Establishment Myths About Race and Violence

The media makes it sound like blacks continually suffer violence at white hands. At times, it sounds like the lynching days of old (Agency and Motive in Lynching and Genocide). Black people can’t leave the house without fear of facing white supremacist violence. Black fathers dread “the talk” with their black sons.

All this has got to be terrifying to black children—to be told that white people are out to get them, that they aren’t safe around white people. Moreover, just as a belief that black poverty is caused by white racism may justify robbing a white-owned store, a young black man may find in his outsized perception of the white threat justification for perpetrating violence against white people.

But the white threat isn’t real. It is an establishment myth. A myth that puts the lie to the claim that blacks suffer under white supremacy. For why would the white establishment lie to make white people look bad?

One quarter of lethal civilian-cop interactions result in the death of a black suspect. You wouldn’t know that a minority of those killed by police are black listening to CNN. The fact is that most of those killed by the police are white. (Disappearing the White Victims of Lethal Police Violence.) Why don’t you know this?

The theory of systemic racism predicts that the white establishment distorts the facts of police violence in such a way as to erase or obscure, in a collectively self-serving way, black people killed by the police. Instead, the establishment erases the white victims of police violence while dwelling on, in excruciating detail, the black victims of police shootings. How does this advance the cause of white supremacy? One might say that it doesn’t, except that white supremacy is a vanishing thing.

To be sure, blacks are overrepresented among those killed by police officers. But there is no evidence that this is because they are black (The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police-Civilian Encounters.). Black people are disproportionately poor. The dynamic at work in lethal civilian-police encounters is social class, not race. Just as blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be poor compared to whites, they are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by police. Moreover, blacks are overrepresented in the most serious crimes, which means that they are proportionately more likely to come into contact with police officers compared to other racial groups. Poverty plays a role here.

Perhaps systemic racism explains why blacks are overrepresented among the poor and violently criminal. However, there are lots of reasons for racial disparities across a range of variables that have nothing to do with present-day racism, which, again, is vanishing.

To explode yet another myth about race and policing, very few people killed by the police are unarmed (which doesn’t mean they weren’t a threat, of course). For the record, most unarmed victims of lethal police action are white.

What about civilian-on-civilian violence? Most homicides are committed by black men, an astonishing fact considering that black men are only around six percent of the population. Their victims are mostly black people. I need to emphasize this point: black people are more likely to be the victims of homicide and their perpetrators are almost always black. You should find the fact that most murder victims are black in a population that’s only around twelve percent of the population alarming. Black lives matter, after all.

Imagine if a significant portion of the thousands of black people killed every year in the United States were instead the victims of white perpetrators. Do you think the media would then tell us about the black victims of homicide?

Black people, we are told, face racist violence every day. Whites are their oppressors. But the facts are clear: when it comes to interracial violence, most crime involves a black perpetrator and a white victim. (Why are there so Many More White than Black Victims of Interracial Homicide?)

Antiracist activist occupy restaurants and harass patrons

The inversion of racial significance is found elsewhere. For all these people saying that if it had been black people who had entered the Capitol building on January 6 instead of white people that the police would have treated the black people much more roughly, I would just remind them that for the entire summer and much of fall of 2020 across the United States black people burned down police stations and torched churches, terrorized residential neighborhoods, overturned police cars and assaulted police officers, defaced and toppled monuments, attacked and even killed civilians,  looted stores and wrecked businesses—they even occupied parts of cities and surrounded the White Housing forcing the First Family into a bunker. Billions of dollars in property damage and more than a dozen dead, with hundreds if not thousands injured. Were these violent and sometimes armed rioters treated anywhere nearly as severely as those who entered the Capitol on January 6?

I don’t say these thing to make blacks people look bad. Most black people are not engaged in violent crime or riotous action. There is nothing in the nature of a black man that makes him criminally violent or rebel against imagine conditions of oppression. I say this because the media makes whites appear as violent racist oppressors. It is not true. We must ask ourselves: why does the media make things appear to be the opposite of what they actually are? Why, if America is a white supremacist country, would the media manufacture the perception that whites are the the chief perpetrators of serious violence in America?

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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.

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