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Ugly Truths About Prejudice

Are sky-high black crime rates responsible for prejudice in America?

by
Clayton E. Cramer

Bio

May 11, 2012 - 12:00 am

A number of commentators have pointed out the enormous focus that civil rights leaders have put on the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of a white man, while essentially ignoring the vastly more common situation of black on black murder. On an average day in 2010, there were eighteen blacks murdered in the U.S., and sixteen of those black victims were murdered by other blacks — and yet those crimes seem to be of no real interest to the mainstream media or the race hustlers like Al Sharpton.

While I agree that some of this is simply political gamesmanship, there is another part of this strange misfocus that actually does make some sense. It is based on the bitterness that many blacks feel about racial prejudice. NBC News ran a program recently in which they interviewed a number of their black employees about the sensation of being treated as potential criminals no matter where they go.  I don’t doubt that they have experienced this, and that it is almost certainly racial prejudice driving this. Most guys have at one time or another have approached a strange woman in an isolated place, and seen the fear. We feel terribly ill-treated because it is apparent what she is thinking: “A man I don’t know is a rapist — or at least, there is a good chance of it.”

What causes prejudices like these? Prejudices usually have some basis to them — either personal experiences, or knowledge that we have acquired from friends or from the news. Sometimes, those prejudices are positive.  A friend of mine is a Korean-American. When he was in junior high and high school, everyone wanted to sit next to him in math classes. “Everyone knows” that Asians are good at math; they could learn from him or at least copy from his tests!  (And they were  disappointed to discover that this is just a prejudice — he was not good at math.)  There are still Americans with positive prejudices of Jews as clever, or blacks as especially talented at music (“natural rhythm”).

Even when those prejudices are based on some actual difference in the average for the group, for any particular member of the group, that positive prejudice is often wrong.  We tend not to be quite so angry when we are assumed to be smarter, or more talented, or more capable because of our membership in a group, but it is still not a good thing.

The darker problem, however, are the negative prejudices: the ones that cause a store security guard to watch a black guy who enters a store; that cause taxi drivers in big cities to be reluctant to pick up blacks after dark (even when the taxi driver is black himself); that used to cause some employers to assume that women weren’t logical enough to be computer programmers.  If you have ever been on the losing side of one of these prejudices, you understand the sense of injustice that is obviously driving much of the rage about the Trayvon Martin killing.

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.

Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012). He is raising capital for a feature film about the Oberlin Rescue of 1858.
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