Violence among Black people, as in virtually all other groups, is the exception, not the norm. Unfortunately, the term “Black-on-Black Violence is widely used by whites, others and sometimes, even by Black people themselves. Violence exists in all groups, everywhere, but the term “Black-on-Black violence” implies Blacks are genetically prone to violent behavior which is not only misleading, but nonsense. The term Black- on Black violence also feeds a widespread stereotype that Blacks, unlike any other group, are inherently violent.
All violence diminishes human life but for well-known but largely minimized underlying reasons when it comes to Black people, especially in the inner-city, research and media reports regularly use the term Black-on-Black violence exclusively for Black s, no other group is referred to that way. And this happens without an outcry from the powers that be, including Black leadership. Why the deafening silence? Answers are rooted in racism and resulting disproportionate poverty, anger, unemployment, failing education systems etc. Moreover, passive acceptance of the term by many Blacks tends to reinforce the stereotype.
White leadership coined the term “Black-on-Black violence,” with the tacit support of rank and file cohorts, intending to demean, scandalize and isolate Blacks. Remember, violence is indelibly embedded in this country’s DNA. Conservatives’ construct of Black-on-Black violence serves to devalue Black life with racist proclamations such as “Blacks do not try hard enough to extricate themselves from circumstances of their own making, etc.”
Conservative leadership also prognosticated Blacks would die early in record numbers and claimed, “Their propensity for violence is a symptom of the potential for ravaging mainstream life.” The Tea Party predicted Blacks would become the menace conservatives were telling the public to fear and also claimed Black violence resulted from “a pathological culture, predatory youth and socially disorganized inner cities.” Two major themes ran through the conservatives’ credo: Black youth especially, are naturally and culturally afflicted with a propensity for violent behavior and the Black family nurtures that affliction.
Reasons for violence among Blacks include disproportionate poverty, dysfunctional families, absence of positive role models, lack of political will, ineffective leadership, schools’ failure to educate Black children and a breakdown in moral and ethical standards. Violence destabilizes any community and the inter-relatedness of these things contributes to both its perpetuation and solutions for its reduction.
Bob Herbert, a Black columnist for the New York Times said, “If white people were doing to Black people what Black people are doing to Black people, there would be rioting from coast to coast.” Perhaps, but that’s cynical and misleading; the reality is white people continue to control and oppress Blacks, who in recent years have responded with only episodic, not sustained anger or dissatisfaction.
Nationally, Blacks are many times more likely to be murdered, according to the U.S. Justice Department and 94% of Black murder victims are killed by Blacks. Maybe, but overwhelmingly, residents of high-crime communities are law-abiding and frequently the ones victimized. Economists point out the obviously destabilizing effect violence has in all communities and those who can, leave, do so, businesses go elsewhere and neighborhoods deteriorate.
Psychological factors are very important. For example, Blacks’ level of negativity towards each other is often as great as it is against whites. Among the most insidious of slavery’s legacies is self-hate and internalization of subservience, frequently covered by a thin bravado that masks underlying insecurity. This should not be minimized because ultimately, personal change comes from within.
Other misconceptions don’t help: Many, including Blacks themselves, refer to Blacks and other people of color in the U.S. as “racists.” This is incorrect. Racism involves the power of one group to control others based on color or ethnicity. Therefore, it is virtually impossible for Blacks, or other people of color, to be racists in America, because they lack such power. Prejudice and bigotry exist among all races and ethnicities but should not be confused with racism.
Violence among Blacks also reflects a pervasive dearth of effective leadership and the absence of moral and ethical standards. The ever widening chasm between middle-class and poorer Blacks also hinders efforts to reduce violence because the middle class, even though currently on the sidelines, is vitally needed in the continuing struggle for freedom, equity and justice.
Violence among Blacks is a subset of societal violence. America has a history of violence which it has perpetrated since its beginning. Yet it blinks at violence at home while supporting brutal regimes throughout the world. Less apparent, but no less relevant, is the violence caused by schools that fail to educate Black children and police brutality (also sanctioned by silence) that continues despite recent Black groups’ reform efforts.
Efforts to reduce violence among Blacks have not succeeded because they have been neither a political priority nor adequately funded. Of course, violence among Blacks continues to be researched ad nauseam with little effect on alleviating the problem. Even sound, corrective strategies cannot succeed without constant community pressure and political will.
Blacks must relentlessly pressure decision-makers, including Black leadership, to demonstrate real concern by addressing not just the symptoms but the systemic causes for violence among Blacks. The current norm, silence, reinforces violence in Black communities and must be reversed. This means both high level decision makers, including Black leaders- and ultimately, the Black community itself- must be held accountable for reducing violence. Anything less is unacceptable.