It is simply impossible to have an intelligent discussion about Black
male murder, without grounding it in political economy, history and
Over the weekend, the New York Times featured a piece by Tobin
Warsaw on the Oakland Riots which is essentially about the ways
in which the double standard that some Black people have on Black on
Black violence versus white on Black violence.
In the post, Warsaw quotes Stanly Crouch who essentially
maintains that Black men are killing each other because they can
and that more black men have killed each other in the history
of American culture than white men ever have. One could easily
infer that Oscar Grant's death is relatively small in the grand scheme.
There is nothing restorative, just or humane about this line of thinking.
This logic is flawed. Crouch writes,
By shifting the focus from the murder of a Black man by the
Before the victories of the civil-rights movement, many of the murders of black people during the most intense redneck reigns throughout the South were committed by those once infamously known as "poor white trash." What is now so appalling is that the street gangs that currently terrorize black communities across the nation do so with astonishing levels of murder and mayhem, but they are so often defined by supposedly empathetic liberals—of any color!—as victims of race and class.
I never heard this glib hogwash when the murderers were white and the resultant corpses were black. No one ever explained that the lower-class rednecks, who were responsible for terrorist actions and murder, did so because their own wretched poverty made them feel desperately inferior to the white upper class of the South. When the killers were white, the issues were justice and injustice, not social station or income. Perhaps what they actually thought was that white people, unlike black people, have responsibility for their actions.
police in a city and a state that is notorious for sanctioning violence towards
Black people to the murder of Black men, by other Black men, Crouch
runs the risk of making light of the seriousness of the murder of Oscar Grant.
Furthermore in the above quote, Crouch fails to take into consideration
that poor whites have always had something that no Blacks have
every had, their whiteness.
Crouch's stance is also dangerous because it serves
to create a hierarchy of murder that doesn't take into consideration
the historical violence against Black people in this country and the ways
in which the legal and political system have united to perpetuate
oppression towards Black people.
Redlining, 3 Strikes, The 1986 Anti Crime Bill, Welfare Reform, Jim Crow.
Call it "The Confluence."
Conflating the murder of a black man by a a white cop serves to only mystify
and conceal the issues at hand which are the historical violence that
Black men and women have suffered in this country, the financial
incentives associated with maintaining the prison industrial complex
and black anti black racism.
Crouch, however, does get into why financial incentives involved
in remaining apathetic to Black on Black murder. He writes,
The social and fiscal conservatives should be alarmed by—if nothing else—the billions this country has to pay for the murders, the rehabilitation, the mutilations, the disability, the psychological trauma, and so on. But no: whether on the left or the right, they are all pigs at a trough of clichés.Crouch mentions how expensive it is, but he fails to make a connection
between the livelihoods supported by black crime.
I contend that one of the reasons why there is complacency around
the murders of so many Black men is that the murder and
imprisonment of Black men and women keeps a lot of people
employed. In small largely white towns around the country prisons
have replaced steel mills and other factories as large employers.
Fernanda Santos of the New York Times writes about the impact of
the closing of prisons on rural towns,
As rural economies across the country crumbled in the 1980s and the population of prison inmates swelled, largely because of tougher drug laws, states pushed prison construction as an economic escape route of sorts. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, an average of four prisons were built each year in rural America; the rate quadrupled in the 1980s and reached 24 a year in the 1990s, according to the federal Agriculture Department’s economic research service.When we think about the economic incentives for policy decisions
surrounding the creation and privatizations of prisons then perhaps
we can have a different conversation about Black men, crime and
When I lived in Oakland last year and was looking for work, my cousin
who works at juvenile hall, offered to help me get a job. An entry level, the
position paid $60k. I was floored. To top it off, it was a union position
and because I had college and some graduate school I could have
probably earned more than $60K. $60K is a lot of money to someone
who is looking for a job.
There is a connection between high unemployment, the easy
availability of guns, the drug/gun/murder culture in the hood,
and black anti black racism.
I maintain that only when the ways in which these issues intersect,
and that the policy, budgetary and community decision address
the above issues, point for point, will we make any headway.
That being said, what would the non-profits, charter schools,
after school programs do if Black men weren't killing each other?
What would they focus on then? What would rappers rap about?
Furthermore, what would the non-profit industrial complex do
without the prison industrial complex?
While I think that Crouch's argument about black on black and white
on black murder is flawed, I agree that the senseless
murdering of black men by black men needs to be addressed,
discussed and eliminated.
Let me be clear, I find the murder of Black men, by black
men to be racist. They aren't killing the symbols of power
that play a roll in upholding the system that oppresses them.
They don't kill the judges, the correction officers,
the probation officer's, task force or state troopers or
They kill other black men.
Lewis R. Gordon a professor of Philosophy at Temple University
lays out the notion of Black Anti Black Racism, wherein he describes
how black people can act racist towards other black people.
Granted it is a difficult notion to swallow, but it is what it is.
Hate is hate.
I think that it is time that we cultivate dialectical thinking and dual
Contact Ella Baker Center if you want to help.