The Value of Black Life in America

By Cyberquill 08/18/20142 Comments

Ferguson, MO

What is the value of one black human life in America?

Judging from the reactions by the African-American community to the untimely and violent termination of such a life, one might get the impression that its value hinges primarily on the identity—that is, on the race—of its terminator.

When an unarmed black teenager gets fatally shot by a white police officer, as was recently the case in Ferguson, MO—or by a “white-Hispanic” civilian, as was the case in Trayvon Martin situation—the outrage and the public protestations of grief by African-Americans over such tragic loss of life know no bounds.

But what about the roughly 90% of black victims of violence that perish at the hands of other blacks? Where are the street protests? Where are the nation-wide candlelight vigils? Where are the impassioned civil rights leaders on TV thundering away against the under-valuing of black life by their black killers?

As compared to the passion and the fury on display in the wake of each act of white-on-black violence, the radio silence when it comes to black-on-black violence seems deafening.

Deafening but, of course, understandable.

First of all, given the number of black-on-black acts of violence, pragmatism precludes the making of too big a deal of each one individually. So far this year, how many unarmed blacks were shot and killed by other blacks nationwide, sparking exactly how many Ferguson-style riots, vigils, and demonstrations? Hundreds and zero?

Obviously, people cannot riot and hold vigils all over the country 365 days a year, which they would have to if the loss of black life per se lay at the heart of the matter. Since the heart of the matter, of course, resides elsewhere (see next paragraph), all the mourning and indignation over such loss is simply channeled into the occasional “white” bullet that causes it.

Second—and, alas, needless to say—the real trigger that causes passions to run hot is not the shooting of an unarmed black man, but the shooting of an unarmed black man by either a white person, or a cop (who represents the white establishment), or, worst of all, both. (I suppose in the case of a black man getting shot by a black police officer, the latter’s copness overrides his blackness, calling to mind the term Oreo, meaning “black on the outside, white on the inside.”)

Put differently, what’s the point of publicly mourning the loss of a black individual if such mourning cannot be used to vent general black frustration over white oppression dating all the way back to the days of slavery?

And so the loss of individual life in itself is entirely subordinate to the overarching issue of black/white relations at large. If the black/white factor is missing from an act of violence, the victim’s life holds little relevance.

Third, the black community has long been concerned with the “over-representation” of blacks in the U.S. criminal justice system and the attendant stigma of blacks as appearing more prone to committing violent acts than whites. In light of this concern, it would naturally be counterproductive to draw attention to incidents that feature black perpetrators, regardless of the blackness of the victims—for how to demand “justice” and hold vigils for a black person murdered by another black person without implicitly portraying the latter as a violent criminal that should be arrested, tried, and convicted of murder, thus adding yet another black inmate to our prison system and fueling the perception of blacks as saddled with a disproportionate propensity for violence?

Quite some dilemma there. Hence the eagerness to stress the value of black life whenever its taker is white and the conspicuous reluctance to stress it whenever its taker is black.

The unfortunate upshot of these factors is that many blacks, including (and particularly so) the Al Sharpons of the world, come across as valuing black life taken by whites much more highly than black life taken by blacks, for loss of the latter rarely, if ever, sets off as vociferous and impassioned an outcry as does loss of the former.


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  • Richard

    Most protest stems from narrow or special interests. It just happens that you highlight one that concerns a racial divide.

    • Cyberquill

      This particular protest certainly does not stem from a genuine concern for the life that has been taken, that’s for sure.

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