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Understanding Black Americans: Don’t ask liberals

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Many liberals apparently have had trouble coming to grips with the views and beliefs of America’s Black populace. For example, in explaining the increased vote for President Trump among Black, Latino and LGBTQ communities, New York Times columnist Charles Blow pointed to a variation of Stockholm syndrome: These individuals embrace the white patriarchal beliefs of their victimizers.

Now he has embraced another highly speculative explanation for why Black Americans are buying more guns, claiming, “[In response to] the unrelenting series of unarmed Black people being killed on video and the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, gun sales to Black people are surging. According to an October CNN report, gun sales among Black Americans were up 58 percent through September. … It seems to me that the surge in Black gun-buying is, in large part, simply a response to that. As has been the case since slavery, many Black people feel the need to defend themselves from their own country.”

This line of thinking chooses to ignore some facts about gun violence. In 2019, there were 7,484 Black homicides, 29.3 percent more than white homicides. However, Black male homicides were 60.1 percent more than white male homicides. Extrapolating from data from two Chicago neighborhoods, I estimate that close to 30 percent of young black men there are part of high-risk groups, strongly suggesting that gang violence or turf wars drive many Black homicide statistics.

Gun violence in Black neighborhoods substantially increased in 2020. This year, 51 cities of various sizes across the U.S. experienced an average 35 percent jump in murders from 2019 to 2020. This increase is concentrated in the months since the protests began following George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, though some criminologists do not believe there is a causal relationship between these two events. 

Whatever its causes, this spike undoubtedly is one reason that a recent Gallup poll found that many Black Americans reject the idea of defunding the police; instead, 81 percent desire at least as many police officers, if not more, than already patrol their neighborhoods. And clearly, gun violence in Black communities is very likely a major reason for the growth in gun ownership.

Many liberals also hold mistaken beliefs about police killings of unarmed Black Americans. According to a Washington Post database, the number of unarmed Blacks killed by police declined from 38 in 2015 to 12 in 2019. When looking at this year’s 12 police killings, at least three stand out as likely being unprovoked: a 43-year-old man who was handcuffed in a police car, a 60-year-old man whose car police stopped for a broken tail light and a 34-year-old male passenger who refused to exit a car that had been stopped for a traffic violation. There were another five that appear to reflect some variation of excessive or unwarranted force to provocative actions and four others that, although obviously unfortunate, did not appear to exhibit police misconduct to the average layperson. 

The data makes it hard to sustain a claim of “unrelenting” police killings of unarmed Black Americans or this being a reason for the spike in gun purchases. 

The evidence does not absolve the police, of course; there are legitimate concerns in many instances about how they responded to individuals who were armed with a gun or knife. These individuals comprise 80 percent of police killings of Black Americans. In a substantial number of these instances, especially when the individual is known to have a mental illness, better response methods could save lives. Moreover, there is substantial evidence of racial bias in some nonlethal police responses. However, this has nothing to do with Blow’s claims.

He is not alone in pushing aside facts that call into question liberal assessments of beliefs within the Black community. This divergence goes well beyond explanations for Black voting patterns, gun ownership and policing. Compared with the Black community, sociologist Zach Goldberg finds that white liberals are more positive concerning expanding immigration and less positive on the ability of Black Americans to rise through their own initiatives like earlier immigrant groups. 

Many might be surprised to learn a CNN-Kaiser survey found that 61 percent of Black respondents, but only 51 percent of white respondents, believed that the breakdown of the Black family was a major cause of Black poverty, while only 11 percent of Black respondents but 18 percent of white respondents believed it was no cause at all. Similarly, 42 percent of Black respondents versus 32 percent of white respondents believed lack of motivation and willingness to work hard was a major cause, while only 21 percent of Black respondents but 30 percent of white respondents believed it was no cause at all.

Moreover, a sizable share of Black Americans has similar responses to white Americans on a number of questions that have been used to measure racism. Take the survey question “Do you think most white Americans have benefited from racism against minorities?” Answering “have not” is scored as a racist answer. Yet in a CNN-sponsored survey, among Blacks and Hispanics surveyed, 27 and 39 percent, respectively, answered “have not.” Or the question “Are statues of Confederate soldiers more as symbols of Southern pride or more as symbols of racism?” Answering “pride” is scored as racist. However, in a HuffPost questionnaire, only 58 percent of Blacks surveyed answered that it was racism, while 17 percent were unsure and 25 percent believed it reflected either pride or some factor other than race or pride.

Whether it is white guilt or the pronouncements of Black leftists, too many individuals today have problematic explanations for racial inequality and views that are not consistent with those of Black Americans. Correcting these deficiencies and distortions is necessary if we hope to improve the situation of Black Americans.

Robert Cherry is a recently retired Brooklyn College economics professor and a member of 1776 Unites.

Tags anti-racism protests Black voters Donald Trump gun ownership Race in the United States

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