There was a murder near my neighborhood a couple of days ago. Over at the mall about 3 miles from my house. It’s the nicest mall in the area, if malls can be considered nice. It has a glass ceiling and upscale stores along with the usual franchises that litter every mall in America. I only go there when I have no other choice. I hate malls. I am a mall bigot.
The murder happened right about closing time, down at the food court on the lowest level. A Sbarro’s employee, aided somehow by a compatriot, walked down a back hallway and shot two of his co-workers. One died; the other, a teenage girl, is in critical condition.
Two suspects have been arrested. According to some, they fit the expected demographic: one is 18, the other is 20, and both appear to have dark skin. Pitchforks and torches are at the ready.
My favorite comment on this incident may be from Jen, who frequents the Forbidden Hillcrest Facebook page, and who said,
If you are going to rob your employer and shoot your coworkers, wouldn’t it be more lucrative if you worked at Bailey Banks and Biddle instead of a greasy pizza joint in the mall? How stupid would that person feel in jail in with the population: “I, uh, stole a bunch of ones and some of those Parmesan packets and shot the mfers that wouldn’t hand over the pepperoni.”
We laughed, despite the seriousness of the situation, because sometimes laughter helps ease the ache. This crime was so senseless, and four lives – as well as the lives of their loved ones – are forever changed. But what crime is sensible? Criminals are not exactly known for their intelligence. Witness: their chosen profession.
Forbidden Hillcrest, on whose page Jen posted that comment, reports on crime in and around my neighborhood, spreads rumors about creeks that run red with zombie blood, posts cool photos of how my Hillcrest neighborhood used to look back in its early days, explores the mysteries of Hillcrest today, and makes up stuff about pug stranglers and roving gangs of women vigilantes. Sometimes we wish some of those roving vigilantes were real. Especially when the target of local crime is, well, us.
A couple of weeks ago national crime statistics released for 2012 positioned Little Rock as the 8th worst city in the country in crime. Detroit Michigan is #1, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas, less than an hour down the freeway from here, is #2. Flint, Michigan was third, followed by Memphis, Tennessee, whose metro area includes the area across the Mississippi River in Arkansas. Arkansas boasts three urban areas in the top ten, with an average score 103.87. Now, Michigan’s average scores (150.23) are much worse, with Detroit and Flint at #1 and #3, but the average scores for the two cities in Tennessee that make the top ten – one of which is the Memphis metro area, of course, and the other is Jackson – make it a definite third (86.85).
Why all the crime? That’s something I don’t pretend to know all the answers to. There’s a fellow who chose to comment confidently on the Arkansas Blog as to the nature of the people who committed the crime.
They must have had no opportunities in life and come from a broken home without a father. But I bet you $100.00 that they have the latest cell phones and have some 24 inch chrome rims for day rides main.
I could have ignored that but for the fact that… okay, fine: There’s no way I could ignore that racist crack.
I didn’t get there first, though. Others who are regulars on that blog, like me, jumped in with both feet. The original commenter, who went by the handle “larock72,” responded:
Unfortunately I have worked in a outreach organization for Central Arkansas for many years and have worked with the LRPD. Black America has some major problems that are brought on by the dependence on government. It has created a lazy black nation that lacks in morality. Go bother someone else…..my comments while sarcastic and rude are the truth.
But he wasn’t done. He responded to another commenter who called him out on his racist bigotry:
Listen I am the definition of smart and intuitive. I have worked with many poor and down and out black families. They are the ones who are ashamed of their people. I have nothing against any person! … I am tired of the typical initial liberal response to my insightful posts on this blog…. Oh and – Have a nice day in liberal fantasy camp.
That post sent me back to what he had already written, looking for something insightful. I came up totally empty.
The extreme over-generalization of an entire race (“black America”), not to mention an entire class (“no opportunities” and “dependent on the government”) and an huge segment of society that crosses the lines of race, class, and educational levels (“broken home without a father”) astounded and offended me.
For a little context, let me say that very recently I was the victim of crime perpetuated by four men who happened to have been born black. Every black person I have told about this crime has been horrified at what those thugs did to me – as has every white person and every brown, red, and yellow person – and every other person whose skin falls into a shade somewhere among those hues. The truth is, the vast majority of people, no matter what their social or economic circumstances may be, are law-abiding and contribute to society in a positive way.
I seriously doubt that their race had anything to do with the decision of either group of thugs – these murders or the robbers who assaulted me – to commit a crime. Their antisocial behavior may – may – have been a result of their involvement in a gang subculture. (Young people of white, Latino, and interracial descent in this city are also involved in gangs.) It may have been a result of bad parenting. (There are crappy parents of all colors.) It may have been chronic unemployment and a Jean Valjean-level of desperation. (A lack of jobs disproportionately affects younger people.) It may be attributable to an entertainment industry that glorifies violence, especially violence with guns, especially by young males, regardless of race.
More likely, it possibly could be attributed to the fact that their antisocial personalities didn’t care that they would be spending quality time in prison, because they intended to have a grand time robbing someone of stuff they could sell fast for some quick money.
If race had anything to do with their decision to commit a crime, I submit for consideration the possibility that racist comments by narrow-minded bigots who over-generalize and do not see individuals, but instead see color and stereotype accordingly, contributed to their sense of hopelessness and created an environment in which they might have decided that if that’s what the dominant people in their society thought of them, then they might as well go ahead and do it and get it over with.
I beg larock72 and anyone who agrees with him to please back off the stereotyping and racist bigotry and look into the actual person’s situation. You may not sympathize with this particular criminal, but it may enable you to see beyond the next young black person’s race and socioeconomic status long enough to realize that they are people, too – with the same hopes, dreams, ambitions, desires, and plans for a good future that you and “your kind” have.
“No opportunities,” “broken home without a father,” “24 inch chrome rims,” and “dependent on the government” – these phrases assume an awful lot about the people who committed this crime. At this point, the only thing we know for sure about them is the color of their skin and their ages.
Larock72 condemned an entire race by painting it with the same wide brush. This is the race claimed by outstanding public servants and policy makers such as Barack Obama, Patricia Roberts Harris, Eric Holder, Joycelyn Elders, Andrew Young, Ron Brown, Ralph Bunche, Booker T. Washington, David Dinkins, Harold Washington, Clarence Thomas, and Thurgood Marshall. This attitude tells Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, and Gwendolyn Brooks that they did not earn their awards and prizes for their amazing contributions to literature on their own merit. Larock72’s comments exemplify the environment that made the civil rights work and sacrifices of Marian Wright Edelman, Harriet Tubman, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and W.E.B. Du Bois so much more difficult and costly than they had to be. Such a sweeping condemnation of an entire race completely disregards the important scientific contributions and inventions by George Washington Carver, James West, Garrett Morgan, and Emmett Chappelle. It ignores the groundbreaking medical research and procedures pioneered by Charles Drew and Daniel Hale Williams. It is the attitude that would have us believe that Mae Jemison never should have been a doctor, much less an astronaut.
This list could go on and on. The people I have listed are only a few of the black Americans who have made significant contributions to our culture and society in the last hundred and fifty years.
If larock72’s position is correct, we should think that the only reason we have black admirals and generals like Colin Powell and Lloyd Austin in our military is because they love violence and killing – never mind their proven leadership and judgment. We should also minimize the gifted performances of Paul Robeson, Morgan Freeman, Sidney Poitier, Will Smith, James Earl Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Denzel Washington, and Halle Berry, who clearly were only given their acting roles because blackface went out of style with Al Jolson.
Stereotypes may lead people like Larock72 to think that musicians like Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Ellis Marsalis and his famous sons, the Neville Brothers, Louis Armstrong, and the many, many other black musicians who have shaped the American music landscape were doing the only thing they were culturally suited for: making noise. And what about Muhammed Ali, Arthur Ashe, Tiger Woods, Jackie Robinson, and Michael Jordan? Oh, right – there’s that thing about the extra leg muscle that makes them a different species, but better athletes. It’s only to be expected.
The 2010 Census figures show list the entire population of the United States at roughly 309 million people. Of those, 223 million people, or 72% of all people living in the United States reported their race as white. The black or African-American population totaled 39 million and represented 13% of the total population. These numbers reflect only those people reporting themselves as one race only. In Arkansas, close to 4500,00 people – less than 16% of our state’s total population – are black. So Arkansas has a slightly higher percentage of black citizens than the average state’s black population.
The National Poverty Center compiled the statistics with respect to income gathered by the Census Bureau in 2010, and reports that nearly 15 million – about 38% – of black children live in poverty while roughly 27 million – only 12% – of white children do. Fewer black children live in poverty, but because the black population is so much lower than the white population, a larger proportion of black children are poor.
But even if we look at the disproportionate number of poor black kids, we still see that not only are there fewer of them living below the poverty line, the 38% that do don’t make up “a vast majority,” no matter how we do the math.
So let’s look at who actually receives government assistance. Again, according to the Census Bureau, about 3% of the total population of the United States received public assistance in 2010. Arkansas, despite its greater relative numbers living below poverty level, has a lower participation rate in government assistance programs than the national average. In 2010 only around 20,000 – that’s twenty thousand – Arkansans received welfare benefits, which is less than two percent of our state’s population.
So, 16% of our citizens are black, but only 2% of our citizens receive public assistance. Even if every recipient of public assistance in the state of Arkansas were black, those 20,000 recipients aren’t even close to 50% of the 450,000 black Arkansans.
Larock72 said his comments were sarcastic and rude. I missed the sarcasm, but I definitely caught the rude. To that, I will add: uncalled for, terrifically racist, bigoted, narrow-minded, and dead wrong.
This bigoted jerk claims to have worked in a community outreach position. Given his shockingly negative attitude toward an entire race, I have to question how effective he could possibly be in such a position. His overt racism coupled with his lack of sympathy, insight, and empathy cause me to wonder whether he did more damage than good in such a position. I see absolutely no evidence of truth in his assertions that he is intelligent and intuitive given the overtly racist, shallow and erroneous statements he made, not to mention his complete disregard for statistics.
The government’s own statistics give lie to larock72’s belief that “a large majority of blacks” fall into a cycle of failure. While a disproportionate number of the people who fall into the cycle of failure he recounts may be black, that’s a completely different statement, and one we all would be well-advised to observe.
The reasons people fall into the system and cannot extract themselves has much more to do with the system as a whole – how it helps people, when it helps people, when it declares people ineligible for help even though they still desperately need it, what educational opportunities it offers, what type of jobs it trains people for. One of the biggest problems I have seen is the attitudes of the people who work for the system. They have no clue what their clients’ lives are like on a day-to-day basis, and condemn them for failures. They condemn people for being mentally ill or stressed to the point of not being able to function. Government aid workers and social services case workers alike condemn them for being so overwhelmed by their circumstances that they are grasping at anything that looks like a solution, no matter how tentative.
White people do indeed oppress black people. We oppress them when we paint them with wide brushes that condemn them not for their actions but based on the color of their skin. We oppress them when we shift our eyes away from them and cross the street rather than pass them on a sidewalk with the same smile and nod we would give a white person. We oppress them when we expect them to fail. We oppress them when we assume that they are on welfare, that they are criminals, and that they are irresponsible.
I hope that a day will come in my lifetime when black people do not have to walk into a room of white people and wonder whether they will be received on equal terms. Until that day comes, and as long as black people have a harder time being accepted for the individuals they are rather than a stereotype, they will be oppressed.
Statements like larock72’s contribute to that oppression.
We owe it to one another as human beings.