Sunday, February 1, 2015

Is The Black Community Afraid of its Own Shadow?

Hiram R. Revels won Jefferson Davis's Congressional Seat in Mississippi Senate in 1870.  He was the first Black American elected to the U.S. Senate.  His predecessor was President of the Confederacy.
Originally Published on For The Brothas

Of the many challenges facing black men in America coping with the reality that they may be more likely to become the victim of crimes committed by another black male ranks as one of the most formidable stresses and contradictions within a social structure that would most benefit from gender and racial solidarity.  In a country more keenly focused on racial tensions between different cultures and races the phenomenon of black on black crime continues to go untreated by the Black American community perhaps because of the tough internal realities it will be forced to confront.  Many believe that the black community has never effectively organized itself against this problem attributing peaks of black on black crime statistics to shifting trends in economic opportunity and decreases in crime to attrition due to temporary incarceration and a troubling steady rate of homicide.  It is an historically unpopular view within the black community to place responsibility on itself.  Denial of its culpability continues to weaken the ability of the black community to sustain itself by effectively challenging mainstream culture and policy to revise prevalently latent vestiges of institutionalized racism set in place over hundreds of years.


Every Black American man who has seen the handsomely styled, gangster film classic Sugar Hill will undoubtedly remember its underlying theme, “I Am My Brother’s Keeper”.  In many ways this beautifully produced and acted film metaphorically captured the far more sinister realness that many black men in America are literally afraid of their own shadow because to them the image of a black man holds a bittersweet irony.  The struggle that most defines and unifies them also challenges them to survive one another within a treacherous arena of social and political razors focused on eliminating both of them.  Pitted against one another black men rarely have time or incentive to question why they have been so challenged neither do they have the resources to step back from the horror playing out before them to combine forces to vanquish the common foe that has set them upon a path of intertwined destruction.  Mirroring the staggering statistics of black on black homicides in the 1980’s Sugar Hill forced the issue of family upon the consciousness of what had become a barbaric black community torn apart by the desperate ravages of crack addiction on one side and the deadly oppression of street gangsters on the other.   Everywhere the threat of a violent death loomed before the faces of black men in America no matter how distanced they were from the bitter debacle for chemical freedom or instantaneous wealth overwhelming the streets. Simply by virtue of their black maleness they found themselves interminably linked to this frenzied pattern of cultural decay.

“No black male was safe,
no child, adolescent, man or elder…
there was no immunity from an untimely death
or some random criminal victimization
by the hands of another black man!”

In 1997 Michael Smith completed and released an internationally renowned independently produced documentary after completing his master’s degree in journalism at U.C. Berkeley called “Jesse’s Gone”.  Mike Smith studied under the prolific documentary powerhouse, Marlon Riggs, I remember his enthusiasm when he was accepted into that prestigious school.  When I visited him at the end of his first semester he stood out in his class and Marlon was dying of AIDS, it was a difficult yet promising time.


“Mike named the documentary “Jesse’s Gone” because it touched him profoundly; being a young black man himself, that such a prolific and promising young life could actually be assassinated because of another young black man’s lust for street credibility.”

The black man who shot and murdered Jesse chose street credibility over community and family accountability. Not that it would have made matters any better had Jess’s assassin actually hit his intended target because at the end of the day it statistically was and was not just another black on black crime.  Jesse’s Gone made certain that this homicide at least amidst many thousands would not be forgotten as had every other senseless killing of one black man by another.  It was a powerful summary of a singular murder typifying a wave of black on black crimes in southern California.

“Jesse was an innocent bystander slain at unawares by a misguided bullet.  But the misguided bullet was not the hot metal projectile that severed this man from his life it was the black man who pulled the trigger.”

Like many of us Michael certainly wondered what preternatural variables created the reckless human being that killed his target in cold blood.  Nobody can lay blame on any white man or anyone from any other race for perpetrating this crime, the full blame must fall upon the ensanguined hands of the black man who committed the murder and the black community that created him. In the end neither man nor his community rose to the occasion of being their brother’s keeper.

“Jesse’s murder and the assassinations of millions of Jesse’s across these United States sends an official but anonymous letter of fear, mistrust, anger, hatred, and violence to every black male, that no black man can ever be expected to assume responsibility as his brothers keeper!”

The result, juxtaposed against the larger reality of racism in America has created a noxious malaise within the psyche of Black American men feeding the conflagration of self-hatred like a self-destruct button smoldering from overuse.  Police brutality and antiquated legal policies continue to intensify the real struggle for a peaceful existence in America for black men but they only mirror on a much smaller scale the brutal way that black men treat themselves.

“As outside observers, people from other countries and races are often astounded by the phenomenon of black on black crime and they are even more amazed at the way Black Americans appear to be completely blind to it.”

Many immigrants to this country unaware of the history and struggle of black peoples in America immediately notice the extraordinary power of black on black crime as a culturally destructive force.  They are even more confused by the resistance of the black community to acknowledge it as a major obstacle to social and economic progress. The world sees a black community in desperate denial rationalizing black on black crime as somehow less of a problem than white on black violence.  We should all understand that violence is violence, simply put, and we can no more ignore the history of racism in America than we can absolve the black community from its responsibility to end its internal violence.

“For a black community embattled on multiple fronts… ending black on black crime is a simple remedy for treating racism from the inside out.”

If black communities are ever to be restored to any degree of stability the destabilizing climate of apathy must be dismantled.  The black community must commit to prosecute men who have committed black on black crimes… every offender past, present and future must be wrested from the comfort of the ethically deficient landscape insulating them from justice so they can be held publicly accountable.  Whether these black men have committed crimes against their own people and communities or others they must be locked away long enough to prevent systemic re-infection allowing assailed communities to recover.  When I use the term community I do not only mean houses, streets, schools, sacred spaces, public parks, retail and commercial structures; foremost I mean the people they serve because without people these features would be purposeless…  It is so difficult to quantify the profound the gravity encompassing and engaging the condemnation of a man to a life sentence.

“But if the alternative would be to continue a now clearly failed experiment in social science festering after more than 50 depressing years many would opine that a different and far more restrictive solution should be applied.  The terminus of the current path is hauntingly absolute, it precludes the irreversible destruction of the black community!”

Imagine the effects of black on black crime on a young, black, male child who has been cautioned from infancy to fear other black males pursuant to a real threat of violence.  The cumulative effect might be to fear rather than revere his black male counterparts and elders to whom he might otherwise look to for friendship and mentoring throughout his journey to manhood.  How will this male child come to see himself if not as a reflection of those men closest to him with whom he shares a similar cultural history? The result may be that he will either assimilate the stereotype,  isolate himself from it or play the middle line as a strategy for survival.

After placating the expectations that his world imposes upon him to be a gangster at what point might he give up and begin to believe the violent mirage he has masterfully manufactured just to stay alive? In any event, his ability to absorb and process the essential elements of manhood will always be managed against a guarded threshold, his ability to bond with other black men to establish a healthy sense of brotherhood will be potentially corrupted by the real struggle to balance reality with human nature.  And this young man’s understanding of human nature will necessarily be colored by his ability to comprehend the real threat to his own existence as represented by other black men in his environment who might be his potential attackers or assassins.

“One must ultimately ask the fundamental question, “How can you be the parent, brother, sister, relative or friend of a black male and justify turning your back on the crime that poisons his community against his survival?”  If a black man’s street credibility is predicated upon the fact he is a well-known criminal and murderer in his community then how can anyone snitch on him when his reputation is common knowledge?”

Perhaps we should exhume the corpses of all the men murdered in black on black crimes and pile them up in the neighborhoods where they died to remind those communities how devastating their silence has been…

At the beginning of the twenty-first century black men searching for solutions to redivivate deteriorating communities dead end on the issue of cultural solidarity and in particular black male unity largely because of the phenomenon of mistrust, self-loathing and self-induced blindness fostered by violent crimes committed against black males by other black males. Nobody wants to deal with the hard reality that in order to clean up black communities’ men who are committing or who have committed black on black crimes thriving in criminal enclaves established for decades will have to be locked away from society indefinitely to give these communities a chance to recover.

“Quite bluntly, many believe that if there is no commitment to prosecute and lock away men who commit black on black crime so that community building efforts can take root, grow and enjoy several generations of prosperity this problem will never be solved.”

Certainly crime will always exist however the proportion of black on black crime to overall criminal activity can be significantly reduced through structured community involvement on a national level but this must be coordinated with the criminal justice system to ensure that fugitive criminals are quickly incarcerated and permanently removed from society where they have already forfeited their “Raison d’etre”.  The question is,

“By substantially removing the criminal element precipitating black on black crimes from society will black men feel less threatened by one another? Will they begin to trust each other enabling them to form more cohesive and functional bonds, developing the kinds of economic, social and educational partnerships required to re-build the infrastructure of the black community?”

The answer is that this is only one critical part of an holistic solution which is itself a complex, many-layered organism.  In order for the holistic model to function effectively this aspect of community reform must be in place…  There are other aspects of community reform that will play an essential role in the success of the holistic model such as prison reform, welfare reform and the reform of child support laws all on a national level.  The issue is so vast that it will certainly require the effort of several think-tanks having the ability to focus on different pieces of the puzzle, sharing their data across institutions and coordinating their extrapolation of this data into the creation of tangible and practical solutions.

I have always imagined that a young, black, male child seeking the comfort of belonging will gravitate to a place that feels most like a home where he can thrive.  So when historic facts preclude that his peaceful existence will be compromised in an environment where it is highly likely he will be predated by other black males he will be forced to entertain and implement, (if he is to survive),  a pathological, Machiavellian rivalry with them reserving the potential to play itself out with only one man standing.  A black male is continually pitted against these odds never certain what fate will deal him.  In many landscapes of the black community where death is always hyper-tangible this variable creates an exponentially exaggerated instinct for survival. But the sheer number of young, black males forced to survive against identically lethal odds do not have time to comprehend what caused them to kill or die in spite of or because of their early preparation for death.

“How many lives of black men have been and will be lost through a dripping faucet of attrition?  As the brutal game plays itself out generation after generation the spigot will finally rust shut or erode itself away spewing a last desperate flood of death before the flow expends itself or is cut off.  For these black men who seemingly await certain death, an untimely mortality will either be prevented as a result of effective reform or death will systematically extinguish itself down to the last human life.  What a precarious and preventable drama lay ahead for black men in America.”

We can assume that as a result of black on black crime a self-perpetuating network of animosity and hatred has been generated reflecting innumerable homicides playing out as gang wars, family rivalries and other acts of violence and that vendetta’s will be carried from generation to generation especially among poor peoples who are often forced to live among mortal enemies.

“Death may be instantaneous
but the grief built up behind murder
is a slow-burning candle…”

We know it will take generations in order to repair the psychological scars black on black crime has left upon the community.  What appears not to be understood is the urgency with which reform must ensue.  The degree of denial stifling the black community regarding its own self-destructive path may ultimately be its doom.

“Everyone says they are down with being their brother’s keeper but when the time comes time to make good on that promise all contracts are conveniently breached.  This is because the black community and the country are degraded to the point that they are literally in bed with the criminals who perpetrate black on black crime.”

If a black, male child is fortunate enough to make it to adolescence and enter manhood without the fetters of a criminal record, a legacy of gang involvement, drug or substance abuse either documented or undocumented he faces a world that more than not sees him through a camera lens that instantly evaluates him as if he were a fugitive from a violent crime scene.

“The imagery of racism made powerfully manifest as a systematic defamation of the black male image in America acts as a great levelling device reducing all black men to savages and barbarians regardless of their extraordinary achievements as compared to the whole of humanity. This mainstream trend exacerbates the self-deprecating, psychological effects of black on black crime but it cannot be seen as the entire blame for this phenomenon.  If anyone is to be blamed it must be the individual who allows himself to succumb to the default. Society has not held a gun to any black man’s head forcing him to kill another black man.  Every Black American man can choose to be his brother’s keeper defying the odds so let the blame lie on the heads of the men who opt for crime over conservation!”

As objects of a biased lens every black man is filtered through a predictable range of possibilities by those who encounter them and nearly every parallax visualizes a high likelihood these black men will be illiterate, poor, desperate, violent, irrational, and dangerous! Fortunately most black men learn early on how to manage perceptual racial bias but the fact that it is even necessary poses its own problems in their cumulative psyche. It is purely reasonable to assume that in response to and in spite of this kind of perceptual bias Black American men have historically fortified themselves with role models they see as positive.  These role models serve to amplify their intrinsic self-esteem as armor against externally applied and anticipated aesthetic rejection. The genre of filmmaking called “Blackspoitation” featured examples of black male heroes with provocatively exaggerated sexual and physical attributes whose urban prowess magically assuaged the outrageous bias their peoples were forced to endure.

“In many positive ways these larger than life icons validated black manhood and soothed a deep fear many black men had for one another because of black on black crime. They allowed themselves to bond and identify with another black male as a conceptual ally rather than as a physical enemy.  The problem is that this brand of brotherhood was only sustainable on an artificial, antiseptic level and had no relevance to the realness of brutality on the street. Imaginary heroes such as these can be a wonderful supplement to an established history but in the case of black American men the actual historical superstars forming the fundamental hierarchy who should have been universally revered and emulated such as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Thurgood Marshall and others became obscured by a fictitious rabble of racially stereotyped media icons created by persons who were not invested in the establishment of an historically relevant pantheon of Black American male icons.”

One of the most complex and under-examined social and mental issues that many psychologists believe to have been created within the psyche of Black American peoples due to the effects of racism is a hyper-intensified insecurity syndrome.  This syndrome is characterized by an overly developed need for external acceptance and respect from others substituting what in most people is an intrinsic sense of self-worth or confidence.  Some psychologists believe this trend may be linked to the brutal mental and physical abuse endured by black peoples whose pride and dignity were broken by the institutionalized racism of slavery. If this theory is true it could explain why street-credibility has become so important in the black community exposing a deeply problematic vein of insecurity hundreds of years in the making.  Nearly everyone would agree that there has to be some rational explanation for the thousands of incidences of black on black homicides, there has to be a common pattern unifying these crimes and it is far more complex than the mere happenstance of proximity.  There is a reason, (or there are closely interrelated reasons) why these crimes were committed by black men against other black men and not any other race or ethnic group and many believe that the time is far overdue for the black community to seriously study and produce viable solutions to end this problem.

“It is difficult to delve into this uncharted region with an objective mind blind to the biases and stereotypes already manufactured by the machines of racism highly likely to have but shy of a proven intent to set into motion this self-perpetuating evil.  We must remember it is one thing to conjecture premeditated mal-intent and another to empirically prove it.  The black community has charged racism rather than internal flaws in their own community to be the fundamental cause of black on black crime for so long it is now high time to prove it or let it go!”


Evaluated against this dichotomy in outline form alone one can visualize the possible origins of this trending madness causing generations of Black Americans to react with excessive sensitivity and recklessness when they feel their image, dignity, manhood or street credibility has been abused. It is a perfectly natural reaction for people whose image has suffered continual attack by mainstream culture.  For this reason positive image building has always been a paramount in Black American culture if not only to creatively refute the negative images of slavery and the legacy of ignorance and impoverishment forced upon it.  Black men and women have always been overly proud of their appearance and decorum as a means of distinguishing themselves from  the stereotypical “Coon” image promoted in mainstream American culture.

“The image of a black man as conveyed by mainstream culture in 2015 has evolved from the outlandish engravings created by Courier and Ives in the mid to late 1800’s but sadly many of the underlying elements conveyed in modern media still promote the bottom line upheld in this country to justify the wholesale disenfranchisement of an entire race of people.”

During the 1960’s and 1970’s the “Black Is Beautiful” and “Black Power “ campaigns began to aggressively address this blemish in the self-image of Black Americans.  While flooding the market with products and media celebrating the beauty of black peoples was not enough to heal centuries of psychological abuse it was a positive beginning.  The movement successfully linked the physical beauty of black peoples to their ancestral heritage on the continent of Africa at a time of great cultural prosperity reviving historic links that had been forgotten and obscured by racist propaganda in America.  Centuries had now passed leaving black men to face the reality before them in a place that could not have been farther removed from those glorious civilizations of ancient Africa.  In America right here and right now black men are and have been oppressed beyond comprehension but they remained proud and industrious men. Because many black men have had to endure levels of poverty frowned upon by mainstream culture there has always been a strong desire to conceal their economic reality beneath the trappings of prosperity.  Also, because of the documented trend of racism to attack the prosperity of Black Americans in order to preserve the status-quote many conservatives have been careful to play down their economic successes for fear of retaliation.  This is also a huge factor weighing in on the virtual invisibility of black industrialists and intelligentsia.  Historically media such as Jet, Black Enterprise and Ebony have focused on this less conspicuous realm of the black community.  Many Black Americans have historically banked on their ability to gain economic success without formal education and by operating outside of traditional and lawful business structures. Racial disenfranchisement made these occupations necessary up to a point but they became less viable alternatives after desegregation.  Enter the rise and fall of the image of the black male hustler… During the height of black on black murders in this country the image of the black man as “Hustler/Gangster” was also at its peak.

“The image of the drug lord was virtually worshipped as a god in the black community and since these men brutally exercised their powers over the life and death of thousands of their victims it might be a stretch but one could say they temporarily usurped the very throne of the almighty himself.”

  Nearly every Black American man worshipped and wanted to emulate the image of the gangster/hustler whether they actually were part of that street hierarchy or not.

“Although it was quite evident that image alone had no cash-in value at the local bank to desperate men accustomed to poverty the transient luxury afforded by merely appearing to be economically well-endowed was as intoxicating as the transient high they got from drugs that paralyzed their community.”

Sugar Hill successfully portrayed the grizzly occupational hazards of ill-gotten wealth but human instinct will always fantasize that it can be that exception to the rule.  No matter how many would-be exceptions fill the cemeteries of urban consciousness it will always be the nature of true desperation to die for a dream when it has nothing else to lose.  And there are so many different dreams among black men, many of them so simple in scope, feeding only the need to experience the feeling of success without regard to its ethical or moral foundation.

“In contemporary culture this need for success, and to bolster ones image has caused some black men to murder other innocent black men for nothing more valuable than a coat, a pair of sneakers or other material and conceptual symbols of wealth and status.”

Desegregation was the first critical step in the direction of self-esteem for many black men.  When viewed within the total picture of human social evolution it is clear that desegregation afforded black peoples in America a tangible reference point from which to begin to visualize themselves as equals to other people and as humans. One has only to Imagine what desegregation meant to men, women and children who had been told they were inhuman forced to endure a brutal, unrelenting campaign of physical abuse and racial character assassination. Can you understand the sheer power of racism to evoke the most profoundly embedded sense of self-loathing in the peoples who suffered hundreds of years of hopelessness?  If you can fathom this then you can understand how precious a gift desegregation was for black peoples seeking to re-establish their image and status as members of the human race after it had been kept from them for hundreds of years.  Racism has created a false vacuum of non-identity.

“Black men in America yearn for established and diversified role models they can easily identify in mainstream culture.  There is a plentitude of positive black male icons spanning the centuries of oppression but their legacy has been marginalized and hidden from mainstream history; American history was simply written around them.”

Ironically, contemporary American culture has developed a disdain for history allowing it to neglect careful revisions that would systematically insert Black American men into their proper positions of importance. It is a typical human reaction when forced to admit that history as you knew it is no longer valid or stacked in your favor to lose interest in the importance of history.


“Rather than embrace a fair recalibration of American history to include the contributions of the diverse cultures and peoples who have shaped it mainstream America has chosen a policy of historic amnesia developing a sudden disdain for the importance of historical education as if it is somehow now irrelevant to the flow of modern life, unimportant to the struggle of day to day survival.  Desegregation ushered in a new social admixture that anticipated the recalibration of human facts.”

Desegregation finally opened the door to legal if not genuine human acceptance and inclusion for which Black Americans had waited centuries.  However because they did not carefully navigate their immersion into mainstream culture the black community prematurely sacrificed many of their long-standing institutions hoping they would be invited into formerly white institutions many of which had a long history of racial imperviousness.

“Once dismantled black people realized how difficult if not impossible it was to revive the dying legacies of Black American industry and ingenuity which cumulatively celebrated so many difficult decades in the building.”

Today black men yearn for that unrealized promise not only of conceptual and physical freedom but of true racial freedom or as it might be visualized, for the absence of racial self-consciousness. Today Black Americans as a whole are revisiting the formidable task left dangling some 5 decades ago by unravelling centuries of encrypted institutionalized bias and replacing it with honest to goodness justice. It is a sobering hallmark of these times that so many black men continue to struggle with their identities on many levels unable to connect with the glorious heritage of their past and driven by the mean offerings of a mal-focused present that cannot comprehend why it prioritizes street credibility at the cost of fundamental human ethics, morals and community sustainability.

“An observer focusing on contemporary American civilization for the first time might opine that Black American culture has become highly efficient at loving and hating itself to the point that neither is distinguishable as a dominant virtue.”

If anything is certain it is that someone eventually has to speak the unmentionable delivering a candid critique of Black American culture removing the pretense of political correctness and saccharine obsequiousness to tell it like it is.  The black community has historically mistaken constructive criticism for a beat down.

“Black Americans who air their race’s dirty laundry outside of their community are frowned upon, the black community is in the closet with its inability and unwillingness to confront and solve its own problems.  Outing it is in its own eyes tantamount to sedition!”

There is a time when it is best to ignore the advice of the crowd and likewise there is a time when it is wise to follow the crowd’s advice.  When everyone else can see what the black community cannot see about itself it is a clear sign that it may be high time to listen to the crowd… or at least carefully weigh-out the validity of their warnings…

Self-imposed isolationism and denial casts so many black men into a paranoid state of insecurity.  Society offers little substance to decorate the vacuum which stands in the place of self-identity and in the absence of reason there reigns the unchallenged spectre of sheer and utter chaos!

“No matter how carefully a black man insulates himself from his black brother he knows the odds are high that he will be victimized by crime and it will be inflicted upon him by another black male.  This reality has to have a profound effect upon all black men and cumulatively upon their culture and community.”

As a result many people are waking up to the irony demonstrated by the myopic focus of the black community on white on black crime whilst ignoring the larger crisis of black on black crime.  It raises the tough question, “How the black community can effectively manage externally inflicted crime and racism when it is afraid of its own shadow”?






DAVID VOLLIN
Male Media Mind