Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005  

Opinion: Fear of blacks is not justified

Veteran African-American journalist Eugene Robinson recently published an editorial at the Washington Post in which he called for a dialogue about race. He was influenced by former Secretary of Education William Bennett's revealing remarks linking race and criminality. Robinson said:

"I have a thought experiment of my own: If we put our racial baggage on the table and talk about it, we'll begin to take care of a lot of unfinished business."

The blogger at Noahpinion has accepted Robinson's proosal, sort of. He says he would like to have such a conversation, but then goes on to make the offer conditional.

I have heard this idea a lot - that America's race relations have "unfinished business," and that the solution is to have a "dialogue" about it. Clinton was one main supporter of this idea. But it occurs to me:

If white people really participate in a frank and honest way about race, they will speak what's undoubtedly on many of their minds - that they are afraid of black men and associate black men with violence and crime. Robinson was right about Bennett - but if he thinks that Bennett's view is a minority one among whites, he's wrong. Something tells me that having a lot of white people say "we think black men are more likely than white men to be violent" would not be conducive to good race relations. . .not exactly the kind of baggage-expunging dialogue that Clintoned (sic) envisioned.

But the (scientifically proven) (sic) truth is, a significant percentage of white people are afraid of black men. Why? Racist stereotypes definitely have something to do with it, but so does the fact that the black murder rate is 7 times higher than the white murder rate (although the gap is narrowing). Violence is a deep-rooted and widespread problem in many black communities, and many white people are therefore afraid of black men, and this is just a fact.

And this fear that white people have of black men hurts black people economically. It stops white people from shopping in black areas, having black friends and business partners, and marrying black women. It provides psychological ammunition to the real racists in this country, who relish any opportunity to divide whites from blacks.

So if people really are ready to hear about whites' fear of black men in a national "race dialogue," then let's start that dialogue right away. any (sic) dialogue that doesn't face this fact will be empty and hollow.

My initial reaction to reading Noah's entry was to be rather catty. I composed a comment only to discover that his blog does not accept comments from non-members. I wrote:

The people most at risk of being raped, assaulted or murdered by any man (black, white, yellow, brown or albino) are (with the exception of albino, which isn't a race) those of the same race. Furthermore, the person who does any of these things is likely to be a family member, a friend or an acquaintance. Rationally, people should be most afraid of their associates and criminals of their own race. So, it seems to me that your perception -- that millions of white people are soiling their undies in fear of being attacked by black men even as we speak -- suggests that white people are irrational. Is that your point?

But, let's consider Noah's opinion more soberly. First, make no mistake about it, I believe that persons convicted of violent crimes should serve lengthy sentences. If the offenses are bad enough, I don't shed any tears if the death penalty is invoked. Still, I believe Noah's biases are showing. As already noted, relationships are key components of victimization more than half the time. So, the high incidence of some types of homicide among African-American men is mainly a risk for other black Americans. It is not rational that white people would believe that they are at risk of murder by these criminals. Indeed, the risk of homicide even within the African-American population is significantly lower if one controls for class, location and involvement in the criminal subculture. Criminals, regardless of race, have a tendency to kill each other.

Related to a skewed perception of who is likely to be victimized by whom is Noah's failure to consider that when it comes to some kinds of crime, white males, well, excel. If white people are as easily frightened as he claims, why aren't they fleeing whites in their workplaces (85.2 percent of people who go postal at work fit that demographic), or dumping that drink 'John' gave them at the party behind the ficus bush (80.6 percent of poisoners are white}? With all due respect to Noah's fellow white male blogger, Joseph Duncan, do we even need to discuss the likely race of serial killers? If Noah believes that the existence of higher rates of some types of homicides is grounds for fearing blacks, but existence of higher rates of some types of homicides is not grounds for fearing whites, we are back to that old American tradition. His viewpoint is being determined by prejudiced beliefs about race, not reality. Researchers have discovered that it is easier for a white felon to find a job than it is for a black man with no criminal record to do so. Noah has provided insight into why that might be true. He believes black people's crimes count, but white people's crimes don't.

A final note. I can't speak for other folks, but I am offended when white people or men or the privileged begin their dialogues with the nonwhite, women or poor by ordering them to behave in a certain way. There's an assumption of superiority in that. Noah's entry is an example. He has told African-Americans what the topic is and what they are allowed to say. Why? Aren't people of color capable of reaching their own conclusions about what they want to say and then expressing themselves?

Ironically, it appears that Noah considers himself a liberal. With friends like him. . . .

posted by J. | 2:25 PM