The Problem with the ‘Black on Black Crime’ Argument

By Ernest Ezeugo

Photo by Scott Olsen/Getty Images


In recent months, several tragic instances of police practicing excessive (sometimes fatal) force against black men and women have awakened a nationwide discussion about police brutality and how the justice system impacts the black community. This discussion has made a lot of people angry and defensive, and those emotions have led to some virulent responses and justifications.

Of all the empathy-void, compassion-less rebuttals to higher rates of police brutality against black men and women I’ve seen, “oh yeah? well what about black-on-black crime” is my favorite perhaps the most egregious. I have a few ideas on why people who can’t/don’t want to understand the plight of communities concerned by recent events turn to this defense, but below are my thoughts on why citing black-on-black crime is not an acceptable counterargument for police brutality.

Black on black crime and police brutality against black people are not mutually exclusive.
It is entirely reasonable to care about black on black crime and talk about how police brutality and the black community are related. It’s similar to how you can be a fan of waffles and still want pizza for dinner: black-on-black crime and police brutality are two entirely different conversations that don’t need to happen at the same time.

It’s a practice in the politics of changing the subject.
Ta-Nehisi Coates does a lot of writing about the politics of changing the subject that is very much worth taking a look at. Simply put, the black on black crime defense–kin to the “don’t wear seductive clothing” defense and the “don’t dress like a thug” defense–is a form of respectability politics that irrationally turns the blame for the death and mistreatment of black men and women at the hands of the law back onto the community. At its most general, it transforms a necessary conversation about race and justice into a condescending, often blithering discourse on the state of the black community. This is a problem for many reasons that I’ll get into, but essentially at the top of those: it’s a scapegoat that prevents us from taking part in the tough but restorative conversations about race that America has needed to engage in since the Civil War.

It’s a false equivalency.
As this interview with David Rudovsky explains, an inherent conflict of interest arises when an officer takes a life while on duty, immediately disqualifying the notion that police brutality can even be considered in the same league as any level of citizen crime, black-on-black crime in particular. Police officers serve as defenders of the people, so when a police officer is responsible for the death of any civilian, several cogs move into place to assure that trust is maintained between law enforcement and the community. This phenomenon is the reason why we know how many officers were killed in the line of duty this year, but have no accurate measurement of how many civilians were killed at the hands of police. And, begrudgingly, I understand the intent behind it. It isn’t so much shadiness as it is a means of securing trust, and therefore peace, in a society. …But at the end of the day, it doesn’t make it right. And it means that black-on-black crime and police brutality against black people, by their very definitions, are an equivalency that has no merit.

Put succinctly: Black people who kill black people go to jail. Policemen that kill people often do not.

It implicitly suggests that black people are not a part of the State.
In perhaps the most atrocious attempt to relate black on black crime to police brutality of the year, former mayor Rudy Giuliani made some disparaging comments about the state of the black community in an interview with Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson. Chief among them was this thoughtless epitaph: “White police officers wouldn’t be (in your community) if you weren’t killing each other.”

Of the several things wrong with this comment, the most concerning is its implication. We know that police officers are meant to serve and protect all citizens. But when Giuliani asks Dyson what he is doing to heal his community, he proposes two dangerous and incorrect assumptions that many who conjure up the black-on-black crime defense similarly imply: that crime as it occurs in black communities occurs at the fault of the community rather than at the fault of the individual, and that black communities can do more to stop crime than they currently are, and for some reason choosing not to.

In the same way that crime in any other form of community is born, crime involving members of the black community is the product of an individual’s thoughts and desires. It’s for that reason that Giuliani’s assertion is so absurd. There is no superhuman connectivity between black people or paranormal mental Facebook that black people can log onto that allows us to control how often other black people commit crimes. And it’s not like black communities like crime, or aren’t working hard to stop it. We can only expect communities to do what they’ve already been doing.

All of this to say, it is not solely the black community’s responsibility to control crime among its people, just like it is not solely any other communities’ responsibility, because there is nothing that makes the black community different. Remember the police? It’s their responsibility. And consequently, it is their policies and procedures that have to be the first to called to question when the black community is jailed, sentenced, and killed at exponentially higher rates than any other community in the nation.

Talking about race is not easy. If it were, the discussion about race, justice, and law enforcement would have happened after Emmett Till, not at the end of 2014. If we’re going to get to the bottom of what it means to talk about and eventually resolve these issues, we have to be honest with ourselves about what a proper conversation looks like. It’s time to stop pretending that black-on-black crime has a place in the conversation.

—–

Ernest is  the founder of Thirty Eight Minutes.

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Featured Partner: Bennett Foundation for Public Service

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The Bennett Foundation for Public Service

We’re pleased to be introducing one of our first and most important featured partners: The Bennett Foundation for Public Service. The Bennett Foundation and Thirty Eight Minutes share a number of core beliefs, the most important of which is a duty towards helping create engaged citizens, educating our community, and taking on the defining issues of our time. Find out more about them here.

Upcoming Event: PoliCon 2014

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To promote the mission of creating educated leaders and tackling the issues of our time, The Bennett Foundation is hosting a policy conference on September 27th, 2014 in Oklahoma City, and you’re invited! You can purchase a ticket in advance here or pay at the door. To learn more, click the PoliCon2014 image or check out this excerpt from their site.

“PoliCon is a Bennett Foundation project in partnership with Oklahoma Student Leader Summit and 38Minutes.

The first-ever PoliCon will bring together young leaders from across the state to listen to policy experts discuss some of the most pressing challenges facing Oklahomans today. Leaders will be encouraged to gather information and consider public policy solutions to issues ranging from education to criminal justice reform. We’ll wrap the conference up with a “stump speech seminar” that will help attendees articulate their passion for public service in a way that will immediately grab the attention of prople or groups they go on to speak with.

Join us Saturday, Sept. 27th at the historic Paramount Theater in downtown OKC for a gathering of emerging leaders!

Tickets can be purchased here, and include breakfast and lunch.”

Africa, the Single Story, and Self-Demoralization in Black Culture

By Ernest Ezuego

In the summer of 2012, I became a mentor in a program called Sooner Upward Bound (SUB). An installation of the U.S. Department of Education’s TRiO program, SUB serves low-income students from the Oklahoma City area by providing them with resources that help make pursuing a higher education an achievable reality.

I went into that summer with one main goal: Do everything I can to show these kids their value where their schools had not. To that end, I encouraged my students to be open and honest concerning any doubts or fears they had about getting into college so that we could tackle them together. The majority of SUB students during the summer of 2012 were minorities, and naturally a lot of their doubts and fears were race-based. After a lot of talks about how to fit into the higher ed scene, one of my students asked a question that framed the remainder of our summer: “Mr. E, you had to learn how to talk white to fit in here, huh?”

“…Huh?” I responded, not really knowing what else to say.

“You know… full words and stuff, all properly, uppity… you know, white.”

I didn’t know where to begin. The question was an affront to my identity. I spent the majority of my life growing up in the lower-income neighborhoods of the Twin Cities, but my mom moved us to Allen, Texas (arguably best known as the city that wasted $60 million on a high school football stadium… and these) to give us the chance of a great public school education. So being accused of “talking white” aggravated insecurities over my identity.

But then I stopped to think. Why was I so upset about being accused of “talking white”? Was I mad because I saw it as an affront to my identity, or did it have more to do with the subtle assertion that a man couldn’t be both black and well-spoken? Furthermore, what was the source of that assertion? What gave the notion merit?

It has now been two years since my SUB kids challenged me to think deeper about the self-demoralization that is all too common in the black community, specifically among the youth. In those two years, I’ve developed something of a theory for the source of the “white is intelligent, black is ghetto” mentality, and why this mentality persists. This is my attempt to break it down.

Africa is a Continent, not a Country

If we’re going to try and tackle the source of the demoralization of black youth, we really have to make sure that we can get down with the basics, and this is the most basic basic of them all:

africa4
I’ve noticed that something very odd happens whenever someone comes upon the opportunity to talk about a place in Africa. Rarely is a specific city, region, or country mentioned by name. For some reason, there is an affinity for using the word “Africa” as a blanket term to generalize every aspect of this multifaceted, billion-person-strong landmass of 47 contiguous countries and six islands.

(Brilliant satire on how to write about Africa.)

This phenomenon can be found everywhere Africa is discussed, from journalism to pop culture. A quick glance at social media during what I’m convinced has somewhere, somehow been coined “mission trip season” will show you that Africa, more often than any specific country or region in Africa, is a common destination for service. Even corporate PR executives mess it up.

The act itself is more often than not an honest mistake or misconception, but the reality of its implications are much more severe.

The Danger of the Single Story

Even those who know and understand that Africa is not a country have a hard time seeing the continent as anything other the labels that it is too often prescribed: helpless, poverty-stricken, AIDS and malaria-infested, violence-plagued. I would argue that the West has a perception problem; we generalize Africa in a way that is demoralizing more often than it is positive, and the way we see Africans in America (important distinction) is often affected as a result.

This phenomenon is known widely as the “Single Story mentality,” and there are few people in the world that explain it better than Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie did in her talk at TEDGlobal 2009 (which I strongly suggest you watch before continuing).

In her talk, Adichie shares with us her epiphany that demonstrates just how “Single Story thought” can affect the way we talk to and even see others:

“What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”

The Miseducation of the Black Child

And you know what does little to nothing to combat the dangerous of a Single Story mentality when it comes to Africa? Our classrooms. Care to guess what is the first event in history discussing black people (African, African-American) en masse that most students learn about?

Here’s a hint: it has nothing to do with Timbuktu being the center of learning from the 13th to 17th centuries or the rich histories of several African empires.

Here’s another hint: it’s slavery.

We are literally teaching our young black boys and girls that slavery is the first time they are significant enough to come into the broader picture of history.

I don’t have statistics or data concerning the impact of this charge, but I don’t need it. I have personal experiences to support my claim. I have the experiences of the many young black students I have mentored since I got into the game, and with those experiences, I can tell you this:

When little black boys and girls are taught that the history of their people began with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, they are taught that their people have a history of being less than adequate. No amount of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” or “now we are equal” can change that. (I will admit that Civil Rights is a prominent topic in the teaching of history that does empower people to believe that they can take steps towards overcoming oppression, but fast forward to the world that we live in today, and most people will prove that the struggle is still not over.)

When black students learn that our founding fathers omitted the denunciation of slavery (not passed on or never discussed, but included and then took out for the sake of making agreement/ratification easier) in not one but two of the nation’s most influential, most celebrated governing documents, they are coerced into being proud of our country’s “commitment to liberty” that institutionalized the demoralization of colored people.

Something isn’t right, here.

(Further reading for another time: The Miseducation of the Negro: History is a Weapon by Carter G. Woodson)

Connecting the Dots

It’s important to note that this isn’t about assigning blame or making excuses. At the end of the day, there are many more factors that contribute to the epidemic of self-demoralization in black culture. Not unlike most problems we face, this, too, is multifaceted, and I understand that. But quite frankly, this is real. Negative self-association is real. And it deserves to get the pedestal treatment so that we may begin looking at ways to tackle its catalysts.

The truth is that the generalization of Africa hurts far more than it helps. When something bad happens (say, Sudanese conflict, or the LRA), generalization causes all of Africa to be painted with the same brush. The same thing happens when, for example, your friend (bless his/her heart) tells you that he/she is going on a mission trip to “Africa.” The implication–that they are going somewhere that needs their help–is extended over an entire continent, whether or not you realize it.

The generalization of Africa helps perpetuate a Single Story. It feeds the tendency we have to generalize for the sake of making things simpler. Unfortunately, it enables us to generalize Africans (and in some cases, even all black people) as if they have less and mean less. It persuades us to look at the statistics (e.g. disproportionately high incarceration rates, ghettoes created in the aftermath of housing discrimination, etc.) instead of the individual people and their stories. Worst of all, it reinforces what our education shows us: a disproportionately large history of the black community enduring failure, suffering, and struggle rather than progress.

All of this makes it easier to self-associate with being unintelligent, while seeing white people as generally better off and more intelligent. It advances the theory that we have to “talk white to fit in.” And when our youth believe that it’s okay, that it’s the norm to find being well-spoken or intelligent as extraordinary rather than average, the prophecy fulfills itself.

It’s up to all of us to pay attention to how we generalize people, cultures, and ideas. To recognize the danger of a Single Story for any group, and work from there to make sure that our communities don’t perpetuate anything that might make another person feel comfortable with being less than.

—–

Ernest is a Political Science senior at The University of Oklahoma and the founder of Thirty Eight Minutes.

A Tribute to Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou at a health care awareness event at the University of Alabama - Birmingham.

This morning, Maya Angelou passed away at the age of 86. This morning, we lost one of the most exceptional people of our age.

A brief look back into Maya’s life shows us that 86 years was too short to chronicle her affinity for challenging limits. There isn’t much she hasn’t done–as a world-renowned activist, historian, and poet, she has influenced innumerable lives and taught lessons to many. She was the first black and first female to deliver an inaugural poem, she has won several awards and honors (including, but not limited to, the National Medal of Arts, the Mother Theresa Award, and three Grammys), and has performed or seen her poetry performed for the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu,  Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and many more. She has lived a prolific life and is hailed as a global renaissance figure, but the most inspiring things about her to me are her roots.

Maya Angelou was a product of and witness to the troubling times of the Jim Crow south. She spent most of her life dedicated to the fight for civil rights, and her many poems, books, and memoirs regarding the African American experience helped equip me and many like me with the confidence and knowledge to take on the world.

When I think back on how her wisdom found its way into my life, I realize that she had a large role in some of the most memorable parts of my childhood. Maya was there in the evenings my mom and I spent talking about the history of African Americans through select passages of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, she was present for the hours and hours I spent listening to conscious hip-hop artists like Tupac Shakur and Nas spit lyrics that gave new life to her words,  and I like to think she was smiling somewhere on the day I knew I wanted to write and recite poetry after reading and listening to “Still I Rise” for the first time.

I can’t help but feel that Maya Angelou resonated so heavily with our generation because she taught us about change, forgiveness, courage, the meaning of life, and the human condition in ways that inspired us to be and be better, for ourselves and for others. She captured and spoke to the resilience of the downtrodden in ways that left no one out. She gave a powerful and warm voice to the brave men and women who fought for equality and fair treatment under the law, and she made it easy for others to share the plight and the celebration of the civil rights cause with her eloquent, flowing wordplay and prose.

I’ve spent a long time thinking about how I could write a tribute to Maya Angelou as poignant as the lessons I learned from her. I scribbled words in my poetry journal and tried to piece them together in a way that reflected her elegant life, going through her own works for ideas. I finally came across something that might do the trick better than I ever could. The following is a stanza from the poem “When Great Trees Fall”, which is the last poem in my favorite body of her work, I Shall Not Be Moved.

“And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.”

 

Why 38 Minutes Aren’t Enough

What’s up?

Hi. If you’re reading this right now, then the first thing we want to do is thank you for clicking the link that brought you to our project. It’s our most sincere wish that you enjoy what you see, and come back for more.

To be honest, it’s hard to describe what Thirty-Eight Minutes is at this moment. It started as a desire to blog about (read: force myself to research) education in all of its aspects, from policy to implementation. I had struggled to keep a personal blog before, and I really wanted this journey to be something long term since I’d like to go into education policy one day, so I had the idea to ask a few friends if they wanted to keep me accountable by joining along. Before we knew it, the idea became something much more than a means to do research. We envision a site that is serious enough to talk about the bigger issues we face, but relaxed enough to still be considered a blog. While we want to educate people about the topics that are closest to our heart, we also seek to make our readers comfortable in engaging in a grander conversation with us and each other.

You might have a few questions.

Who is this “we” you keep referring to?

Good question! As of this moment, Thirty-Eight Minutes consists of five core contributing bloggers:

Ernest

 

There’s me, Ernest. For the sake of brevity and my pride, here’s a small list of things I’ve been using to describe myself as of late: Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2006, novice freestyle rapper (Hot Ice Tea in many circles), aspiring educator and education policy influencer, former person of importance, current regular guy, resident cool kid.

 

 

 

38minutes_david

 

This is David. There are few people I know that can express themselves as well as David, which was the primary reason that I was excited to ask him to participate in Thirty-Eight Minutes. He is definitely the most famous blogger of us all (featured on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed and asked to write posts for several other blogs, including Rotary International). On top of those accolades, he also has a TED Talk on general education in college.

 

 

38minutes_lester

 

This is Lester. Lester is the first person I approached about Thirty-Eight Minutes for a number of reasons. The first and the foremost is that he’s incredibly insightful and intelligent. He knows a lot about how to express his opinion while being both respectful and encouraging to those who might disagree. To put that into perspective for you, I’m fairly certain this guy had at least 75 likes on every Facebook status he posted in the first two years that I knew him.

 

 

38minutes_lorenzo

 

This is Lorenzo. Lorenzo has been a mentor to me since close to the beginning of my college career. He is passionate about the pursuit of equality in educational opportunity and currently serves as a Teach for America Corp member. He’ll (as of this moment) be attending Vanderbuilt to pursue a Masters degree in Education Policy, so he is essentially living out my dream and quite literally what I want to be when I grow up.

 

 

aaronpropic38min
This is Aaron. Aaron is my best friend, and also happens to be married to the woman that I believe is responsible for connecting me with 60% of the people I’ve ever met. But Aaron also holds a Masters in Speech Pathology, and is a Speech Pathologist in the Oklahoma City Public Schools system. On top of having a pulse on the realities of education, he is an incredible writer who critiques and reviews music and films on his personal blog.

 

Why is this blog called “Thirty-Eight Minutes”?

As mentioned earlier, our blog’s shallow history is deeply rooted in the topic of education. As four part-time bloggers who came together at an institution of higher education, we recognize the important roles–both academic and general–that education has played in our lives. We also, however, wanted a name that would speak to what we would seek to do with the site: a name that would be symbolic of both the brief history of the blog and its intention.

The title 38 Minutes comes from a study led by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which confirmed over-stretched guidance counselors are providing an average of just 38 minutes of college readiness and admissions advice per high school student in their traditional four years of secondary education. There are a number of reasons why this statistic is problematic for the the pursuit of education in the U.S. (a more detailed post on this issue coming soon). But perhaps the most obvious is simple: 38 scattered minutes over a four year high school career are not enough to adequately encourage college readiness and preparation.

While a couple of meetings between a guidance counselor and a high school student might be enough to begin the conversation on college readiness, they aren’t enough to dive deep. They aren’t enough to talk about the intricacies of getting and keeping scholarships, prepare a student for the ever-changing higher education landscape, or make sure students have realistic expectations about what it means to be away from home. But most importantly, 38 scattered minutes don’t represent enough time to turn plans into action. And just as 38 minutes between and guidance counselor and a student should be the beginning of a grander conversation, Thirty-Eight Minutes’ exists to get the party started.

We want to give a voice to the issues–good and bad, big and small– that we believe are relevant to the world today. But we desire to be the beginning of a grander conversation that leads to action. After all, as H.E. Luccock once put it, it takes an orchestra to play a symphony.

In the faith of this pursuit, while Lester, David, Lorenzo, and I task ourselves with keeping Thirty-Eight Minutes current, we encourage you to be an active part of the blog’s content. We implore you to read our articles and give us feedback by rating them, leaving comments, and taking part in the discussions that are sure to start.

We know enough to know that we don’t know everything. Join the conversation by sharing our articles, liking the ones that interest you the most, and commenting on the ones that move you to share your opinion.

Sometimes, we are going to share opinions that might not be popular. There are times we might even come across as controversial. We hope that when these moments arise, they occur earnestly and in the steady pursuit of education and inspiration. We also hope that you will show us patience, and engage in the conversations that might not be comfortable. We believe that it’s in discomfort that we tend to learn the most.

That being said, whether you’re planning on being a frequent commenter or a casual reader of Thirty-Eight Minutes, you are appreciated all the same. Let’s begin.