Black Culture Is Not the Problem

N. D. B. Connolly, New York Times, April 30, 2015

In the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and subsequent unrest in Ferguson, Mo., commentators noted the absence of black representatives among Ferguson’s elected officials and its police leadership. A Department of Justice report highlighted how Ferguson’s mostly white City Council and its courts spurred on explicitly racist policing, in part to harvest fines from black residents.

Then came Baltimore. The death of Freddie Gray, like those of Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Rekia Boyd and so many other unarmed African-Americans, at first seemed to fit the all-too-familiar template–white cops, black suspect, black corpse.

But unlike New York, Chicago and other cities with white leaders, Baltimore has a black mayor, a black police commissioner and a majority-black City Council. Yet the city still has one of the most stained records of police brutality in recent years.

In the absence of a perceptible “white power structure,” the discussion around Baltimore has quickly turned to one about the failings of black culture. This confuses even those who sympathize with black hardship. When people took to the streets and destroyed property, most observers did not see an understandable social response to apparent state inaction. They saw, in the words of Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, “thugs,” or in the words of President Obama, “criminals and thugs.” To be fair, the mayor later expressed regret, and both she and the president have tried to show empathy for the dispossessed. But they are also fighting myths about degenerate black culture. Condemning “criminals” and “thugs” seems to get them away from beliefs about broad black inferiority. Yet when black people of influence make these arguments, it prevents us from questioning Baltimore the way we questioned Ferguson.

Instead, we lionize people like Toya Graham, the Baltimore mother who went upside the head of her rioting son. Baltimore’s police commissioner, Anthony W. Batts, applauded her, pleading with parents to “take control of your kids.” But the footage certainly affirms violence as the best way to get wayward black people under control. Moreover, by treating a moment of black-on-black violence as a bright spot, we take our eye off the circumstances that created the event. {snip}

Specifically, the problem rests on the continued profitability of racism. Freddie Gray’s exposure to lead paint as a child, his suspected participation in the drug trade, and the relative confinement of black unrest to black communities during this week’s riot are all features of a city and a country that still segregate people along racial lines, to the financial enrichment of landlords, corner store merchants and other vendors selling second-rate goods.

The problem originates in a political culture that has long bound black bodies to questions of property. Yes, I’m referring to slavery.

Slavery was not so much a labor system as it was a property regime, with slaves serving not just as workers, but as commodities. Back in the day, people routinely borrowed against other human beings. They took out mortgages on them. As a commodity, the slave had a value that the state was bound to protect.

Now housing and commercial real estate have come to occupy the heart of America’s property regime, replacing slavery. {snip}

 

{snip}

Topics: ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.