Here’s the Solution to Urban Violence We’ve All Been Waiting For
A woman found my email address and emailed me after my second article was published in Nonprofit Quarterly.
She didn’t strike me as the writing type, but still, she picked her words very carefully, “thanking” me for my “opinion” piece that she happened across.
This person lived in Chicago and wanted to ask my advice on how to fix the violent crime there in the urban communities (my summary). So basically, “I’ve read your views on false white allyship in the nonprofit industry but…what about black on black crime? What are your views on that?”
I laughed at the thought of what I wanted to say to her and went on with my day.
They just don’t get it, do they? They simply see little or no correlation between generational inequalities and what society considers violent crime. But before we get into that, let’s unpack the actual audacity of the scenario. This woman bypassed all of the organizers, leaders and black people in general that surround her in Chicago, to ask me, a random immigrant New Yorker who wrote a completely unrelated article, what to do about “community violence.”
As a self-proclaimed white woman of modest means in 2020, her focus was still how can we fix these gosh darn black thugs. Not sure whether she noticed the festering cancer sore of police brutality on one end, and cycles of poverty stemming from lack of due reparations on the other, when she fixed her sophisticated white gaze on the black residents of Chi town. One way or another, her burning question to me was not how can I contribute to reparations, or how can I hold Chicago police accountable for their atrocities, which I might have willingly answered. Her question was a typical white cop out, being nosy in something that doesn’t really affect them, highlighting this perceived mindless violence within black neighborhoods while conveniently ignoring the white systems that create it. Of course it must be more fun to think about how to fix black boys than to actively dismantle the policies and fire the people that oppress them.
Fresh out of the racial reckoning of 2020, your number one concern as a white person in Chicago should be how can I eliminate whiteness from this city in a meaningful way. For the love of God, leave “reaching” black people to other black people, who have been doing the work before the idea skipped into your brain. Clearly you lack the education, history, context, experience and analysis to even begin to understand the root of the problem and how to fix it, if you’re at the point of asking a random stranger on the internet about it in such a backhanded way. You really thought I wouldn’t see through your bullshit? Confronted with a call to reflect on your own false allyship, you choose to try to remind me of the violence plaguing black communities. What the fuck do you expect me to say, and why do you even believe I owe you a response on that topic? Nothing can ever be more hypocritically violent than the North American police system, and since that protects your ignorant white bliss, you might want to start there if you’re so concerned about urban violence.
I too would like to email Stephen King and ask why did Chris Watts kill his beautiful wife and toddler girls, and how can I prevent other white men from tripping like that? But I don’t. And if I can show some restraint, white people can too. Constantly bringing up the actions of one cross-section of black society who live extremely difficult lives by design, and acting as though violence is some sort of moral failure unique to our people. If you must know, “urban violence” is primarily motivated by scarcity, by poverty. The “hood” was created intentionally over time, through redlining, predatory loan policies, substandard government housing, unfair laws of all kinds, overpolicing, and the list goes on. It goes on until it reaches the Jim Crow era and further back into the emancipation of the enslaved, who were denied the capital and resources afforded to white people at that time. What exactly is so hard to comprehend?
Do white people prefer for there to be some sort of magical formula to getting poor, desperate black people to act more like comfortable, middle class whites? A magic formula that doesn’t include the money or respect that they are owed?
Do you think therapy is the answer?
Do you think they just need somebody to talk to?
Do you think they need more role models?
A stricter education system?
Here’s a thought: whatever it is that makes white communities and neighborhoods less “violent” in your estimation, give them that, and see what happens. See what generations of respect, entitlement, accommodations, protection, real government support and slap-on-the-wrist justice can do. And once we’ve realized that societal stability is the long-term solution to curbing excessive violence no matter the skin color, then we can grapple with the age-old existential question of what makes humans do evil things.
But don’t come asking me why white boys don’t mug people in their neighborhood for an iPhone and $50.
Don’t come asking me why black gangs exist, when the Proud Boys and the Klan got a presidential endorsement in 2020, when the Police got marches in favor of their brutality.
Don’t come asking why black fathers in the hood are absent when you know they are locked away somewhere because of the predatory justice system designed to keep you safe and stupid at their expense.
It’s incredibly disingenuous.
This woman claimed to be working class herself, but what does she know about the reality of black poverty?
Hopping the subway turnstiles because you can’t afford $2.75 each way, while people look at you like cheap criminal scum as they swipe their Metrocards. Mom works 3 jobs and still can’t make ends meet, so while you’re surrounded by a city of luxury, you can’t even get a good smartphone. An education system that is stacked against you, white teachers that are threatened and intimidated by you, constant messaging that as a black child you are unintelligent and inadequate, then when you drop out of school it makes it near impossible to find a proper job. Constant discrimination during the job search, while your bills pile up and your stomach growls. Having grown up amidst gang culture and expected not to get involved in the only thing that feels affirming of black masculinity, that seems to offer the support and access to resources and safety and brotherhood that society denies you.
Regularly targeted by police whether or not you join the lifestyle, simply because you fit the description. Before you know it there’s a court case, and once your name is in their system, cases and charges start pouring in like water, and the sole objective is to drown you. An open case or a felony charge limits your career prospects and income even further, and one day you realize you just don’t want to think about any of it anymore, and you look for some substance that can make you forget. Pretty young women pass you on the street and wonder why black men don’t want to make something of themselves nowadays. They don’t know you always dreamed of becoming something, that maybe there was a time long ago that you saw yourself as someone but people corrected that. Now it doesn’t matter because you wear a durag and your pants hang too low, and that says everything they need to know about you, but luckily you’re too high to care.
Meanwhile, nice white ladies make a fortune writing books about your pain, because people care more when they describe it. Grants are thrown out left and right in the hopes that some foxy white liberal can diagnose what is wrong with you. Black people with cush jobs attempt to help you be more appealing to the powers that be so one day you can be more like them. Sociologists and scholars get recognition for interviewing you and creating policies and theories and programs about your life but no one ever asks what you really need, because you would have told them “Money”, and they would have chuckled and said, “Don’t we all?”
And somewhere out there, a white woman who clutched her purse closer as you passed by, went home to type an email to a random stranger about quelling violence in your city, with the purest of intentions in her white little heart.