This is more of a thought experiment than anything else.
These are the mug shots of a few of the 170 people arrested related to the gang war this past Sunday that left nine people dead in Waco, Texas. How would we be seeing this story differently if this had been the same confrontation between two black gangs in an inner city?
I suspect the reactions would have been different all around. I’d like to consider it briefly.
In the wake of the Baltimore riots — almost exclusively by blacks — I heard condescending things from friends. I’m not talking about nasty Archie Bunker-type racists. I’m talking about middle-class white Americans who simply don’t have a lot of connection to black people.
“That’s just the way those people are,” I remember one woman saying. Another friend said he wasn’t surprised at criminal activity from blacks, because about 80 percent of black men were in prison. (The real figure is closer to 4 percent, if I remember correctly.)
Because of what a lot of people have seen and heard, they assume that most black people are going to have a tendency toward violence and crime. Seriously. In the minds of a lot of whites, blacks are painted with a very, very broad brush. If this story had happened between a couple of black gangs, the general attitude among a sizable portion of white people who don’t deal much with black people would have been, “What do you expect? Considering the culture they come out of, this is just the kind of people they are.”
We would have talked about the violent culture of the inner city and the failing values of inner city black America. None of the people who talked about it would have felt the least bit racist saying that, because they assume there is something uniquely wrong with modern black culture.
On the other hand, if these had been black faces, there would have been different people rush to excuse them and to place the blame for the violence on cutbacks in government services of one sort of another. We would have heard about pent-up black anger that leads to young black men associating with gangs to protect themselves in a world that doesn’t value them.
We would have heard both political and social excuses for the perpetrators — and the usual cast of black “leaders” would have been trotted out on cable news to demand more money and fret that things would get worse if we didn’t see “jobs with justice” or some kind of similar nonsense.
I haven’t heard any of that in the two days since the gang war and murders in Texas. I think it’s because the faces are mostly white.
This isn’t to invalidate everything that might have been said if the faces had been black. There are unique problems in inner city black communities. (I think we can trace many of those back to the destruction of the black family that started with the beginning of the “war on poverty” that handed money to young black women — who no longer saw the need to marry the men who fathered their babies.) The decline in two-parent households has definitely led to instability and a loss of values in many families.
Those things are true.
On the other hand, the inner cities are smoldering cauldrons of hate and resentment in many ways — and we don’t need to ignore them. Legitimate anger among innocent black people about being treated badly by cops in their own neighborhoods is a very serious problem. We do need to have more serious and blunt discussions about how social change can come to neighborhoods and cities that are being destroyed by political corruption — from black politicians who are taking advantage of their own people.
But why would we have had that conversation if these killers had been black, but we’re not having the same conversation since most of them are white?
I think it’s because most white people look at these faces and know that most of the white people they know aren’t like this. Many people — consciously or not — look at black thugs as the norm for blacks but look at white thugs as aberrations for whites.
White political leaders and social justice warriors don’t see the same chance to score points from talking about the problems with white culture, so they’re not there making excuses for these guys in the same way that many black leaders have tended to do for political purposes in other situations.
Because these killers are white, we treat them as individuals — people who are thugs who have terrible values and who made lousy choices with their lives. And I think that’s a reasonable way to see them.
So the next time there is some tragedy and the perpetrators are black (or Hispanic or Muslim or any identifiable group), why don’t we see them as individuals instead of as representatives of their group?
Human beings tend to be tribal. I get that. But if we think about it and hold ourselves accountable for treating people reasonably and equally, we can overcome some of our biases.
These killers are individuals who made terrible choices. They happen to be white. The next time the faces are black, remember these faces and change the script that your mind might otherwise run. It’s just a thought.