Throughout the history of the United States, Black Americans have been at the bottom caste; the label or method of creating and sustaining this caste has changed. These systems varied and evolved to fit the needs of the times, from enslavement, to Jim Crow and Convict Lease, to redlining, and to the prison-industrial complex. There are many more versions of structural racism targeting Black America to name at this time, each worthy of their own series of academic papers and books.
But through it all, a common theme appeared, that of white lies, or the lies white America told itself and its population. And the different forms of death for Black Americans that would appear after those White lies were told.
The enslavement and slave codes that followed were the first forms of these White lies. After the Civil War, it was Black Codes, Convict Lease, and Jim Crow. Even abolitionists weren’t immune to the White lies, thinking that Black Americans to still be inferior and prone to violence; which is known as infantile racism, the idea that Black people just need to learn how to behave and learn life skills. Today, this comes in the form of “parenting training” that targets poor Black Americans.
And before you think these classes must happen, do you truly think these classes are needed for poor white parents? If so, why don’t we have programs that target them?
The modern incarnation of the Black caste system is our prison-industrial complex, boosted with tough-on-crime rhetoric; rhetoric that’s not beholden to just a single political party. The president that signed the 1964 and 1968 Civil Rights bills, and lost the south to the Republican Party for over a generation, also started the war on crime. Lyndon Johnson aped rhetoric coming out of the south, and helped bring tough-on-crime language to the national center and left which effectively crumbled his “Great Society.” Rhetoric that let white America know that the U.S. government is here to protect you from the Black boogeyman hiding behind every shadow.
This wasn’t the first, and it wouldn’t be the last time a political figure, that was seen on the side of Black America brought southern strategy-style politics to the American left, and mainstreamed it there.
Many have known that Nixon launched the war on drugs to target Black America, as a form of social control. Carter did nothing to stem the rising tide of incarceration and cuts to anti-poverty measures. And the New Jim Crow exploded under Reagan and the CIA-fueled Crack epidemic sweeping through Black America.
Bill Clinton fully adopted this rhetoric, sold it to the Democratic Party and launched his crime bill. A bill, bundled with the escalation of the War on Drugs under Reagan, destroyed multiple generations of Black families. A bill that is experiencing a revisionist history akin to people saying the Civil War was over states’ rights. Bill Clinton is claiming to the myth that this is what Black America wanted at the time , and he gave us what we asked for.
And in an attempt to bolster his case, Bill Clinton is clinging to the myth of Black-on-Black crime in the aftermath of his clash with black protestors while speaking at a recent Hillary Clinton rally.
First, let us talk about this so called “Black-on-Black crime” that people love to talk about. Let’s dispel a few things right away: Yes, Black people don’t want violence in their neighborhoods, many organizations have been working tirelessly over many years to address violent crime in black neighborhoods. And to great effect. If you don’t know this and say “what about Black on Black crime?” then you either haven’t been paying attention or don’t actually care if crime in Black neighborhoods drops.
But what’s even more important, is that most victims of and perpetrators of violent crime are of the same racial background. Crime tends to be that of opportunity, which means it’s done in a localized area and, well, this nation is extremely segregated. So the majority of White crime is committed by and on other White people. But we don’t talk about White-on-White crime? We don’t talk about how mass shootings are done by mostly White men against mostly White people. Maybe we should? Why are white males so prone to mass shootings? But I digress.
So, nothing is special about Black crime, outside of the fact that Black Americans tend to live in concentrated poverty at a much higher rate than anyone else. This speaks to the structural racism of our society. Which gives us the proper context and analysis in what Dr. King called crime in Black neighborhoods, “derivative crimes,” or crimes born of the much larger crimes of White society.
Within this, one must also understand that killings by the state are morally much different than the murder of a civilian by another civilian. State violence against its own citizens is a much deeper crime and for Black America and this crime runs through the nervous system of this Nation. A crime that started with enslavement, through police killings, police violence in general, mass incarceration, and the continued robbery of Black bodies and Black wealth.
The Movement for Black Lives targets the ongoing violence committed by the state on Black America. It targets the policies that create the concentrated poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and more which create the conditions for these derivative crimes.
So, yes, former President Clinton, we do take crime in our community seriously. Why don’t you? Why are you perpetuating these myths, or is it to protect your own neck? The crime bill he claims was supported by Black America wasn’t even supported by the Congressional Black Caucus.
Yes, some Black “leaders” supported it, just as some Black “leaders” support Trump. But Black America isn’t monolithic, and one person speaking on their view does not mean they speak for the rest of us. And a side note to anyone that thinks I’m a mini-Sharpton, I just as soon read him the riot act as I would you.
The Crime Bill wasn’t supported by Jessie Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition, and neither did the NAACP. Yes many Black Americans were concerned about crime in their community, but then, like now, we wanted economic investment. We wanted — and we want now — the ability to self-determine our lives and live in security in our neighborhoods and in our cities. In security, meaning no threats of violence from the state, and no derivative violence caused by violent state policies.
The biggest problem with Bill Clinton’s remarks is that this is what he believes and he could only “almost apologize.” And the Clinton campaign has not rebuked his remarks and because at that moment he was working as a campaign surrogate, they should. His words also ring strong because Hillary Clinton pushed the crime bill with him, now regretful of her choice of words and dog-whistle politics “super predators.”
These White lies have caused far too much Black Death, and any politician or leader that claims to be on the side of justice would do well to move away from them and develop a deeper analysis of this nation, its structures, and its ongoing history of violent oppression of Black America
An end to that oppression means massive investment in land ownership in the shape of something similar to the GI bill that left Black Americans out. It would mean community control over the police. It would mean an explosion of Black businesses and co-ops. And much, much more. We want positive investment, because we are tired of being beat down by this White-infested nation (as Whiteness was invented, as it only exists because of genocide and enslavement), we want liberation from oppression. For all folk — Black, First Nation and indigenous, Chicano, Latin@s, Southeast Asian, women of all creeds and color, queer folk of all creeds and color, and, yes, even economically oppressed White Americans — your liberation is bound to ours.
We want to live in the land of the free, not Amerikkka.