Over the past few months, race talk in America seems to be more frequent than—and just as frustrating as—ever. From the George Zimmerman verdict (and the President’s commentary on it), to the landmark ruling against New York’s stop-and-frisk tactics, to Miley Cyrus’ tragic twerk stunts and the racist trolling of the first Indian-American Miss America, post-racial ideology is falling flat on its face yet again.
Constructive conversations are happening everywhere: on social media, in classrooms and on the streets of America. In each public debate about racial problems in America, the counter arguments to criticism of structural racism have been increasingly wrought with assertions that the “real” American race problem is the failings of minorities and poor people. As a young Black man from the South Side of Chicago, it pains me to see that the de facto ‘case in point’ in these debates about so-called Black-on-Black crime is my hometown.”
Why are you so mad about George Zimmerman, but not the violence going in Chicago? Why are we thinking about helping people we don’t even know in Syria when Chicago is a warzone?
These type of questions makes me cringe, because on one hand, I cannot dispute that my city has some serious work to do.
It's hard for me to watch local news when I’m home, because when they aren’t reporting more school closings or teachers being laid off, the breaking story is another fallen youth. The violence has affected me personally, with three alum from my own Morgan Park High School being shot and killed this year—one who was a friend and high school basketball teammate, Kyle Hogan. These senseless deaths are heartbreaking and need to stop now.
But though I agree that the Black community in Chicago (and across the U.S. for that matter) is in need of critical change, I’m wise enough to understand the intent of so many of these media heads who keep bringing up the violence in my birthplace. These people who know so little about Chicago, if they know anything about Black ghetto life at all, will use our struggle to win socio-political debates on race. Black bodies, Black problems deserve more than to be just talking points.
Conservatives will bring up violence in Chicago to fuel their narratives about the Black family being in shambles, but cut down any investigation into denied social, economic, or political opportunity for people of color—and are quick to accuse the Black community and our supporters making excuses and playing the victim. Liberals bring it up with the intention to give the Black community their version of ‘the hurtful truth. Yet this supposed counter-narrative (though often better intentioned and slightly more nuanced) gels with the idea that Black people are invested in blaming racism for 100% of their problems instead of solving them and also gives a pass to the impact that racism has had on the conditions in Chicago and beyond.
What’s missing in their analysis is any mention of the history of institutionalized attacks on Black people, such as the public housing practices of not allowing Black fathers to move in with their family (prevalent in the 1950s and 60s in cities like Chicago). There’s no call for accountability towards a prison industrial complex sending Black and Brown folks to jail with longer sentences for equal or lesser crimes than any other race. No statistics are presented to show the overreporting of Chicago crime or to combat the many misconceptions about Black on Black crime in general in America. And what’s sadder is if their analysis is that shallow, how could they even begin to discuss, let alone understand, the residuals effects from the sadistic, prolonged assault on our people that was chattel slavery?
It’s baffling how passionately some can present apathy or lack of context as ‘tough love’ or ‘a reality check.’ There’s a poisonous logic that the Black people choose to have problems, and that prejudice is merely a response to the Black community’s failures, not a pathology that helps create them. If Blacks simply chose to stop being so racially profile-able, so stop-and-friskable, racism would wave the White flag, and post-raciality would parade into America’s heart.
We get it, it’s much easier to point to Black crime than to interrogate a whole litany of violence against the Black community. But stop telling us that being infuriated at issues like the Zimmerman verdict means we aren’t disgusted at our own problems and aren’t working to correct them. In addition to surviving violence from one another, we’ve lived the ugly experience of crime committed against Black folk with no accountability