The imaginary war against white people

A meme is afoot concerning attacks by black youth targeting whites for mayhem and racial revenge. This trend would be really scary, if it existed.

The other day, Ed Kilgore drew attention to an article by McKay Coppins on an odd, yet sadly predictable meme making the rounds at race-conservative news sites. The Treyvon Martin case provided the most recent spark, but this one has popped up every so often since the 2008 election. It concerns the alleged spate of attacks by black youth targeting whites for mayhem and racial revenge. I didn’t have a chance to chime in at the time. But I wanted to note a few things.

Coppins provides quite the compendium of comments by fringe figures–though I suppose Drudge, Bill O’Reilly, and Tucker Carlson count as mainstream these days. Rush Limbaugh’s entry was emblematic: “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering.”

Most notoriously, John Derbyshire was fired last month from the National Review for posting “The Talk: Nonblack version.” This frankly racist essay offered bullet-point public advice to his children. Specific items include the following:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.

(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date…

(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.

(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible…

(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.

Though rarely expressed so awfully, it’s an article of faith among race- conservatives that political correctness prevents us from noting the obvious fact that African-American youth are disproportionately represented among the perpetrators (and victims) of violent crime. In fact, the high crime rate in minority communities has been the most obsessively-covered story in American urban life for at least forty years. If some politically-correct conspiracy has sought to obscure this issue, it has been an epic failure.

Leaving aside Derbyshire’s frank racism, his advice betrays astonishing paranoia and inhumanity at the level of everyday life. As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted at Slate, most segregationist southern whites would stop to help a black person who had a heart attack or was injured by the road.

In the wake of the London riots, some low-income Chicago youth were arrested in a scary incident on our normally-sedate north side. That very day, I received several calls from reporters wondering if this was a frightening new trend among black youth to get on Facebook and Twitter and plan racial hate crimes. As Thomas Sowell put things: “What the authorities and the media seem determined to suppress is that the hoodlum elements in many ghettoes launch coordinated attacks on whites in public places.”

Um, no. Sure, some disturbing incidents occur. (Google, e.g., “Korean store owners, Los Angeles, 1992.”) Non-racially-motivated robberies and assaults certainly occur. And there’s always the chance that some case of police brutality will blow up. For now, anyway, black-on-white hate crimes are far down the list of prevalent and severe crime concerns.

Despite obsessive media attention at Fox News or wherever, lethal black-on-white crimes are rarer than you might believe. Crime rates are below those of ten years ago. They are way below the levels of twenty years ago. U.S. homicide rates are the lowest they’ve been since the early 1960s. I’m aware of no data to indicate that black-on-white crime is a specifically worsening problem. Coppins cites an FBI report listing 575 reported anti-white bias crimes in 2010. That’s a tiny number in a nation of 300 million people.

In 2008, a graduate student and I examined Chicago medical examiner records for two hundred consecutive homicides involving teenage and young-adult victims. Only eleven of these 200 victims were non-Hispanic whites. I expected to find a few white students who were set upon and killed by robbers (say) at an ATM or a carjacking. I found no such cases. Such things do happen, but not very often in today’s urban America.

Then there’s my own life. I routinely visit tough high schools in low-income communities, needle exchanges, social service agencies, drug treatment and public health clinics. I regularly violated every one of Derbyshire’s rules for fifteen years now.

I’ve had a few frightening incidents. Yet it’s been 20 years since anyone has laid a hostile hand on me. It’s not that I intimidate anyone. I measure five-foot six, and 130 pounds. Like literally millions of other people, I just go about my business, and people don’t bother me. My daughters are two other such people. They have attended majority-minority schools since 2003. Their physical safety has never been an issue. The notion that African-Americans are laying in wait to exact payback from the next available Caucasian doesn’t match reality.

When I read Derbyshire’s piece, I remembered an incident from several years ago. I was pulling off I-57 in Matteson, Illinois. The (slightly juiced) driver in front of me went way too fast and skidded into the snow. Her car wedged itself over a drain pipe fifty feet from the road. I pulled over, and tried to help. At some point, I chatted with the driver. She asked where I lived. I told her. She replied, “I hear that neighborhood is going down.” We both knew what she meant.

A muscular African-American man in sunglasses pulled over to help. He was driving a tricked-out compact Japanese car, out of whose heavily tinted windows emerged the loud PG-13 sounds of modern hip-hop. We didn’t get too far in dislodging that lady’s car. I still hope the driver learned something.

We spend an awful lot of time being frightened of racial others. We don’t have to be so scared.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

30 thoughts on “The imaginary war against white people”

  1. Every so often since the 2008 election? Have we forgotten Willie Horton?

    I don’t like that term “race-conservative.” A race-conservative should be a person who advocates that the law should be color-blind, that each person should be judged as an individual, with no affirmative action for any racial group. Dwight Eisenhower was a race-conservative. I prefer “race-reactionary” for the sites (and people) you’re talking about.

  2. I agree with the sentiment, but the FBI hate crime stats don’t quite address the conservative claims. Crime stats can be compiled from police reports (like UCR) or victim surveys (NVCS). In victimization surveys anti-white hate crimes (where anti-white racial slurs were used, etc) loom relatively large, but not in police reports. So there is a debate over which source better reflects reality, like the one over rape. However, whereas conservatives hype the police reports at the expense of victim surveys for rape, they do the opposite for anti-white hate crimes. Note also that “black-on-white” hate crimes, depending on the statistic being quoted, can include anti-gay, anti-Hispanic, and anti-Jewish attacks as well as ones motivated primarily by anti-white animus.

  3. I just recently had this sort of conversation with my childhood music teacher. Totally mild mannered. She had been reading of the scary incidents by black people near her neighborhood, and become quite frightened.
    It’s just easy to fall into that sort of thinking. I did point out that yes, that area was sketchy 20 years ago too, overall crime has been going down, and that the still existing violence is pretty much random – not targeted.

    We’ll see if my messages got through.

  4. Did the murder data include victims of domestic violence? Most murders are not a result of domestic violence? Or domestic violence doesn’t happen to white women? Maybe there’s lots of domestic violence but it usually doesn’t result in murder?

  5. Apparently the only facts that exist are the ones you make up in your own head. So all the violence last summer in Chicago and elsewhere in the midwest, I suppose it was all choreographed fantasy, staged to build some horrible anti-black conspiracy and give the “right-wing media” types something to talk about? There is a tremendous animosity towards whites on the part of inner city black “youths,” and if you are white and happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time you will certainly be attacked. I live in Northern California, I’ve been jumped and beaten by a gang of 5 black kids while walking through a friend’s neighborhood at around 10 in the evening. Was it a hate crime? Well, they weren’t screaming “honky!” or “die whitey!” like in some 70’s movie, but I have no doubt they wouldn’t have attacked me had I been black. Have several friends that have experienced similar events. – You bet your bony little white ass that it’s more than just a handful of blacks who are into this

    1. “You bet your bony little white ass”

      My fine round white ass says your fine round white ass is blowing smoke. Having being mugged,once, by a gang of white youths, I can say with some certainty that my life when the attack took place would not have been improved by being black. I am often amazed by the restraint shown by the black community, especially when one considers the racist vitriol, the system gaming and stereotyping by which they have been humiliated and kept down every day of their lives – not to mention a slanted justice system and rates of incarceration and police harassment of which every white person should be utterly ashamed. The fact remains that white men (like you and me, Jack) have the pole position when it comes to success and opportunity in American life. We inherited a socio-economic system created by our white, male, racist ancestors and have done far too little to change it.

      1. Excellent point. False race-equivalence by whites always makes me want to beat my head against a wall. The experiences are just so vastly different. My minority students who resent whites do so out of a sense of socioeconomic anger. They tend to be the most marginalized – the hoodlums and gangsters who know, at a largely intuitive, unconscious level, that the system has failed their community and it is obvious that race has a lot to do with it. They know that they aren’t “good citizens”, but they are doing the best they know how to do given the way they have been brought up and the injustices they have been forced to endure. They can clearly see the pattern – parents and peers are poor, low-skill, low-status wage earners. They resent the fact that they don’t know how to do any better.

  6. I’d rather have left more space between my comment and Jack’s, but someone should cite Kahneman’s famous Laura experiment.

    The trouble is not that stereotyping is wicked. It’s an efficient Bayesian prior in may situations where you have to decide quickly what to do on the basis of poor information, and so adaptive. We expect doctors to be trustworthy, but not casino operators, in spite of counterexamples. On similar playing-the-percentages grounds, Allied airmen shot down over France in WWII were advised to make contact with railwaymen or parish priests, rather than shopkeepers or policemen. The non-discriminatory airline security that exposes old ladies to a similar chance of search to young men from Pakistan is absurd. In inner cities at night, avoiding groups of young men of any colour hanging around on street corners is prudent, especially groups of different pigmentation to yours, even though the majority of such groups are probably harmless. The problem is that the stereotype seeps into all our thinking and blocks learning and empathy. Add one bad experience as with Jack, and the confirmed stereotype becomes the mental prison of prejudice and racism.

    1. ” The non-discriminatory airline security that exposes old ladies to a similar chance of search to young men from Pakistan is absurd. ”

      The stated reason is that they figured that future attacks will not look like a group of young men from Pakistan. Of course, the idea of searching every so many people is dumb, in and of itself.

  7. “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved…. After all we have been through. Just to think we can’t walk down our own streets, how humiliating.”

    1. “I am somebody.
      I am somebody.
      I am a child of God.
      I may not be educated but I am somebody.
      I may not have any money but I am somebody.
      I may not eat steak every day but I am somebody.
      I may not look the way you look but I am somebody.”

          1. Might have been a Jackson quote, but it was hardly random… Evidently Jackson is permitted to notice the odds, but Derbyshire isn’t.

          2. Brett, if you think the Derb piece was not racist, you should ask an actual black person what they think.
            You will find Derb is not playing the ‘innocent Bayesian’ card.

          3. and jackson was also subjected to some pretty intense criticism for that remark as well. unlike jackson, derbyshire had no history of activism for civil rights to fall back on.

  8. I live in Newark: a scrawny pallid Jewish bearded guy. I’m a lot safer in the street looking the way I do than if I were black. There are many reasons for this, and I don’t know which ones predominate. But as another pallid Jewish bearded guy likes to say: “it’s twue!”

  9. Good post!
    It truly is
    the content of one’s character
    that matters foremost!

    And that is
    something some of
    our friends and relatives
    just don’t seem to get!

  10. John Derbyshire’s fictitious “talk” to his kids reminded me, sadly, of Guinevere and the Fire.

    I think upbringing has a lot to do with this kind of prejudice. During my early childhood, my family lived in an academic, pretty multi-ethnic neighborhood (still predominantly white, but literally with people from all over the globe). For the longest time, it never occurred to me that the color of a person’s skin was anything but a facet of their appearance, not really all that much different from the color of their hair and eyes.

    And … to this day, I don’t really get racism. It’s nothing that I can relate to, either intellectually or emotionally. Hearing this stuff is like listening to a proponent of impetus theory as someone who has been taught Newtonian mechanics all her life. It just does not parse.

    For example, I’ve never gotten a good answer from the likes of John Derbyshire why they don’t also engage in gender-based profiling. After all, men are around ten times more likely (with minor variations by country) to be the perpetrators of violent crimes than women, right? So, should we shun and ghettoize the male half of the species? Obviously, the answer is “no”. As a reasonably smart woman, I know, for example, that I am safest from violent crime committed by men in the company of other men. That’s because the behavior of a criminal minority of a segment of the population is not a predictor for the behavior of the rest of that segment.

  11. i am a white man in my early 50s. my grandchildren are biracial and because of their hair and their skin color appear to be as black as any other african-american children. this is no surprise given the sorry history of the sexual exploitation of slave women in the slave-holding states and the way that has effected the variety of skin tones in the african american population. i routinely violate that ass derbyshire’s rules myself and it pains me to know, up close and personal, how race hatred and race fear have effected and will effect my grandson’s lives. even were i to believe in the republican party’s preposterous economic policies or their medieval conception of the rights of women, i would vote in opposition to them strictly on the basis of the way their policies and their messaging make the lives of my grandchildren more miserable.

  12. I’m a mentor of an 8-year-old African-American girl and I can say with certainty that she encounters, and suffers from, FAR more from racism in a week than any given “Jack” will in am average year or even a decade of his life. “Jack,” you have NO FRICKING IDEA.

  13. You could use similar reasoning to prove that lynching was never a big deal, or terrorism was never a big deal, since the number of Americans killed by either cause was never large.

  14. My husband once overshot his destination (Hyde Park) coming back from O’Hare on the El, very late at night. He decided to walk through the neighborhood rather than waiting an hour for the next train. His calculus was something like, at least if I am courting danger every minute that goes by I will be closer to my destination if I walk . . .

    Anyway, as he walked through those streets, among the the most fabled of urban badlands, he ran into many people, most noted his presence: some asked if he was lost, offered him a ride, asked if he wanted them to call a cab, warned him to be careful, etc. Not a single person threatened him even though he was alone, with luggage. There is a story in there, not just about the perception of risk generally, but about how even a few instances of a phenomenon can make it seem ubiquitous, especially if it feeds deeply held pre-existing stereotypes. In some ways, people amplify the importance of events because they justify their own pre-existing prejudice — they don’t want statistics about frequency, they want validation.

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