America was built on violence, which in many ways remains the norm. This is particularly evident in U.S. foreign policy, which continues to authorize and support violence in various countries throughout the world. It is also manifested in the mainstream media’s over –the-top coverage of violence and the public’s tacit acceptance of same. Unfortunately, having internalized white America’s values and habits, many Black neighborhoods also experience excessive violence. That said, today’s column focuses on violence among Blacks, especially in the inner city.
First, let’s be clear, violence among and between Blacks must never be described as “Black-on-Black violence” as though Blacks possess a genetic propensity to commit violence, which is absurd. The term “Black on Black violence” is a stereotype first coined by the white press but later came to be used by others, even by some Blacks themselves. Does anybody talk about “white-on-white” violence? Of course not, but it is just as prevalent, perhaps even more so, than violence among Blacks.
Black people, like virtually everyone else, condemn violence and despite a disproportionate occurrence of violence in the disenfranchised, poverty-ridden inner city, very few Black people actually engage in violence, including those in poverty ridden neighborhoods. Sadly, reducing violence among Blacks has never been a political or public policy priority. Coupled with seeming indifference (e. g. silence) on the part of many Blacks themselves, it will likely continue disproportionately in some areas unless there is a significant change in mindsets, behavior and traditional Black leadership. Such change has been lacking for several decades.
Violence among Blacks is a manifestation of many factors, including structural racism, poverty and loss of vision and hope, nurtured by prolonged systemic neglect. Moreover, widespread lack of visible concern renders many Blacks complicit in their own oppression. An especially poignant, though troubling example of conditioned violence is the steely nonchalance of many of today’s Black youth towards the pain all around them. On the surface, they seem impervious not only to violence in general, but to violence-related suffering and death. Without significant change, their destiny-and the legacy of their Black adult counterparts will be devoid of vision and hope. Collectively, we share a responsibility to prevent this from happening to the least fortunate among us.
Widespread violence mirrors the violence upon which this country was built and is embedded in slavery’s devastating legacy. Racism and self-effacing conditioning go hand-in-hand as antecedents of self-hate so evident in poor young Black males. Further, middle-class Blacks’ failure to address the significance of violence among poorer Blacks is a major barrier to reducing such violence.
America’s foundational materialism and individualism were, and are, integral components of violence among Blacks, who have internalized those values even though they were never treated as equals or a part of the “justice for all” equation. The following factors, either directly or indirectly, relate to the disproportionate number of Blacks involved in violence in the inner cities.
Having internalized America’s values, most Blacks won’t challenge the white power structure because to do so would be tantamount to threatening themselves. Hence, Black ambivalence and reluctance to shed second-class status—an infliction that renders many complicit in their own oppression. Other manifestations of the “less than white” syndrome include self-hate, low esteem and unwillingness to challenge systemic inequities- all of which has contributed to dysfunctional behavior. Public policy and practice based chiefly on race ensures injustice and inequality. However, ineffective Black leadership as well as the growing chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks also help to perpetuate Blacks entrenched second class status.
Most Blacks realize race matters, but because they fear losing material gains, have opted out of the ongoing struggle for justice and equality. However, reducing pervasive violence, including homicides, is not only possible but imperative. But accomplishing this requires the active participation of all factions within the Black community. Proposed strategies for reducing violence run the gamut but effective ones call for sustainable partnerships among and between local communities, parents, schools, law enforcement, government and Black leadership. Also, explicit agreed on common ground and top to bottom accountability are central for sustainable community empowerment.
It cannot be overemphasizedthat reducing violence among Blacks requires all factions within the Black community,working together to get the job done. Strong, effective and accountable leadership is also an indispensable ingredient in any viable model for successfulviolence reduction.
Although perhaps not readily apparent, the quality of health care services, like public education, has a significant bearing on violence and underscores the critical need, for a full service hospital for South Central and South East Los Angeles whose residents are the poorest in the county and chronically in need of adequate health care services.
Disproportionate violence among poorer Blacks is the culmination of prolonged, systemic neglect, frustration and hopelessness. Sadly, Blacks own seeming indifference is a contributing factor but should never be confused with the fundamental cause, racism that still pervades virtually every aspect of our lives. A new reality based on revived moral and ethical leadership is essential for reducing violence among Black people, especially those most victimized by it.
We are among the most resilient people on the planet but more of us must demonstrate that resilience by reclaiming the moral and ethical values, commitment and leadership of our forbearers. There is no better prescription for reducing violence and restoring a sense of unity throughout the Black community.