, it almost stops the conversation – probably ain’t going no place anyway.
Sad but true, Dan.
Fine, thoughtful post as usual , Frank. That media failure described seems to be slowly beginning to change at least locally. Not consistent. But what also serves the media effect of “blacks/browns more violent” is local tv media doing “crime” reports with images of alleged perps; images supplied by law enforcement. It’s easy and cheap “journalism.” Given that police patrol city neighborhoods vs.suburban and, since a majority of Americans get their “news” from broadcast/cable and via social media, the effect is an amplifying of racism in viewers, conscious or not.
Well said, Bob. And the “conscious or not” note is significant. So many don’t realize they’re being brainwashed.
Thank you — succinct and powerful.
This post reminded me of a discussion I was part of last week. I had the great honor of attending a 2-day workshop for journalists, at which Eric Deggans, author of “Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation,” spoke. He noted the media’s indifference–or perhaps culpability is a better word–when reporting on crime. Why is it that so many media outlets still feel the need to report that a perpetrator is African American or Hispanic when they don’t feel the need to report that a crime was perpetrated by a white person? And how do we make it stop?
Really important point, Velvet, thanks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in print – “a white male…” – certainly never when the victim was also white!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks so much for sharing this! Grateful for your careful research and analysis.
LikeLiked by 1 person
And I for yours!