Boots Riley: Black culture isn’t the problem – systemic inequality is

Source: The Guardian Unlimited

Bill Clinton isn’t the first person to blame ‘black-on-black crime’ for higher poverty and prison rates among black Americans

The idea that it is black folks and our supposedly immoral and savage culture that creates our disproportionate rates of poverty and imprisonment is everywhere: cop shows, news media, movies set in black neighborhoods and high-school social studies classes have all perpetuated this misconception. And some are now using this old, false idea to disparage Black Lives Matter, saying that the real problem facing black communities isn’t police violence, racist oppression or economic exploitation but “black-on-black crime”. We hear this all over the place, from news columnists to Ray Lewis to Rudy Giuliani – and, most recently, reiterated by Bill Clinton.

It’s asinine, this argument that modern civil rights movements like Black Lives Matter should stop talking about actual problems in favor of apocryphal ones. During the civil rights movement there was much more homicide in the black community than there is now — black-on-black crime is shrinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show that from 1950 to 2013 the percentage of black men who became homicide victims dropped by a third, and for black women the percentage was cut in half.

Though murder rates were higher in the 1960s, no one in their right mind today would argue that those organizers should have put the march on Selma or the Montgomery bus boycott on the back burner to focus on black-on-black violence back then. We shouldn’t pressure today’s activists to do this either.

Yet the myth of black-on-black crime has enormous staying power. It’s no surprise that this kind of argument is so common among the likes of conservative media, Donald Trump and the police, but false hysteria about black-on-black crime has also been absorbed by liberals and black community leaders. Even Spike Lee took this stance in his recent film Chi-Raq, showing a Chicago minister telling a huge crowd that the fight against black-on-black violence is “our Selma”.

We’ve been duped. When black neighborhoods are compared with white neighborhoods of similar income levels, you see similar rates of crime. The fallacy of comparing white neighborhoods with black neighborhoods is in lumping together together wealthy and upper-middle-class neighborhoods (categories that not many black folks are in) with middle- and low-income ones. But that’s not how the world works. Poor white people in Memphis aren’t kicking it with rich ones in Bel Air.

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