Legacy of Violence

From the time Christopher Columbus landed with his starved and weather beaten crew on an island in the Carribean, the lands we know as the Americas have been racked by incredible violence and drenched in insatiable bloodshed. The terrible legacy of American bloodletting stretches long and deep, reaching back thousands of years before the United States of America was founded and borrowing flames from the conflagration of Greek draconian codes while drawing inspiration from the terrors of ancient Rome

Although violence in America has touched the lives of most who dwell there, it is usually associated with Black people who are not only its most vulnerable and traditional recipient, but are also those most stigmatized, stereotyped and projected as the very embodiment of crime, deviance, and mayhem.

When we review the sordid legacy of America, it seems strange that Blacks would be projected as the initiators and purveyors of violence and crime; strange until one realizes that there is a method to the incongruity.

Sadly, there is some truth to the image of violent Blacks roaming the streets of America, venting their anger and frustration and committing senseless acts of violence. According to statistics by the US Department of Justice a Black teenager is three to five times more likely than White youth to be a murder victim. Blacks are also more likely to be victims of robbery and assault. But these government agencies that compile the statistics do not factor in the historical and psycho-social fall out which prompt Blacks to commit acts of destruction against themselves and against others. Anthony King writes in his essay, "Understanding Violence Among Young Males" :

"Chattel slavery, institutional racism, and poverty are the three most salient and pervasive features of the African experience in the United States. Thus, to fully understand the nature and etiology of contemporary violence among African American males, one has to examine the relationship between these unique social, economic, and historical features of the African American male experience and the violence that currently permeates the neighborhoods of so many African American communities."[1]

Moreover statistics are usually compiled by organizations that are controlled by Whites in the interest of Whites and it would be naive not to believe that there is often an ulterior motive for making them available to be broadcast by news agencies which are also White dominated and controlled. It is actually a tactic of repression that has been used with huge success over the years. Malcolm x explains:

"The racists that are usually very influential in the society, don’t make their move without first trying to get public opinion on their side. So they use the press to get public opinion on their side. When they want to suppress and oppress the Black community, what do they do? They take these statistics, and through the press they feed them to the public they make it appear that the rate of crime in the Black community is higher than it is anywhere else. What does this do? This is a very skillful message used by racists to make the Whites who aren’t racists think that since the rate of crime in the Black community is so high, this paints the community in the image of a criminal. It makes it appear that everyone in the Black community is a criminal.

And as soon as this impression is given, then it makes it possible or paves the way to set up a police-type state in the Black community."[2]

Although racism became the mainstay of the Euro/ American type slavery perpetuated against Blacks and although vicious and preposterous lies were fabricated to justify this most fiendish institution of human bondage; this had not always been so. For even within the mind-set of ancient Greek scholars and philosophers, who were the predecessors of Euro/American culture, there was adulation for Black people. Scholar Dmesh D Souza writes:

"For Homer, Blacks were the blameless of the gods. Diordorus mentioned their widespread reputation for religious piety. Seneca found them notable for their courage and freedom. Lucian noted that in astrological knowledge they were the wisest of men.

Herodotus, the first European to comment on the physical appearance of Ethiopians, described them as the most handsome of men. Martial noted that, while he was pursued by a woman whiter than a swan, he sought the affections of one blacker than Pitch. Snowden quotes a Greek epigrammatist, Asclepiades, ‘Gazing At her beauty I melt like wax before the fire. If she is Black, what is that to me? So are coals, but when we burn them they shine like rosebuds.’ While Aristotle, perhaps the foremost Greek intellectual and philosopher of all times, reserved his lowest estimation (not for Africans or Blacks) but Northern Europeans, especially the English whom he described as ‘incapable of ruling over others’ and also ‘wanting in intelligence and skill.’ [3]

Yet these sentiments aside, it was necessary in order to reduce millions of Blacks to the state of chattel and to control every aspect of their movements, to work them like mules from early morning to darkest night, to rape the women, to emasculate the men and to instill a fear of the White master along with a hatred of self that would last for centuries it was crucial to first assault the African mind, to obliterate and denigrate his culture and to destroy as much as possible every remnant of him that could be construed as human. Wayne B Chandler provides an overview:

"With the approach of the fifteenth century and the overthrow of the Moorish empire in Spain, European slavers turned their covetous eyes to the "Dark Continent." Though the Arabs and the Portugese had begun the exploitation of men and women in Africa centuries earlier, northern Europeans would bring the rapacious industry of slavery to an all time low. In its 3,5000 year history, slavery had become an institution based on an applied science. In antiquity, the practice of enslavement was largely expressed through war, the conqueror over the conquered, transcending racial barriers. In the European slave trade in Africa, unlike previous institutions of slavery, Africans were regarded as bestial, or less human. This perception, as well as the accompanying propaganda, allowed unspeakable and inhumane practices to become commonplace." [4]

It was this incredibly vicious process of dehumanization of African people that set the stage for Black explosions and implosions of violence in American society, and although the depictions of Blacks as untrustworthy, ignorant, and wild who are prone to attack innocent, unsuspecting Whites; with the advent of contemporary American society and its inherent propensity toward violence, with its shoot em up and knock em down video games, with its penchant for bloody movies, with its glamorization of criminals and glorification of serial and mass murderers, with its pronounced and exhibited tendencies toward aggression and exploitation, and with its vile legacy of over 350 years subjugation and violent reprisal against Black people along with its theft and pollution of the earth’s resources; it is easy to see that it is Whites who are the real instigators of violence and destroyers of domestic and international peace.

Indeed it is easy to recognize the real culprits once we carefully examine the modern American technological and desire driven society. A society that induces and caters to every vile desire and provides a perch for every dirty bird, a society that excites the worst passions and shamelessly parades them out into the full light of day, and a society that manifests the worst human poisons, and like a spark kindled into a raging flame, erupts them into a conflagration full blown.

There is a heightened sense of frustration for the multitudes of Black Americans who are, regulated, hobbled and straight jacketed into boring, dead end jobs. Their lives seemingly useless, predictable and arranged like subjects trapped in a huge and ghastly laboratory. They suffer under the weight of pent up anger and with every slight or insult, with every instance of being overlooked, condescended or ignored, a smoldering rage begins to build within them. Under these conditions, violence becomes the swiftest method and the surest tool to obtain recognition. Violence is used as leverage to attain the notice and the respect that can propel them from the mundane and the mediocre into the fabulous arena of importance, significance and validity. Even if they are apprehended and made to endure the penalty for their transgressions and non-conformity they still are (finally!) acknowledged and even the worst kind of recognition is better than none at all.

The regulation of Black people to non-person status coupled with the pervasive climate of racism in America engenders a self-destructive mentality in many Blacks. They feel that America is not their country. That it is not treating them with the honor and dignity that their humanity demands. Thus they descend into a fatalistic perspectives and into destructive lifestyles. These perspectives are shared by some of America’s brightest minds. Feagin and Vera explain in their book, "White Racism" :

"Today a pessimistic view is common among some of the most insightful analysts of US racial relations. In ‘Faces at the Bottom of the Well,’ the prominent constitutional scholar Derick Bell argues that racism is so fundamental to this nation that African Americans will never gain equality with White Americans. In Bell’s view neither time nor individual generosity will solve the problem. Whites have written a few freedom checks, such as passing unenforced laws, setting up the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and allowing a few Blacks into high professional and managerial positions, but these measures are insufficient and evanescent. Even civil rights laws have collided with the real world of racial inequality and White power and have produced, at best, modest results." [5]

Thus Black men and women feel the need to qualify and to redeem themselves (not only from an oppressive past) but also from genocidal contemporary forces, and sometimes the frustration and anger over their condition compel them to strike out blindly. Very often the targets of their frustration and their rage are those who are closest to them.

Moreover the ramifications of the self-hatred instilled in Blacks as a consequence of over three centuries of chattel slavery, Jim Crowism, economic exploitation and physical/mental torment, sparks episodes of Black violence. A violence that is carried out not only against adults but in the last ten years, is increasingly meted out on our most precious and vulnerable human treasures, our children. It is a frightening reality that in today’s Black America, not even our children are safe from our most brutal and violent assaults.

Not long ago it was virtually unheard of for a Black man or woman to murder a child, sadly we can no longer claim this distinction. Almost weekly in the national press, we are shocked with yet another incident of a Black person murdering a Black child. Often in (a up close and personal manner) with a knife or pummeling to death with some blunt force object such as a metal bar or club. Then there are the regular horror stories of Black babies being abandoned or the reports of children being perforated with bullets by some Black self-styled gangster in the cowardly act of a "drive by’ shooting.

Today an increasing group of Black men carry the infamous title of serial killer. A title that had for decades been the exclusive label to indicate a particular White male. It seems that through a process of corruption and exposure to Euro- American culture, values, passions, perversions, etc. Black serial killers are developed who are acting out the murderous designs of their White spiritual fathers.

Many young Blacks in America between the ages of 14 and 25 are caught up in a Euro/American gangster mentality. One that influences them to disrespect and to abuse Black women, Black elders, Black children and themselves. The energy of these potential Black warriors is thus deflected from areas or pursuits that could do the most good in the struggle for Black emancipation, and used to destroy the very people that should be its beneficiaries. And instead of our young (our most vital and powerful human resource) being a force for progression, enlightenment and strength, they become a tool facilitated and used by our oppressors and our enemies for our curtailment and our destruction. Psychologist, Amos N Wilson writes:

"Black on Black crime, with Black males acting as erstwhile suicidal, fratricidal Manchurian candidates who unwittingly have been recruited to execute the continuing White American hegemonic assaults on the African American community, necessarily requires that their personalities be psychologically conditioned and transformed to play their "assigned" roles by the Eurocentric establishment. Moreover, it requires that these personalities be made unconsciously responsive to, and malleably combatible with White American imperialistic needs. These robotized rangers must be extrinsically motivated by White American manufactured desires and commodities. All in all, in order that the African American community appear to be intrinsically incompetent, incoherent, threatening, dangerrously criminal dependent and prone to self-destruction, a sizeable segment of its population must be criminally "alienated," that is, made host to White American introjectively structured behavioral tendencies which are combatible with White American hegemonic interests." [6]

In fact the narrow focus of the Black criminal blots out all social, historical, communal, national and international concerns. He lives his life from moment to moment in an adolescent haze. He see’s only that which is put before him by the White rulers , and oppressors that he seeks to emulate, and he greedily covets the trinkets, flashy consumer commodities and overpriced baubles that the White manufacturing conglomerates have tactfully languished value upon through sycophantic advertisement and media outlets. The unwritten rule is that everything that Whites produce shall be projected in a favorable light and made to appear valuable and necessary, and everything that Whites do not manufacture or control is belittled, ridiculed, ignored, or depicted as foolish or dangerous in an effort to prevent it from being a source of competition for themselves and independence for others.

Furthermore, the Black criminal is (at best) not interested in the plight of Black people and he consciously hates them and despises them at his worst. In fact he hates everything African or associated with Africa. Although sometimes he will try to disguise his hatred through humor, but invariably the brunt of his jokes will always be aimed at Blackness and Africa and never will he laugh at or ridicule White or European culture or standards. He is conditioned by Whites to hate Africa, and in turn, to hate himself because one cannot hate the roots of the tree without also despising the tree itself. So he copies the White projected image of the gangster made popular in Hollywood movies and in American popular culture.

He apes the antics and character flaws of such reprobates as Al Capone, Frank Nitti, John Gotti, or even copies the make believe personas of fake hoodlums like ‘Scarface’ or the Coleones, and even in this he is a failure for he only qualifies as a pathetic caricature of these White gangsters who he looks up to as demi-gods. And failing miserably to acquire their wealth, their property, their businesses and their relative influence and power, he mimics them in the only way he believes is available to him; he copies their violent attitudes and actions. Sociologist Khari Enahro explains:

"Black people do not have real gangs that control real territory. The so-called areas that these gangs call their territory are the neighborhoods where injustice, crime, drugs and mayhem are allowed to exist. They dare not cross over the border and bring into the White suburban communities open-air drug markets, loud music and drive-by shootings.

They know that they would be crushed immediately.

These so-called Black gangs are desperate groups of Black males engaging in ineffective responses to racism by playing dangerous games of life and death that are centered around self-destructive activities. They are involved in distributing quantities of destructive drugs in their own communities to their own people while shooting, maiming, and killing each other with guns they do not manufacture.

They prey on helpless and defenseless people. They do not fight armed and well-organized people. They are engaged in insane activities that help to destroy the lives of their own people, many of whom are their mothers, sisters and brothers."[7]

There is a basic human need to feel worthy, recognized, respected and acknowledged. If recognition is not forthcoming. If a person believes that (s)he is a faceless gnome stewing in a gray mist of anonymity and neglect or existing in a underground vault surrounding by treasures that are not his own,(s)he will very often resort to violence and use it as a currency for legitimacy and power.

The use of violence as a leverage bar is discernable in the volatile institutions of prisons and jails. In this cramped, fish bowl environment violence is an accepted consequence in situations where the respect and the honor of a inmate is infringed upon or believed to be impugned. In fact in the stark and brutal reality of prison life, acts of extreme violence are expected. And the inmate that does not display a readiness to inflict vicious physical harm upon those that have offended him is looked upon with contempt and branded as weak and cowardly- or in prison parlance- as a "bitch" or a "punk." For in the foreboding and dismal sub-culture of prison existence, with the cataclysmic and volcanic fallout of hopelessness and anger and where access to the traditional adornments and symbols of status are severely limited or non-existent; he has no readily available currency of prestige-except the one that is assured through the power of violence.

The same is true within the Black urban colonies of America’s ghettos. Here, as in the morally and economically impoverished islands of the penitentiaries and jails, the people are crowded into tight, crumbling fortresses called housing projects, or sandwiched in dilapidated areas between freeways and the smoldering stacks of factories, giant smelter ovens and water-sewage plants. In these "Black" sections, the air, the ground and water are usually tainted or polluted. Most of the economic and educational resources have been impeded, curtailed or eliminated altogether. And here, just as in the concrete and steel crucibles of so-called correctional facilities, violence is regarded as a bargaining tool and a means with which to shock others into compliance and to demand respect.

This perception of defensiveness, of being disparaged and slighted, is not limited to Blacks in America’s prisons and economically impoverished areas, for even those that have attained what they believe is acceptance in White society are also attacked and intellectually ostracized once they exhibit the rationality and the courage to act outside their assigned role or if they display any behavior other than what Whites consider accommodating and non-threatening. Richard Wright explains:

"The steep cliffs of the island are manifest, on the whole, in the conduct of Whites toward us hour by hour, a conduct which tells us that we have no rights commanding respect, that we have no claim to pursue happiness in our own fashion, that our progress toward civilization constitute an insult, that our behavior must be kept firmly within an orbit branded as inferior, that we must be compelled to labor on the behest of others, that as a group we are owned by Whites, and that manliness on our part warrants instant reprisal.

Three hundred years are a long time for millions of folk like us to be held in such subjection, so long a time that perhaps scores of years will have to pass before we shall be able to express what this slavery has done to us, for our personalities are still numb from its long shocks; and as the numbness leaves our souls, we shall yet have to feel and give utterance to the full pain we shall inherit."[8]

Today, although the iron chains of chattel slavery are remnants of a terrible past, and although the whips, auction blocks, thumbscrews and other fiendish devices are (for many of us) fossils of a ignored or forgotten era; we still carry the scars and the burdens of them. Burdens that we so naively and jubilantly thought were no more, are still with us. They still shadow our every step as they manifest into even more ghastly and insidious forms.

Yesterday we cringed as our cruel enslavers ravished our women, broke the backs of our men and treated our beloved children as worthless creatures fit only to work like donkeys in the endless sun scorched fields. But today in virtually every metropolis, every town or hamlet in America, there are Black men who are the rapists of Black women, the assaulters and murderers of Black men and, yes, even the molesters and killers of Black children.

There is much that we can blame on White people and a deviant and oppressive system. Yet there is also much that we cannot or should not. For even in the bleakest and deepest depths of our enslavement, even as we screamed under the lash, and stumbled with weakness and desperation from starvation diets of fat back and corn cakes, and even during the centuries of the Black holocaust when we were so destitute that we owned nothing, not even ourselves, did we resort to selling poison to one another, to turning our backs on our spouses, or to murdering our children in a thousand different ways.

Brother Malcolm used to say that we are involved in a life or death struggle for justice and equality. Minister Farakhan has said that war is not just a physical fight but involves a struggle to align ourselves with God. And Dr. Claude Anderson has warned that we must respect ourselves, learn to aggregate our resources and move as a group. Perhaps we can all agree that our struggle is one that must first be realized within ourselves; within our hearts and within our minds, before it can bear good fruit in the external world around us.

Notes and References:

[1]. "Understanding Violence Among African American Males" by Anthony King, Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 28 No. 1, (September 1997) p.p. 79-96

[2]. "Malcolm x, The Final Speeches," Pathfinder Press (1992) p. 15

[3]. Dmesh D’ Souza, "Is Racism a Western Idea?" The Free Press, p. 724

[4]. Wayne B Chandler, "Ancient Future," Black Classic Press (1999) p.p. 167,168

[5]. Joe R. Feagin & Herman Vera, "White Racism," Routledge Press, New York, NY (1995) p. 163

[6]. Amos N. Wilson, "Black on Black Violence," Afrikan World InfoSystems (1994) p. 49

[7]. Khari Enaharo, "Race Code War" African American Image, Chicago Ill. (2003) p. 276

[8]. Richard Wright, "12 Million Black Voices," Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York, NY (1941) p. 31