What about Black on Black Violence in Chicago?



Last summer my e-mail inbox was bombarded with headlines each week from all the major news outlets I subscribe to: “47 shot. 5 dead. Chicago officials meet”, “3 killed, 37 injured in Chicago Labor Day weekend gun violence”, “72 Shot in Chicago in Wave of Holiday Weekend Violence”. These headlines are alarming, unsettling, and frankly scary. This all began in 2012 after the FBI’s annual crime statistics reported Chicago had 500 homicides that year, even surpassing New York City’s 417 homicides.  Chicago was deemed the Murder Capital. This violence in Chicago has been constantly referred to as “Black on Black” violence by the media. This terminology has been used by conservative media agendas to racialize criminality and as a derailing tactic of equally as important conversations about race. While the idea of intraracial violence exists in every racial category, Black on Black violence has been labeled as though it is a unique phenomenon. Since 2012, Black political leaders, activist, and other left-wingers have been constantly criticized about focusing their time on other racial issues instead of “Blacks killing Blacks in Chicago”.

Although much work has been done in Chicago from policy, to education, to gang intervention work, Chicago remains an easy target for sensationalized headings and the media has shown little interest in highlighting work done to combat gun violence in Chicago. The myth of inherent criminality of blacks lies at the root of the term “Black on Black Violence”. The idea that blacks are inherently violent has been a long touted pathology in America that is further perpetuated by this term. Although espousing the belief that Blacks are genetically different from whites is no longer a culturally accepted idea, this belief still seeps its way into the minds of many. Some have argued that the discrepancies in violent crime between blacks and whites are due largely to a subculture of violence in which inner city Blacks’ value life less than their white counterparts; false. The association between structural factors instead of individual traits forms an argument that residential mobility, economic status, and ethnic heterogeneity lead to deviance not individualistic characteristics. As long as black on black violence continues to exist as a pathology of the Black community and not a direct effect of systemic racial and economic inequality, we are further pushing the agenda of modern racism. 

Joblessness, poverty, woman-headed households, spatiality, are all factors that contribute to intraracial violence within the Black community. Because this problem is so complex and multifaceted it must be handled as such. Chicago violence should not be talked about in a vacuum, purely disseminating ages and names on the Monday morning news. While these numbers are shocking and provide jaw dropping responses from the nation, it dehumanizes young black lives and provides a troubling narrative to audiences. This narrative generally leaves out the economic, social, and political climate that the victims experience and further neglects to offer any solutions to the problem. As one of my favorite CNN correspondents, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, says in response to “what about black on black violence?” questions: we can walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, the Black community can be upset about police brutality, system racism AND the violence that goes on in our communities. A young man being murdered by a cop or a vigilante is not a natural segway into questioning the black community about violence. It is never a conversation starter but instead a conversation ender and a distraction from whatever issue is at hand. Intraracial violence in Chicago and other urban cities is a huge problem but let’s not allow conservative media to use it as a side show whenever convenient. 

 Chelsea Nikki HolleyChelsea is a scholar, lover of hip-hop and alternative R&B, LGBT ally, educator, introverted extrovert and an extreme foodie. She is currently working on her Ph.D in Sociology at Georgia State University where her research interests include black feminist studies, educational disparities across racial lines and micro-aggressions in a post-racial society. She works for Georgia Tech doing educational design-focused outreach in the Metro Atlanta area. In her spare time she loves to cook, spend time with her family, read and a host of other introverted socially awkward things. Chelsea thinks black girls are fly because we are multi-dimensional, sexy, unapologetic and resilient. Black girls have mastered the art of being both black and woman in a society that condemns both; we're magic.

Find Her: @nikkiholley| @nikkiholley