by Kimberly Perette
“I’m fighting for my life here, Dan,” I yelled at my partner this morning.
The argument was about a chart that a friend of his sent to him showing the statistics of interracial violent crime.
“547,948 black on white, 112,365 black on hispanic, 59,778 white on black, 207,104 white on hispanic, 365,299 hispanic on white, 44,551 hispanic on black!” It yelled.
Someone had drawn a red arrow with three exclamation marks pointing towards the “white on black” crime statistic.
“What does this have to do with ending racism?” I asked.
Charts like this breed fear of each other. The narrative behind the protests is a bit skewed. What we are actually saying is to treat all criminals the same. Why track these types of statistics? It is not the race that’s committing the crimes. It is the people who are committing crimes. No matter how you slice it, all of the people in that chart are committing crimes, it doesn’t matter who they are committing them against. The fact is that they need to be stopped.
What point is this chart trying to make? That white should be afraid of black? That black equals crime? That black deserves what it’s getting?
These are all the unreasonable things that scream in my ear and I start to yell,
“I’m fighting for my life here.”
This response is coming from fear, and the memory of white smiling as black swings lifeless and disfigured, with blood and excrement dripping from the dangling body. The response is coming from the images that I grew up with, that of black burned beyond recognition, while white with guns stand around and watch. The response comes from images of black with scar tissue so thick it looks like the roots of a tree. The response comes from movies like Twelve Years a Slave with its stunningly disturbing images of the sadistic torture of black. It is in response to the image from the TV series Roots where black is maimed and hacked away at because of the desire of equality. The annoying thing is that people are given awards for this narrative.
The truth is, there’s no such thing as race. Race is supposedly a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities as is viewed by society. At first the term was used to refer to speakers of a common language. In the 17th century it began to refer to physical traits. The idea of racism was at the heart of empire building for western Europe. It was the foundation on which North America justified enslaving human beings.
Race as in fact a social construct. It is an identity that is assigned based on rules made by society and does not have a biological meaning. The idea of race was invented to magnify the differences between those with European ancestry and those of African descent whose ancestors were involuntarily enslaved and transported. The founding fathers, wealthy aristocrats, characterized Africans and their American descendants as lesser human beings to maintain this system of exploitation. How else could they portray the United States as a champion of human freedom and human rights? How else could they build their own wealth for free!?
Racial boundaries involve the subjugation of groups that are defined as “inferior,” such as the one-drop rule which was used to exclude those with any amount of African ancestry from the dominant group in the United States. These cultural attitudes reflect those of the imperial powers that dominated during European colonial expansion. I suggest you read the amazing essay written in 1984 by the late great James Baldwin called “On Being White and Other Lies” . In in he writes,
“THE CRISIS OF LEADERSHIP in the white community is remarkable-and-terrifying-because there is, in fact, no white community.
This may seem an enormous statement-and it is. I’m willing to be challenged. I’m also willing to attempt to spell it out.”
How can you define race? Who are black people? Who are white people? Who are yellow people? Who are brown people? Who are red people? Who are white, non-hispanic? Who are hispanic? Why is hispanic a race and Italian is not? Why is Asian a race and Korean is not? Why are all Asians lumped together? Where are the Native Americans in this dialog? Why is our census tracked thus? Why are our crime statistics thus?
If we are equals this sort of tracking doesn’t matter. What matters is culture and culture is beautiful. One shouldn’t have to identify as a “race.” It makes no sense and serves no purpose at all. Again, the late great James Baldwin,
“However-! White being, absolutely, a moral choice (for there are no white people), the crisis of leadership for those of us whose identity has been forged, or branded, as black is nothing new. We who were not black before we got here, either, who were defined as black by the slave trade– have paid for the crisis of leadership in the white community for a very long time and have resoundingly, even when we face the worst about ourselves, survived and triumphed over it. If we had not survived, and triumphed, there would not be a black American alive.We all want basically the same thing. We want to live as human beings. We want to provide good lives for ourselves and our children.”
Now criminals on the other hand are an element that needs to be controlled. We have lost sight of what policing is. Take the word “race” out of everything and replace it with thugs and track the real numbers. Let’s figure out how many criminals are committing crimes, violent or otherwise, and let’s attack the whole problem. Who is selling drugs to our communities? Who is raping our children? There’s no need to divide it by race unless you want to subjugate another group that is defined as inferior. Is that something that we really want to do? I say that most of us do not. We human beings belong to the same species, Homo Sapiens, subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens.
Let’s all do a genealogy test, shall we. It will be interesting to see what comes back.
One thought on “There’s No Such Thing…”
I’m so disappointed that I won’t get to have Kimberly’s best-I-ever-had lemon drops anymore, but so thrilled to meet her tonight on her last night bartending AND be introduced to her kick-ass writing.
Love the reminder here that race is a social construct. Makes me want to go back and re-read Omi and Winant’s critical race theory. I think white folks especially benefit from their explaining the ways that power operates to attach arbitrary meanings to skin color, which then get built into every institution and social structure (a.k.a. systemic racism).
Definitely looking forward to reading more of your work, Kimberly!