Why are there so Many More White than Black Victims of Interracial Homicide?

One reason we work so hard to reduce race prejudice in our society is to reduce the likelihood of race prejudice motivating harmful interactions. When I was growing up in the 1960s, and many of those in my age cohort will remember this, we were taught to treat everybody first and foremost as individuals. Of course we saw race. A society doesn’t get rid of racialized ways of seeing people overnight. Nonetheless, we were taught to judge persons with different skin colors on the basis of their actions and their character—not prejudge them on the basis of their skin color. I still firmly believe this is the right path to achieving equality and justice.

By race prejudice I don’t mean just any belief that sees an individual as a member of a racial group. I mean a belief that encourages people to treat an individual on the basis of notions about the group to which he is perceived to belong. The belief that all white people enjoy skin color privilege or the belief that all black people are victims of racial oppression are examples of race prejudice. Such attitudes prejudge an individual’s situation or tendencies merely by the color of his skin, which doesn’t tell us anything definitive about character, circumstances, or conduct. A black man could be rich or poor, a worker or a businessman, a socialist or a conservative, gay or straight, religious or atheist, and so on. Race prejudice leads us to assume that any given concrete individual thoughts and actions are predictable because he is a member of a group based on skin color and therefore representative of abstract constructs attributed to that group, whether these constructs are imagined or statistical.

When a black person is criminally victimized by a white person, we wonder whether the white person was motived by race prejudice. We presume this when, for example, we claim that the deaths of black suspects at the hands of white officers is a reflection of racist attitudes, explicit or implicit. This presumption is claimed as the reason for today’s violence in our streets. If we could point to statistics showing that, while granting that most homicide is intraracial, occurring within a racial category, interracial crime, occurring between racial categories, is most often represented by a white perpetrator and a black victim, then this might reflect anti-black prejudice. The historical example is white-on-black violence is lynching, where, after Reconstruction, the direction and patterns of the interracial violence indicated anti-black prejudice.

However, the current direction of interracial crime is in the opposite direction from lynching. The first chart below shows that, even though blacks are less than 13 percent of the US population, they are increasingly the greatest number of homicide victims. Most of the perpetrators are black. The following chart shows that, year after year, whites are more likely to be homicide victims at the hands of black perpetrators than blacks are to be homicide victims at the hands of white perpetrators. The disparity is even more striking when one reflects on the fact that most perpetrators of homicide are male and black males constitute less than six percent of the population.

Race and Homicide in America, by the Numbers | National News | US News
Race and Homicide in America, by the Numbers | National News | US News

If the risk of homicide were random, given de facto patterns of residential segregation and the routine activities of humans (by this, I mean crime mostly happens where people live and work), one should not expect these numbers. It might follow then that, based on the logic we see in arguments concerning implicit bias and systemic racism, the numbers suggest systemic anti-white prejudice. Keep in mind, according to antiracists, for the argument of systemic racism to work, we don’t need explicit race prejudice. We need only disparate patterns to make the call.

I want to be very clear about my intentions in making this point. I am not saying white people should fear black males. It would be an instance of anti-black prejudice to presume any black man one encounters means to harm him. Most black men do not perpetrate violence against white people. It is tragic that all black men pay what amounts to a racial tax for the overrepresentation of some black men in violent and serious crime (this is Heather Mac Donald’s observation). Nor am I saying that anti-white prejudice entirely explains this phenomenon. But is it not at least possible that anti-white prejudice pays a role in the overrepresentation of white victims in homicide and other serious criminal interactions at the hands of black men?

We should not assume a priori that black people are incapable of anti-white prejudice or that anti-white prejudice could not motivate international violence. Decades ago David Matza and Gresham Sykes, in a landmark article advancing the use by perpetrators of crime of “techniques of neutralization” to assuage guilt, found that, in the technique denial of victim, the offender believes the victim deserved whatever action the offender perpetrated against him. In their study of killing in Rwanda, Emily Bryant and associates routinely encountered an appeal to the harm one has suffered on account of his racial identity to justify homicidal violence. Volkan Topalli added to these findings the phenomenon that, in what he calls “autotelic crime,” hardcore street criminals not only considered their actions acceptable, but also attractive and desirable. Anti-white rhetoric is freely and enthusiastically expressed in the protests and riots occurring in our cities. Might it therefore be the case that some of the violence perpetrated against whites by blacks is motivated by the racial animus ginned up by anti-white rhetoric?

If day after day, black people are told that their situation and suffering is on account of white people, do we really expect no black person is going to take that to heart and use it as a motive or justification for action—looting, robbery, or homicide? We say the same thing about white people who are taught that all black people are criminal. We understand hate crime to be violence against a person on the basis of his perceived identity. The hate is in the beliefs of the perpetrator and it said to motivate his actions. Given that interracial violence of this source is much more likely than the other way around, why wouldn’t the rise of a pervasive anti-white rhetoric motivate or justify at least some violence against whites? And if this is indeed true, and it certainly seems plausible from everything we know in the scientific literature, why would we tolerate rhetoric fueling anti-white prejudice by repeating such myths as “all whites are racist,” “all white are privileged,” “all whites are responsible for the historic oppression of blacks,” the “cycle of systemic racism,” “blacks can’t be racist,” and so on?

As I said in my previous blog, people are often motivated to deny their own responsibility in creating their personal situation and instead blame others for it. They use techniques to deflect attention from their guilt—even their own attention. Yet a big part of social science is teaching people that they aren’t responsible for their choices and decisions and their consequences. To teach people that they are responsible for this situation amounts to “victim blaming,” William Ryan famously tells us. But on a moment’s reflection we will see that the avoidance of victim blaming only applies to some people, namely the alleged “oppressed” groups, the “victims.” The alleged “oppressor” group is always blameworthy, and, in today’s climate, blameworthiness is for abstract aggregate effects is distributed equally to all members of that group. The oppressor is guilty of everything. And dehumanized in the process.

The anti-white rhetoric on our streets and in our institutions is intense. Whereas in the past when one was identified as a white supremacist it indicated membership in a white supremacist organization, the Ku Klux Klan or a neonazi group. Today people are told that no white person stands outside the system of white racial power. Therefore all whites are whites supremacist. By definition. By birth. The best they can be are allies in the antiracist project, a campaign that perpetuates the myth of white supremacy. This is why I say that antiracism is a species of racism. Indeed, it is the species of racism that prevails today in the West. There are, in fact, very few actual white supremacists left. Systemic racism is a thing of the past. One suspects that the violence of the anti-racist mob reflects the vacuity of its cause. But there is also a lurking malevolence there. The erasure of the history of progress in social relations has in back of it dark intent. It means to undo what Clarence Henderson’s generation accomplished.

As I argued in my previous blog, the problem of criminal violence in America isn’t the police or white supremacy. The problem of criminal violence is, at least to a significant degree, the weakening of common cultural orientation that sustains the rule of law and an alternative cultural sensibility that positively sanctions breaking it. The problem of crime is, again at least in part, a dysfunctional cultural and moral attitude that progressives not only shield from criticism, but enable with their anti-police and anti-white rhetoric. Anti-white prejudice adds a layer of disregard for humanity and motive for action. On the African continent, Belgians used ID cards as instruments to socially construct two Rwandan races, imposing fixed identities, producing ethnic resentment. On the European continent, demagogues told the people that Jews caused their problems. It was taken by ordinary German Christians as permission to imprison and kill Jews and steal their property. The United States finds itself in a situation where establishment powers have formed the conditions of mass violence against property and persons believed to be members of a despised race.

Ideas matter. They matter a lot. That’s because man is a thinking animal. Tribal thinking has long been the bane of peace and progress for millennia. There is an urgent need to return to the republic ideas of a common culture based on the beliefs, norms, and values of modernity. Order is required to restore the promise of the Enlightenment, the single greatest force in the progressive development of mankind.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

One thought on “Why are there so Many More White than Black Victims of Interracial Homicide?”

  1. Thank you for the statistics and a thoughtful article. I hadn’t known that black-on-white homicide was so much greater than the other way around.

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