Two hot topics in the media at the moment are so-called black-on-black crime, and black underachievement in schools.
I ask why the reference to ‘black-on-black’? Isn’t crime just crime? Why is the race of the victims or the perpetrators significant? Similarly if kids are underachieving in school, why the focus on their skin colour in the discussion?
I ask this question for the reason that on one hand, for example, we know that people of African and Caribbean descent have been and are disprotionately discriminated against – on the basis of their race – within Western society. It is now recognized that this type of discrimination is wrong because we know that race is nothing more than a social construct with no inherent meaning or value. Therefore to judge anyone on this basis is foolish.
But then why do we focus debates, conversations, or reports on these grounds too? If we know that any concepts of race are, in essence, meaningless why couch educational underachievement, crime or anything else in references to being black?
What is being ‘black’ anyway? How is it defined? Who defines it? ‘Black’ does not really exist apart from in our minds, yet the term is used – including by the government in their recent report – as if it’s an actual tangible aspect of a person (or a group of people) rather than a construction which is undoubtedly useless – which is, ironically, precisely the reason why prejudice and racism exists in the first place.
Crimes committed by African-Caribbean people are not different from crimes committed by any other racial group, and thus in my view do not deserve or merit any special attention on racial grounds. The crime and the problems which give rise to it should be the issue – the race of the perpetrators or victims does not add value to solving the real problem. Similarly, if kids are underachieving at school that is a cause of concern regardless of their race.
Yes, we can say that a greater number of African and Caribbean kids are doing less well in schools. However, any discussion into that issue should focus not on the fact that they are ‘black’, but on tangible, deeper issues such as economics, housing, or the education system itself. Underachievement is not a ‘black’ problem – it’s a societal problem.
The majority of crime in this country is not committed by people of colour, yet we do not talk about ‘white’ crime and point at the issues within the ‘white’ community. The focus is on the individuals and the circumstances which give rise to their criminal behaviour (as it should be). There is a big body of evidence which shows that English working class kids are also underachieving in school – but those conversations are never focussed on race.
The more we have debates about ‘black’ people and ‘black’ problems, the more stereotyping we will have because in reality there are so many variations of individuals and unique circumstances and situations that fall under the banner of ‘black’ that you can only ever be stereotyping and generalizing when using the term.
Discussions which use race as an indicator of a problem necessarily avoid looking at the actual issues, because they suggest that there is something in a particular racial group that gives rise to that problem. A talk about gun crime cannot ever get to the heart of the matter for as long as ‘black’ is attached to it – how it is possible to have a sensible debate or come up with solutions on the basis of something (race) which does not actually exist?
So what’s the solution? The solution is that everyone drops references to race or ethnicity and simply tackles the issues. Educational underachievement is a problem. Gun crime is a problem. Adding ‘black’ to that does not give us any insight into, or understanding of, the problem or how to tackle it. It does nothing more than enable people to continue to talk in generalizations and stereotypes about individuals of colour – something which we know is very dangerous.