The latest figures from the FBI, Bureau of Justice Statistics and public health agencies show that among black youth, rates of robbery and serious property offenses are the lowest in more than 40 years. Rates of murder and rape are now lower than when nationwide crime statistics first appeared in 1965—and those were far less thorough than today’s.
Assault rates are lower than when this crime statistic was expanded to include domestic violence and new offenses a quarter-century ago.
Violent and other criminal victimization of young African-Americans have also plummeted to record lows, as have a host of other ills including unplanned pregnancy, drug abuse and school dropout rates. Murder and violent crimes remain very rare events among African-Americans, less than two-tenths of 1 percent. Since the early 1990s, homicide deaths and arrests have plunged by 70 percent among black youth in America.
Despite the sharp decrease in crime in America, and other industrialized countries, the mainstream media continues to propagate an image that black males are a growing threat to the safety of the general public.
While the numbers do show that Blacks are over-represented in acts of murder and violent crime in the U.S. and other countries, Dr. Amos Wilson says the reasons they resort to violence and crime is due to their relationship with a system that has excluded and oppressed them for centuries. Personal responsibility is a factor, but understanding how the minds of young black boys have been negatively impacted by racial oppression may provide insight on what solutions will be effective in remedying the problem.
Slavery & Racial Oppression
The treatment of enslaved Black people was generally characterized by degradation, dehumanization, and fatal brutalities. The violent tactics of whippings, rapes and executions was a normal way of life for them.
Men were stripped of any form of pride and self respect by being humiliated in front of his family. Women were often taken from their husbands and raped at their owner’s discretion which further diminished the black man’s sense of self worth as well as the woman’s self esteem (Dubois, The Souls Of Black Folk, 1903).
The brutal treatment of Black people continued well after slavery legally ended, through the days of Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and, to a certain extent today. The trauma caused by this psychological brutality resulted in severe damaged to the mind of the victims, which manifested as an identity crisis, self hate, low self worth, and a distrust of the world at large. This mentality has been passed down through generations.
Today, conditions such as low socioeconomic status, social deprivation, inadequate education, high unemployment, and the criminal industrial complex has reinforced this negative mentality, which has and still affects behavior in the Black community today, including young black boys.
In her article, “The Inner Voices Behind Violent Behavior,” Dr. Lisa Firestone writes “After years of researching, interviewing, and assessing violent individuals, along with my father Dr. Robert Firestone , I began to recognize certain voices (negative thought processes) that flood the minds of these individuals influencing them to engage in acts of violence.”
One of the negative thought processes she identified were ones that support people feeling victimized and persecuted. These voices promote and support thoughts of being discounted, blamed, or humiliated by other people.
In his book, “Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic,” psychiatrist Dr. James Gilligan asserts that violence is caused by shame and humiliation. When we commit violence, says Gilligan, we’re actually trying to do something that to him is positive—that is, reclaim a part of the self, a part of a depleting sense of self-love, which we feel has somehow been violated. This is why, when you ask most young people today why they became violent, they’ll say it was because they were disrespected, or “dissed.”
In Nathan McCall’s book, “Makes Me Want to Holla,” he discusses the power black youth feel with a gun in their hand. The possessor of the gun derives a level of respect, which has evaded him because of cultural oppression
Feeling devalued in society creates self hate. Denied the love of others, a person’s self-love, or soul, like money in a savings account, slowly but surely begins to wane, says Dr. Gilligan.
One of the other negative thought processes identified by Dr. Firestone was “self-depreciating voices that make violent individuals feel that they are unlovable, and that no one will love or care about them. This may also be identified as self-hate. These thoughts promote isolation and encourage a person to attack other people they see as rejecting.”
Young boys who have learned to hate themselves may develop false sense of pride or an over-inflated ego to compensate. Challenges to this exaggerated self-image cannot be tolerated by the individual who possesses it.
Dr. Firestone writes: ”Self-aggrandizing voices can be a precursor of violence as well because they promote a view that a person is superior to others and deserves to be treated as such. They support an inflated self-image that functions to compensate for deep-seated self-hatred. When the aggrandized sense of self is threatened, for example by slights or perceived disrespect, a person often reacts violently in an effort to regain the aggrandized self-image. Research that links high self-esteem in adolescents to violence actually measured inflated self-esteem or vanity.”
Dr. Firestone also says that voices that contribute to violence include those that encourage social mistrust. “These paranoid, suspicious thoughts encourage people to assume a self-protective and defended posture from a perceived danger. Because the paranoia and misperception makes the threat seem real, people feel justified in acting out violence to protect themselves.”
The paranoia is supported by negative voices about other people being different, strange and bad. It is easier to hurt someone who is perceived as “not like you.” These voices contribute to a person’s suspicion and mistrust of the world at large. An example of these types of voices is: “They are out to get you. Don’t trust them.”
After years suffering under white supremacy, black people have learned to hate and distrust themselves. This distrust is also prevalent among black youth, who sees his black peers through the eyes of his oppressor–someone who is different and not to be trusted.
Violent American society
Black people have been inculcated by a violent experience that includes white mob violence, lynching, slavery, suffering and death. The history of violence against Black people is so horrific as to be almost beyond belief.
Violence begets violence and socio-structural and institutional violence (vertical violence) begets interpersonal and intrapersonal violence (horizontal violence). The violence we see among our Black youth is an emulation of the cultural ways of their oppressor.
When the oppressed are subject to oppression for as long as Africans around the world are. They internalize the oppressor and do to themselves what the oppressor once did to them.
“Thus, the problem of black on black violence is a problem of cultural mis-orientation, self-alienation and self-hatred. What we are seeing manifest as black on black violence is an emulation of the cultural ways of our oppressor. We have internalized his ways. This is called intropression,” according to psychologist Amos Wilson.