Never Say This Phrase Again

“Black-on-black crime.”

White people, banish this phrase from your mind. Wash it out of your mouth. If you type it without scare quotes, cut off your fingers and cast them from you, for it is better for you to lose your fingers than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Let us state the social issue before us: Black men are being killed by police and vigilantes because they are presumed to be criminals. They can follow police instructions and still be killed, like Philando Castile. They can be killed for playing in a park, like Tamir Rice. They can be killed for wearing a hoodie and buying skittles, like Trayvon Martin. They can be killed for  exercising their second-amendment rights, like EJ Bradford. In all of these cases, the victims were presumed to be criminals by those doing the shooting.

They can be killed without consequence because the assumption is that black men are dangerous. Did the police officer / vigilante fear for their life? Of course they did: the victim was a black man, and everyone of us has been programmed to believe that black men are dangerous.

So when a black man is killed (again), and people protest his killing, some white folks (and a few black folks) respond with this dismissive, distracting rhetoric which reinforces the stereotype: “What about black-on-black crime?” “Why don’t you protest that?”

The genius of this evil turn of phrase is that it allows someone to sound concerned while they reassert one of the central premises of white supremacy: black people are defective. In some ontological, primordial way, their blackness is a signifier of their wickedness. They are prone to criminality. They are violent. So we need to address “black-on-black crime” before we can take seriously the idea that our black siblings are being killed without cause. According to this logic, ANY GIVEN KILLING of an unarmed or innocent black man is justified. Just like lynchings, modern vigilante justice will never be uncalled-for. Using the phrase “black-on-black crime” is a way of saying, “Black people brought this on themselves.” 

There are, of course, many other reasons this phrase is nonsensical. As others have pointed out, we do not refer to mass shootings, anti-semitic hate crimes, or white-collar insider trading as “white-on-white” crime.

Kulturgeschichte / Religionsgeschichte / Juden / 19. Jh.

An anti-semitic riot in 1819, an example of “white-on-white” crime. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hep-Hep_riots

But the phrase “black-on-black crime” is abhorrent because it is intentionally used to dismiss white supremacist violence against black bodies. It obscures the violence while it justifies bullets fired, blood lost, parents bereaved, and children orphaned. It is a euphemism, a slightly-more polite way of using the N-word.

Take those words out of your mouth. Throw them away. Never, ever, ever use them again.

5 thoughts on “Never Say This Phrase Again

  1. Thank you, Dave.
    This is timely. I have been re-reading Merton’s “Letters to a White Liberal” on race.
    You might be interested in Christopher Pramuk’s “Hope Sings So Beautiful,” a book about conversations across the divide of race and other things that divide us.

  2. Everything you say is true and, in addition, it is like asking someone in an American Heart Association funding drive, “What about cancer? Why aren’t you raising money for that?” This is to say, that “black on black” crime is no different from any other crime, as you have pointed out that “white on white” crime is also a reality.

  3. Another reason why I am glad I returned home to UK. I am not sure I have heard this phrase here, though I am sure there are people who say much the same about our crime. Our death rates however are Significantly less of course, so the thinking is not able to be as lethal. Our police are not taught that every person is a deathly threat and have much better training for when someone might be. Fewer people killed by our police regardless of colour of skin, and most of those recently have been terrorists with a death wish. Not that our police are free of racism and there are still deaths involving police.
    USA has such a weird attitude to life and too many seem so frightened.

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