Violence in Black communities a result of poverty

By Lennox Farrell Thursday March 21 2013 in Opinion
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If the jobs on Earth were outsourced to Mars, would humans become Martians? The question seeks to bring into clearer focus some of the links specific to “jobs” and “Black on Black violence”.


For example, what role did the labour-intensive “jobs” on sugarcane, cotton, rubber, tobacco, rice, kapok, sisal and indigo plantations have to do with the enforced arrivals of our ancestors for centuries in this hemisphere; ancestors whose capital value exceeded that of land and implements?


What role did “jobs” subsequently play after the enslaved were emancipated from slavery into servitude? What role does the chronic absence of “jobs” have in destabilizing Black communities today? In short, is there a relationship between the economics of the poverty trap and the unemployment trap…and between these two and the violence trap?


In coming to terms with the causes and possible solutions undergirding this racialized term, “Black on Black violence”, one thing is clear: it is a multi-dimensional reality. These dimensions include, among others, the links between violence and poverty; violence and illiteracy; violence and absentee fathers; violence and societal expectations, et al.


The link between violence and poverty is seamless and as indivisible as that between a heart and its heartbeat. It is not surprising that countries such as the U.S. have waged an ostensible war on poverty; much like waging war against a war.


Like the war on drugs which over time became more and more a war on the poor, the objectives behind the war on poverty have become more and more muddled even as the realities have become more intractable. Also, those who benefit from the vast resources used to fight these wars are not among the poor. Violence in Black communities is the direct consequence of impoverishment. Poverty is not merely the cause of violence. Poverty is violence!


Poverty is also mutually synonymous with illiteracy. These two are the main contributors to crime and violence. This is so because wherever there exists a school to prison pipeline, the spigot is illiteracy. To open a school, the saying goes, is to close a prison, and vice versa. Thus, among the most injurious consequences of this link between violence and illiteracy is incarceration. With increasing rates of incarceration of Blacks from “the phony war on drugs”, some U.S. states like Louisiana are actively engaged in the egregious business of closing public schools and opening private prisons.


One reason why, despite the enormous resources thrown at “solving” these problems, they grow more hydra-headed is the creation, for good or ill, of myths regarding why – or why not – issues such as violence remain so entrenched. One of these myths as to the cause of violence in Black communities is of “absentee fathers”; causing the subsequent increase in female-led, single-parent families.


Before declaiming on this too, one should see the 1974 movie, Claudine. Available on YouTube, it stars James Earl Jones, who portrays a garbage man, and Diahann Carroll. She, a mother of six, struggles to escape, not only the realities of being poor, but also official obstacles which prevent any escaping poverty.


As African-American writer, James Arthur Baldwin, said with such insight:


“Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”


Thus, while it is generally better for a child to be raised by two parents, which child will likely do better: one raised in single-parent circumstances by a parent with stable employment, or one raised by two parents, without stable employment?


And with the virulent iniquity of anti-Black racism, who is more employable: a White man having a police record and no advanced education, or a Black man having an advanced education and no police record?


Again, raising a child in a two-parent home is the ideal. However, the reality of having stable incomes does not always square with the two-parent ideal for child-raising. Incidentally, will society consider the “big fish” drug dealer, raising children in a gated community, a better or a worse parent?


Also, on the issue of “Black on Black violence”, given the stats, it may seem logical to make the leap to thinking there is something abnormal about Blacks being so violent towards each other, that is, until one looks at White crime patterns. Seventy per cent of White violent-crime victims are victims of crimes committed by Whites; 85 per cent of White homicide victims were murdered by other Whites. Similar stats obtain for other ethnic groups. It appears that intra-racial, violent crime is the norm.


Why then does “Black on Black violence” make top billing? Is it because of the links between violence and societal expectations? Black communities are stereotyped to the point that there is almost no other news had of them. In fact, it is this constant stereotyping that can prevent a Black person from being employed, or from obtaining a loan because of where he/she might live.


In the Province of Ontario, it was revealed in 2012 that living in “urban areas” – read Black – cost more for insurance than living in areas more well-to-do. Again, being poor is more expensive than being wealthy. And being Black could mean being more likely to be less than wealthy.


For example, a study released in February 2013 by Dr. Tatjana Meschede, Senior Lecturer at Brandeis University, showed some of the reasons for the growing chasm between White wealth and Black poverty in the U.S. According to the study, the wealth gap of Blacks and Whites tripled between 1984 and 2009. Thus, while by 2009 the average White household held a net worth of $265,000; the average Black household’s net worth was $28,500.


Among the contributors to this vast disparity were the following:


Home ownership: White households are 28 per cent more likely to own their home than Black households.


Income: The average White person’s annual income is $29,401, while the average Black person’s annual income is $18,357.


Unemployment: The Black unemployment rate was 13.8 per cent; the White unemployment rate was 7 per cent.


College education: Roughly 29 per cent of Whites, age 25 and older, have a Bachelor’s degree, compared to 18 per cent of Blacks in the same age group.


Inheritance: Whites are five times more likely to receive an inheritance than Blacks.


Also, these disparities were even worse according tolater Census Bureau reports. In 2010, while the median White household held a net worth of $110,729, the median Black household held a net worth of $4,995.


A study released by the National Public Radio (NPR) in March 2013 showed that over a 20-year period beginning in 1993, while a dollar owned by the average White person increased to five dollars, that of the average Black person decreased to 69 cents.


At the heart of any solution to “Black on Black violence” are equally stable economic situations. Stable, remunerative incomes, preferably via employment/self-employment, rank above all other factors.


Therefore, a parent able to care for the family, regardless of ethnicity, is one whose community will be more wholesome and law-abiding.


And the challenge facing us? Is it that even when we can be released from the poverty trap with better incomes, the violence trap will trump viable solutions?


To be continued.

  • Justin said:

    Hi, I have a question for Lennox Farrell:

    I am an African man born and raised in Africa and I am in Canada
    for 7 years I am 47. I have lived a number of different African countries and witnessed extreme poverty in those countries.
    I myself grew up in poverty and have seen many others in similar
    situations in Africa. And yet, in Africa, (apart from South Africa), you don’t see all the violence, gangs, drug problems and the fatherless kids that are epidemic here among the Black youths in North America. Most kids in Africa who are born in poverty work very, very, very hard to better themselves and most succeed against all odds and they become fathers and lead productive lives. And even though black youths in North America have so many opportunities to better themselves and can even get help from the government they keep failing. So what do you think is the reason? Why are the African kids drug free and succeed in life even though they they grow up in starvation and yet blacks in North America have all the foods they can eat and even help from the government and yet they keep failing?

    Please email me and let know what you think of this.


    Rev. Justin

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    Monday March 25 at 6:41 pm

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