Rap and the decline of black America
“We are not as divided as we seem, President Barack Obama told a Dallas memorial for five police officers killed by a black sniper enraged at the alleged mistreatment of African-Americans by white police.
But a different Barack Obama hosted rapper Kendrick Lamar at a White House barbecue last July 4. Details of Lamar’s performance are not available, but it is unlikely that he repeated this line (from a recent Saturday Night Live appearance): “I put a bullet in the back of the back of the head of the police….It’s a war outside, bomb in the street, gun in the hood, mob of police,” Lamar’s rap continued.
Of course, the president does not endorse the killing of policemen. But a White House invitation to a rapper who brags about such things is a macabre gauge of America’s national mood. Another frequent White House guest is rapper Jay-Z, a former drug dealer who, like Kendrick Lamar, chants about street violence. Homicidal impulses are so common prevalent among black Americans that they have been naturalized into mainstream culture.
There is endless hand-wringing about the source of the fragility of African-American life in America, but one of the causes surely is the notion that homicidal rage is an acceptable response to social problems. A generation ago, it was still possible for a leading black clergyman, Rev. Calvin Butts of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, to denounce rappers from the pulpit and dump a truckload of rap CD’s in front of the offices of the Sony Corp. in Manhattan. Rev. Butts has been ridiculed in the interim by the likes of Jay-Z and would not attempt this again.
Many African-Americans believe that they are at war and fighting for their lives. Broadly speaking, they are correct. Something is killing off Black America. It isn’t the police, however. Between 2009 and 2012, though, forty black men were killed by other black men for every black man killed by police, according to Prof. Robert Johnson of the University of Toledo. Policemen killed 491 people in 2015, of whom 132 were black. But American police are more likely to shoot white suspects than black suspects, according to a just-released study conducted by an African-American economist at Harvard University.
There are any number of racist policemen, and there are rare instances of police shootings which amount to deliberate murder, but their impact is small compared to the scale of the problem.
The problem, as Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute reported, is that “blacks were charged with 62% of all robberies, 57% of murders and 45% of assaults in the 75 largest US counties in 2009, though they made up roughly 15% of the population there.”
This is an autogenocide, or genosuicide, in slow motion. Increasing numbers of black Americans are drawn into patterns of life that lead to more failure and more rage. And it will get worse until African-American leaders tell their constituents to stop blaming white policemen and take responsibility for their own lives.
Only 32% of black adults are married, compared to 51% of adults of all other races. Part of the reason is a shortage of appropriate spouses: only 49% of college-educated black females marry a man of comparable education, compared to 84% of college-educated white women, according to a Brookings study. That, in turn, is the sad result of low college graduation rates among black men: the most recent data show that only 34% of black male college students at public universities and 39% at private universities complete a four-year degree program after six years of trying, compared to 60% for white male students, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
Part of the problem is a shortage of black men of all educational levels. The New York Times reported in 2015: “Remarkably, black women who are 25 to 54 and not in jail outnumber black men in that category by 1.5 million. For every 100 black women in this age group living outside of jail, there are only 83 black men. Among whites, the equivalent number is 99, nearly parity.”
Fewer marriages mean fewer children and more children born to single mothers. In 2006, the proportion of children born to unmarried non-Hispanic black mothers was a bit under 50%, but rose to 72% in 2013. This corresponds almost precisely to the number of children born into homes with absent father. Black illegitimacy rates are high in part because so many black men of marrying age are incarcerated. Children raised by a single parent are less likely to succeed than their peers, and the present generation of black children will face even greater obstacles than their parents.
The light at the end of the tunnel is the approaching express. The Washington Post’s “Wonk” blog last February noted that a lower proportion of black men were incarcerated in 2014 than in 2000.
That seems like improvement, but the main reason that a lower percentage of black men are in prison is that there are fewer young black men and more old black men. The chart below shows the percentage change in the number of black males by age group. Along with the rest of the American population, the black population as aging rapidly. The number of black men aged 50 to 65 rose by more than 60% between 2000 and 2010 while the population aged 15 to 45 barely changed.
Black Americans project an image of enraged youth to the world. The way things are going, black America will not be young and enraged a generation from now, but old, poor, ill, and depressed. Like so many other problems in history, the problems of black America most likely will burn themselves out, and the attempts to ameliorate them will seem in retrospect like palliative care rather than treatment.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.