Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Blacks, Violence and Honor Cultures

Against the backdrop of a generally more violent world, Blacks own the statistical lead for behaving violently towards others, and against their own. But they are far from being alone. Some will say that selective pursuit, prosecution or reporting is what drives up these group numbers, but this chicken-versus-egg argument does not cut it. Rather than ignore or deny, or blame others, I looked for research that might help explain this phenomenon. I have not seen any evidence that Blacks are genetically pre-disposed to higher violence than others.

I have never lived in the South, but found two avenues that are the drivers for ‘honor cultures’, those societies prone to higher violence in order to maintain protective reputations of strength and toughness (here). The first is the correlation of violence to economic vulnerability, and the second is its correlation to weak compliance systems (enforcement), both attributes of the early and colonial White South. Even today, southern White men are significantly more violent than their northern peers. Black men, alternately, show no geographical bias in their behavior, as you would expect, given their recent migration to all parts of the US from the South.

But before they were in the South, Blacks were in West Africa, also plagued by societies of economic vulnerability and weak compliance, even prior to colonialism. So, the honor culture of the South’s clanish, herding, Scotch-Irish settlers was wholly consistent with West African tribal character. Add to this, the modern-day insular urban areas where Blacks live, with continuing economic vulnerability and localized codes of enforcement and response, and the result is more violence and crime. Lastly, there is a spill-over effect as northern culture and southern-influenced black culture cross migratory paths north and west of the Mason-Dixon. Researchers would expect a higher rate of black-on-white and black-on-black crime, given these historical influences.

This post barely scratches the surface, but it points the way to understanding the interplay between job opportunity (legitimate work) and law enforcement (threat of punishment from illegitimate 'work'). With respect to punishment, we need to either punish offenders much more harshly or honestly attempt to rehabilitate them (my vote). Simply locking them up for some amount of time is no effective deterrent. Any attempt to rehabilitate must put real salable skills into the hands of offenders, and says we should consider making a GED (minimum skills) a requirement for parole, regardless of the offense.

James C. Collier

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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Up until the late 1960's, the demographics of violence in terms of black-on-black crime was much greater in the south among southern blacks. Statistically this was always underreported due to the social conditions for black folk in the smaller southern towns and cities as compared with violence reports in the northern states and on the west coast. In the south and south west two things account for this disparity. One was the institutionalization of the segregation practices in the cities and towns of the south and south west that simply did not consider blacks to be part of the entire community. Therefore any episode of black-on-black violence or crime was not reported in the white owned newspapers or included as part of the statistical records of the social behavior for that community. This is because southern whites did not want to know about anything that went on in the "colored" part of town. This practice began with the inception of Negro slavery. This is why record keeping about Negroes in the south is sparse indeed.

The second reason for high levels of violence among blacks in the south was the ease of purchase for guns throughout the south. I found that during my time in the south, many black men that I met had obtained sizeable gun collections of which they were quite proud. In and around the smaller southern towns, law enforcement generally was not present, particularily in the black section of town, so it was quite customary for black folks to carry a weapon for self protection when they were out and abroad. Needless to say in situations where large amounts of alcohol was customarily consummed, outbreaks of gun violence was very common.

However, subsequently the violence in inner-city areas all over the country has exploded with the tsunami of drugs and high powered weapons into these locations. Currently the violence is not only black-on-black but it is now between black and latinos. Since this violence is primarily carried out by gang members using military style weapons, fatalities have reached levels normally found in guerrilla warfare.

Finally, one highly significant factor has contributed to the many decades of high levels of violence among southern black men. This is the influence of the centuries of Negro slavery, during which the life of a slave was considered worth less than that of a well trained hunting dog. Throughout the post civil war decades in the south, any white man was free to summarily kill any Negro in cold blood without any reason whatsoever. This inculcated into the minds of the survivors of such victims the utter worthlessness of anyone who had the misfortune to be born a Negro. This lack of selfesteem among southern Negroes had long since reached epidemic levels long before the start of the Civil Rights struggle in the 1960's. This lack of selfesteem translated into low regard among Negroes for any "unknown" Negro stranger they might happen to encounter. This diminished regard for a stranger who happens to be "black like me", often lowered the normal inhibition that exists between human beings against flareups of anger and violence against each other.

ronnie brown said...

your analysis strikes me as balanced and reasonable...especially the statement "This lack of self esteem translated into low regard among Negroes for any "unknown Negro stranger they might happen to encounter"...a loathing for self leading to a loathing and diminished regard to those who look like him...that same self-loathing probably leads to the low life expectancy of many young Black males...they don't they'll live a long life, many expect to die violently.

atldude said...

agree with anon and ronnie that the low self-esteem runs deep. The question is: what can be done?

There is a culture in southern blacks (and others, to be sure) that celebrates and glorifies this violence instead of realizing the cost, effects and origins of it and trying to combat it. When will it cooler to respect others than to shoot them?

Too Tall Jones said...

But before they were in the South, Blacks were in West Africa, also plagued by societies of economic vulnerability and weak compliance, even prior to colonialism. So, the honor culture of the South’s clanish, herding, Scotch-Irish settlers was wholly consistent with West African tribal character.

Agree with AW's general post and it receives support from Sowell in "Black rednecks, White Liberals" book, but I am not so sure that the more backward, redneck white settlers of the south are consistent with West African tribal character? Which West Africans? There are a huge number of tribes and customs. And I am not at all sure of the economic vulnerability and weak compliance part. Again it depends which West Africans you are speaking of. The kingdom of the famous Mansa Musa, which crashed the major market of Cairo with its wealth was relatively prosperous, comparing favorably to contemporary European societies with similar population levels. Likewise some of the warrior kingdoms of Kongo and the Ashanti ran tight military ships to enforce compliance with various policies. The picture is very complex. In many West Af societies the individual vendetta was not as strong as say in England or the white south, compared to the role of secret societies or age grade groupings and meditation.


Researchers would expect a higher rate of black-on-white and black-on-black crime, given these historical influences.

Agreed and high levels of intra group violence are not unusual with other groups from similar peasant backgrounds, such as the white Irish, a point too often conveniently forgotten by assorted white right wingers who like to harp on black crime as if it were a special case unbeknownst to mankind.

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Too Tall Jones said...

Anon said:

Finally, one highly significant factor has contributed to the many decades of high levels of violence among southern black men. This is the influence of the centuries of Negro slavery..
Perhaps, but another significant factor is the breakdown of black family structures and community structures that began in the late 1960s. Out of wedlock rates in the 1940s and even as late as 1960 were much smaller than what they are in the black community today. Flawed desegregation efforts also destroyed countless institutions of black community pride and unity such as high schools. All black Dunbar high school in DC up until the 1960s was one such proud institution, also producing academic performances equal to or exceeding that of surrounding white schools (Sowell 1994, 1981).


R. Brown said:
"This lack of self esteem translated into low regard among Negroes for any "unknown Negro stranger they might happen to encounter"...a loathing for self leading to a loathing and diminished regard to those who look like him...that same self-loathing probably leads to the low life expectancy of many young Black males...they don't they'll live a long life, many expect to die violently."

There was a lot more self-discipline in earlier black communities prior to the deterioration of the late 1960s and beyond. They were not perfect by any means, and had significant levels of violence, both in the rural south or in the urban north, but compared to the ghetto war zones of today they were a lot better. Such safety was not unusual at all in most black communities. (Sowell 1983, 2004, 1981).


adtidude says:

agree with anon and ronnie that the low self-esteem runs deep. The question is: what can be done?


Serious small scale grassroot efforts would be a great start and should be the primary focus, rather than relying on grand government programs or some political "saviour" to deliver the goods. The NAACP spends more much more money on political lobbying and symbolic gesturing than on such "street" efforts for example, and is now little more than a branch office of the Dem party, with its focus in that sphere to preserve its funding flow.

Action has to take place in a widespread way among the masses at the street level, bypassing these "leaders." Churches can play a key role, as can community groups focused on the basics- safety, education, personal accountability, not whether X number of black movie stars got hired in Hollywood for X movies, or spending much time and energy denouncing aging white radio commentators who make dumb remarks, or spending resources on "image award" ceremonies and "showcases." Such a focus however will not garner much press attention, or keep funding from liberal donors flowing. It has to be done at street level, pushing resources down to the lowest level to support grassroots initiatives, not raising that money for some politician. That should be secondary.

The black Muslims are one illustration of this dynamic from street patrols, to insistence on literacy, to insistence on some type of productive work and discipline by its young men, but hard-nosed community groups can accomplish the same thing, working with local establishment powers.

More of a focus on cooperating with the police to lower the hammer on black thugs and criminals is another thing that needs strong attention, rather than denouncing law enforcement or making "sociological" excuses for black thuggery. Another urgent need is for MORE LONG-TERM blunt talk AND action on personal discipline and accountability. Cosby was opposed by a small but significant number of the black intelligentsia like Michael Dyson. On the flip side, applause is not enough. Cosby got a lot of lip service and applause before the elites, but when that was over where is most of the money and time going? Not to hard-nosed street organizations focused on the basics noted above.

Sheena said...

I agree with Too Tall Jones, but I also think that African American celebrities in Hip Hop should take responsibility for their actions as well. I don't know how old you are but I am young and in touch with whats going on today. Rap and Hip Hop has influenced African Americans in a NEGATIVE way even in suburb communities. I was raised in a nice suburb community that consisted of mostly white people. The black people that did live in this beautiful town was submerged into the Hip Hop culture. They felt that they had an obligation to speak ebonics and be THUGGED OUT and GHETTO. They even created their own so called "HOOD" and was proud of it. They decided to sell drugs because they listened to Biggy Smalls and Jay-z and thought that was what black men do. They had a great public school with staff that actually cared about their students, but decided to drop out or show all the white kids how hard core they were. They wanted to stand out for all of the wrong reasons. Oh and they had to SMOKE WEED because Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg did it. They owned these albums and it was like a bible to them. I remember them saying, if you don't smoke weed, you ain't black. People do not realize how much Hip Hop and hard core RAP has influenced all of America. Even white kids. But the majority of the black youth is looking up to these celebrities that glorify violence. They promote all of the wrong things. Not all of Rap and Hip Hop artist send out these messages but most of them do. If we could start here, then we could tackle the streets. Let's not forget that Tupac and Biggy Smalls could have created a civil war back in the 90's. Then there is Jay-z and P.Diddy. Jay-z rapped about how he sold drugs to get where he was. How about Kanye West? Didn't he have an album out, where he talks about college and how it was pointless? These children idealize celebrities and rappers. They are like GOD to them and will do whatever they rap about or preach. They should take some responsibility and make education the new cool. Or make getting married and being devoted to your wife the new thing to do. But no, we have music videos that show women taking off their clothes for one man. We have videos of black men being flashy. There message is-be materialistic even if you live in the hood- what happened to preaching to the youth about bettering the community. What happened to teaching the youth to work hard for property and not iPods or Jordans and toyotas with rims and tinted windows? Why do rappers have to set the wrong example when they have millions of black followers? Lets start there.