If you experience prejudice long enough, you will see it even where it isn’t. Many years ago, a white woman and a black man came to my door, ostensibly doing some sort of survey. I thought that this was a public opinion survey, but it was actually an encyclopedia sales pitch. As I was looking for a polite way to kick them out, the black guy suddenly says, “You’re looking at me like you think I’m casin’ the joint.” He picked up on my irritation and disgust, and assumed that it was racially motivated, when it was really annoyance that they had deceived me to do their sales pitch. I can see why, after a lifetime being seen as a likely criminal because of his color, he made that assumption.
What causes this widespread prejudice of blacks as likely criminals? It is not a white supremacist conspiracy. Even blacks admit to this prejudice against their own race. Rev. Jesse Jackson made a painfully honest admission, some years ago, that he had reached an age where if he heard footsteps behind him in a city at night, if he looked over his shoulder and saw a white person, he felt relieved. If an Asian guy walks into a department store in America, I am pretty sure that store security doesn’t start following him around. If an Asian guy is driving a nearly new car, I am pretty sure that the police won’t pull him over to make sure the car isn’t stolen. (This used to happen to a friend of mine in San Jose who looked Hispanic, even though she wasn’t.) What causes this prejudice against blacks?
Here is an ugly truth: the source of this nasty prejudice about blacks and crime is the fact that black crime rates are extremely high. Most of it is directed against other blacks, but that doesn’t change the perception by Americans (black, white, or purple). Black murder rates are roughly 4.5x what you would expect for their proportion of the population, with similarly disproportionate rates for robbery (4x), aggravated assault (3x), burglary (3x), forgery and counterfeiting (3x), fraud (3x), and rape (3x). You don’t have to read the FBI Uniform Crime Reports to know this, either. Essentially everyone (white or black) who has ever lived in an urban area in the U.S. has first-hand experience of this.
There is only one way to fix this problem of racial prejudice — and that is to reduce black crime rates to a level commensurate with the black population. The glorification of criminality in urban black culture is shocking and destructive. It encourages more of the same, and teaches young black men that this is an acceptable cultural form. There are black leaders, such as Bill Cosby, who have worked hard, and expended considerable capital, trying to shame black parents into promoting values that were common among poor blacks when Cosby was growing up in a rough section of Philadelphia: education, respect for others, hard work. But Cosby seems to have lost this battle.
Black Americans have good reason to be upset when they are treated like criminals simply because of their color. But as long as crime in America is so disproportionately a black activity, those prejudices will persist.