Midwest Voices

Playing 'Angry Blacks'

Updated: 2013-08-31T23:22:21Z


Special to The Star

Here’s a fact for you: 99 percent of black people will never kill you.

Now most of you are probably thinking, “Well duh, Mel … just … duh!”

I know. But I feel compelled to say that because of how certain sectors of media are acting like there’s a huge angry black guy with a knife in one hand and a bat’leth in the other hiding in your refrigerator right now. (He’s behind the mayo!)

Apparently, they’ve got “fact” after “fact” proving how in danger each and every white person is from all the black people. And they’re using those (not really) facts to cry “Reverse Trayvon Martin!” and to demand to know “WHY ‘MAINSTREAM MEDIA’ NEVER COVERS STORIES WHEN THE VICTIM IS WHITE!!!”


It makes you wonder which news sources they’re watching? (Evidently not their own.) Because that’s largely what news, especially local news, does cover — white people as victims of crime.

Several academic studies demonstrate that the reportage of crime news routinely privileges white people as victims of crime while all too often (but not always) overplaying blacks and Hispanics as perpetrators of crime out of proportion to what actually occurs.

At the same time media vastly minimizes blacks and Hispanics as victims of violent crime, rarely telling their human stories for instance, even though these groups bear the brunt of violent crime, often related to economic issues and structural failings within communities.

That dynamic, scholars say, can lead to the perception that white people are under murderous siege from people of color even though most white people who are murdered (well over 80 percent) are murdered by other white people.

Yet, whites are not portrayed by media as a “dangerous breed” to other whites. In fact, oddly, their race is not even an issue. Their individual actions are. Imagine.

But I’m going to do you a favor and not bore you with the studies here. I’ll place them at the bottom of the piece. If you’re someone who wants to understand research, facts and how responsible conclusions get drawn and not one of those people reading this piece just to decide what kinds of names to call me, or which of my arguments to distort in the comments section, you’ll find them of interest. (I’ll also link you to a piece by anti-racist activist Tim Wise whose research runneth over with stats on race and the commission of crime.)

Anybody who’s lived as a minority of any kind in this country probably doesn’t really need a study to tell them about news media, representation of minorities and the manufacturing of racial fear.

Like any racial, ethnic or religious minority I’ve prayed the “Minority News-Watcher’s Prayer.” You know that one? You hear an awful story and naturally feel some human compassion. But before you even know the full details you’re already praying, “Please God don’t let the perp be black (Mexican, Muslim, or Scary Minority of the Day).”

Because, see, we know.

We know that unlike murders by whites in which the perpetrator of the murder is the only one held accountable, our entire group is going to get the smear for the actions of a complete stranger just because we have similar melanin content or share cultural affinity and common experience.

Why we should have to carry the burden of how another person of the same skin color acts is the little gift of race that keeps on giving.

Plus, it’s got to be said: Even though most murder and crime is intra-racial (between people of the same racial group) and murder by stranger is rare relative to most crime, the idea of blacks indiscriminately killing whites drives a special kind of fear and panic and elicits an anger far different than when blacks kill blacks (which happens a lot more often — like a lot) or whites kill blacks.

It’s pretty much been that way since slavery. The fear that blacks, freed from the social control of slavery and later segregation, would return to their “animalistic/atavistic” state. And then fueled by deep-seated anger, they’d be out for revenge against whites.

That’s an actual argument used by slaveholders for 250 years. As just one example, Founding Father and slaveholder Thomas Jefferson believed that slavery was like “holding a wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go.” Generally because of the way black people didn’t exactly make holding slaves easy what with their resisting, running away, fighting back, rebelling in groups, and occasionally killing a master or two and all.

Then segregationists using the power of Jim Crow laws enacted that reasoning for 100 more years after slavery was over. But that whole “standing up for themselves” thing in the modern civil rights and black power movements happened and legal segregation sort of fell apart.

Thinking about it … I guess refusing to be treated any ol’ way after centuries of being treated any ol’ way could make you look kind of mad.

And there you have it — the origins of the “angry black man/woman” stereotype. It’s still handy to pull out and use against black people whenever they make a stance about how they’re being treated.

So you can see how that’s carried over into now, right? The way certain media personalities love to play “Angry Blacks”?

If you’ve been listening to anybody with a name that rhymes with “Rimbaugh,” “O’Neilly” or “Cannity” or seen clips from a network that rhymes with “Rox,” you definitely know who the gamers are.

To let them tell it black people are angry and they’re coming for you — whether it’s your job, “your” White House, “your” country, your purse or your life. It’s all the same. They’re coming.

So, know what? We need to stop for a moment. We need to unpack some things that are getting bashed and mashed up in this crazy game they play.

Here’s one: Black people being angry has nothing to do with black criminals killing people.

Black people (as a group) get angry about inequality and want to do something about making things fair. Wanting redress for horrific past injustice and the ongoing fallout is not revenge. It’s justice-seeking. Being angry about unfair and unequal treatment is a response to said maltreatment — not a genetic trait.

Mad is something people get. Not who they are.

On the other hand, black individuals who are criminals take advantage of any opportunity to do their crimes and will victimize who ever happens to be there. (The studies demonstrate this as well.) Including white people. They might be mad when they do it. But the main point is that they’re immoral, law-breaking jerks.

See the difference? I think most rational people can. And, thank God, most of us are rational.

(Speaking of rational, those studies I keep promising not to bring up generally demonstrate that white people who have direct personal experience with black people and other people of color are much less likely to let news stories shape their perceptions than those who don’t.)

Want to know the real irony of this particular game though? The gamers themselves — the ones always pointing out the angry (re: dangerous) black people? They’re the guys who feel mistreated by the election of the nation’s first African American president and the emerging social and political clout of Hispanics.

They’re pretty mad about it. You could say they were angry given how often they perceive unfairness against themselves and charge “reverse racism.”

Hmmm. I wonder if they’re dangerous. LOL.

Now. I can’t promise you that you won’t get killed by a black guy. But then again, I can’t promise that you won’t choke to death on your breakfast burrito or die in a stampede of ironic hipsters at the next iPhone release either.

But I can tell you that a little common sense, understanding the larger context and asking questions of your media sources like “Are you giving me the full picture?” can make you feel calmer about some stuff.

Because “Angry Blacks” … man … that game sucks.

Studies to check out:

Off Balance: Youth, Race and Crime in the News


(For a fuller and more up-to-date discussion of the Off Balance study: http://www.preventioninstitute.org/index.php?option=com_jlibrary&view=article&id=139&Itemid=127.)

Race and Ethnic Representations of Lawbreakers and Victims in Crime News: A National Study of Television Coverage


Crime on Television: Issues in Criminal Justice

http://www.ucmo.edu/cjinst/journal1103.pdf (pages 9-18)

Race Coding and White Support for Crime Spending: Subjective Evaluations, Objective Conditions, and Media Influences.


Race, Crime and Statistical Malpractice





Melvina Johnson Young is a former university lecturer specializing in United States History, Women's History and African-American History and Cultural Studies. She was a Midwest Voices contributor in 2007.

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