In any conversation with a white person about race – be they conservative, moderate or even progressive – I have learned to expect the subject of black on black crime to come up within the first fifteen minutes.  The white person bringing up Black on Black crime will usually say something like this…

Maybe our country still has some work to do about racism, but I wish someone could explain why there is so much Black on Black crime.  Why is it that Blacks are 2 to 3 times more likely to commit a crime and usually against another Black person?  Maybe black people should stop committing crimes and celebrating those who do in their rap music.

While the white person implies some confusion, they obviously don’t need anyone to explain Black on Black crime to them.  Though the statistics for white on white crime are nearly identical to that of Black and Black crime, they have concluded Black on Black crime is evidence of a Black propensity – genetically and/or culturally – to violence. 

This is not a new argument.  It is a well-worn white supremacist trope developed during enslavement to justify rigid control and brutal punishment of enslaved Black men and women.  According to this prejudice, Blacks were little more than animals and could be expected to be more violent.  This argument was often supported with pseudo-science about brain size, body type and other arguments for Black inferiority.  Ironically, these arguments were being made during a period of American enslavement replete with examples of white brutality toward Black people.  During enslavement, Black on white violence were rare and quickly and ruthlessly suppressed.

Usually, when I explain these things to another white person, they respond with something like this…

Well, I agree that slavery was horrible, but that was nearly 200 years ago.  How does any of that explain Black and Black violence today?  If they really want to improve their lives, robbing and killing each other isn’t going to help their cause.

This is, of course, another white supremacist trope.  Many white people imply – whether they realize it or not – that when enslavement ended that Black people were immediately treated with justice and equity and had the opportunities to create lives of promise and prosperity.  This could not be further from the truth. 

Indeed, with the end of legal enslavement, many Blacks experienced even more violence than during enslavement.  During enslavement, they legally belonged to another white person and there were consequences for damaging another white person’s property.  From 1863 until 1963, every white person they encountered could do violence toward them with little fear of consequence.  White on Black crimes were seldom prosecuted, but even the suspicion of violence on the part of a Black person was swiftly and brutally addressed by lynching, mutilations, and murder.

When I explain the long history of white mob violence toward Black individuals and communities, the stories of Rosewood, of Tulsa and of East St. Louis, the lack of convictions for the rape of Black women for nearly 80 years, and the countless examples of unjustified violence toward Black people, white people often ask…

So are you arguing that white people are the reason for Black on Black crime?

 Exactly.

Through generations of experience, Black people have learned violence toward white people is not an option.  Black people know that white and white crime will usually be investigated, adjudicated and punished equitably.  They know that even the suspicion of Black on white crime will be brutally addressed, often without any due process.  They know Black on Black crime will largely be ignored, except as evidence that Blacks are violent and inferior.

Black people are not stupid.

While they are not more violent than white people, they know – if they are driven to violence because of poverty, resentment, humiliation, or hopelessness – they will only make things much worse if they commit that violence on a white person. In a white supremacist society, Black on Black crime is the safest crime for a black person to commit.  They have watched police kill Black people for the mere threat of violence.  In America, a Black man can be shot multiple times in the back when refusing to obey a police officer while Dylann Roof can walk into a Black church, kill nine people, be peacefully detained by police and taken to Burger King for a burger.

When I carefully lay out this explanation for Black on Black violence, white people often remain adamant that Black on Black violence – and NOT systemic racism – is a problem requiring action. They often end our conversation with something like this…

Well, I just think Black people need to clean up their own house first.

White people refuse to see the obvious.

Black people don’t own a house.

They all live in a house owned, controlled, and monitored by white people where even a hint of violence toward their white housemates is cause for a quick and harsh response.

The greatest threat of violence for Black people in America is not Black on Black crime.  The greatest threat of violence for Black people in America is as it has always been – white people.  Even more discouraging, they know that much of this violence will not even be considered a crime.  It will be the government and society sanctioned violence of police, prosecutors, and judges.

If we are really interested in reducing Black on Black crime, there is a simple solution.  We must create a fair and equitable society where Black people can feel safe in police encounters, jails, and courts as well as in the streets. We must reduce the many ways our society continues to do violence to people of color.

4 thoughts on “The Myth of Black Violence

  1. Thank you, Jim. You always make me think and grow. I usually come away from your messages embarrassed by how much I didn’t know/realize. Even though I was raised in a small southern Illinois town (90 minutes or so from East St Louis), was around black folks often and believed they should be treated as equals, had several quite unpleasant “conversations” (AKA yelling) with my dad about racism when I was a teenager my eyes are opened wider with every one of your essays. Keep ‘em coming. 👍

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  2. Great points, as always. Thanks so much. Love the “Black people don’t own a house.” Do you have a link to statistics on black on black and white on white crime? I wasn’t sure if you included one or not. Appreciate all your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

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