Today in False Black "Pathologies"

Ta-Nehisi Coates does a great job of debunking the idea—which has become prevalent on the right, in the wake of Trayvon Martin and surrounding activism—that African American leaders are somehow indifferent to crime within their communities. With a simple Google search, he offers examples—drawn from the last three years—of rallies and protests in support of efforts to curtail violence in predominantly black neighborhoods. Here he is with a little commentary:

I came up in the era of Self-Destruction. I wrote a book largely about violence in black communities. The majority of my public experiences today are about addressing violence in black communities. I can not tell you how scared black parents are for their kids, and whatever modest success of my book experienced, most of it hinged on the great worry that black mothers feel for their sons.

In addition to highlighting the obvious truth that black people care about what happens in their neighborhoods, it’s also worth pointing out the degree to which “black-on black” is a stupid way to understand or contexualize crime. Implicit in the description is the idea that crime committed against blacks by blacks has a racial component—that victims are targeted on the basis of their blackness.

The truth is that crime has more to do with proximity and opportunity than anything else. If African Americans are more likely to be robbed, or injured, or killed by other African Americans, it’s because they tend to live in close proximity to each other. Like most people, criminals almost always take the path of least resistance—nine times out of ten, they’ll go for the easy target.

To put this another way, white Americans are most likely to be victims of other whites, but there’s no talk of a “white-on-white” crime epidemic. Not that this is a surprise, but typical, explainable behavior becomes “pathology” when observed in African Americans. That this still has currency is incredibly frustrating.

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