Black Men: The Receptacle Into Which You Toss Your Fears

We may lead thoroughly integrated, middle-class lives, but black men get occasional reminders that none of that counts.

A train full of thugs? I don't think so. Photo | Sandy Smith

A train full of thugs? I don’t think so. Photo | Sandy Smith

If you’re reading this, and you are white, and you have friends who happen to be black men — none of these safe assumptions — you might want to ask them whether they’ve ever had experiences like the one I’m about to share with you. Chances are, they have:

One day a few years back, I was waiting for an elevator with a friend in the Washington Square West apartment building where I then lived. I was dressed in the casual uniform men of all ages and races in America have adopted: blue jeans and a T-shirt.

The elevator doors opened to reveal a young white woman on board. My friend and I walked in, and the woman immediately shrank as far back into the opposite corner of the car as she could, with an anxious look on her face.

As we exited to the lobby, I turned and said to my friend, who is also black, “And there you go. I just had one of those moments when I was reminded who I really am.”

And that, dear readers, is a threat to your very safety and security.

My friends, I’m sure, will be surprised to find this out. But that’s what that woman in the elevator told me, and it’s what many other whites tell black men they’ve never met every day.

One of those raised his — or is it her? — voice in response to my post last week about ways to get more Philadelphians to use our great mass transit services. Nothing SEPTA could do would get this person onto a bus or train, it seems, because they’re all full of these black folks just gunning to roll him (or her):

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 11.51.38 AM

To hear this person tell it, black-on-white crime is an epidemic, and black criminals have whites in their crosshairs. (The language of the comment may have been a little less direct, but one could pick up the same message from that infamous March cover story in this magazine.)

Never mind that just about every statistic you can find on race and crime tells us that in the overwhelming majority of violent crimes, the victim and perpetrator are of the same race, and that white-on-black violent crime is as common as black-on-white. (Keep that in mind when you read the next story about the Knockout Game.)

(According to 2008 Bureau of Justice Statistics data [see below], the most recent available, about the only exception to this pattern is robbery, where whites are more likely to be relieved of their property by a black robber than the other way around. But that statistic says more about property, and who has it, than about race. I probably would make a very appealing target in my relatively high-crime neighborhood, given the stuff I carry around with me as I do my work. So far, I haven’t been bothered at all. Maybe it’s because at some subliminal level, I know what to look for and white folks don’t?)

What I must sadly conclude is that, no matter how successful, how intelligent, how middle-class or how integrated we may be, to some — too many — white people, we will always be Them.

It seems that every society in human history has had a need to divide humanity into Us and Them, mainly with the purpose of making Us feel good about Ourselves and maybe assuaging Our guilt about Our own faults and shortcomings. Those we offload onto Them, who become the embodiment of all that’s wrong with Our society — largely ills of Our own making.

If you are white, and you still wonder why blacks, especially black men, get so touchy about how we are represented in popular culture, how we are portrayed in the media, you might want to ponder this for a while. Upper-class whites may look down their noses at “poor white trash,” but not all whites therefore become suspect.

We black men don’t enjoy that privilege.

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  • DTurner

    A little off-topic, but thanks for actually reading comments. It’s nice to be able to have an actual dialogue. Perhaps commenters will be a little more compelled to think about what they’re saying (or be more willing to put themselves out there to have their assumptions challenged) if they know someone is actually listening, who knows.

    • MystiKasT

      Here I am, putting my ‘assumptions’ out there to be challenged. I was a victim of the knockout game and I was targeted because of my race, my attacker said so himself.

      • DTurner

        How many times have you been attacked?

        I don’t mean to be unsympathetic, but I have to question why you have been the victim of multiple (and rare) attacks even before the rise in popularity of this “knock out” game.

        • MystiKasT

          I have been physically assaulted 3 times, mentally and verbally, uncountable. This is after living in West Philadelphia for 6 years.

          The attacks are not ‘rare’. Everyone I went to college with has a horror story, about what happened to them at the hands of a black man. Whether it be getting knocked off your bike and the bike stolen and you pissed on (this did happen), raped at gunpoint (also happened), or spit on and hit in the subway, it happened to students of all colors (white, asian, indian) by black men and women.

  • katiefan

    Sandy, the woman in the elevator didnt coldcock you in the temple. I get it, I’m supposed to be guilty about being pissed at the knockout game. I guess I’m racist for figuring out the game is being played by black teens, who are punching whites (many Jews) and many women….people being targeted. Or at the fact they also call it polar bear hunting! If white teens were doing this people like you, and al sharpton, and Jonathan capehart would be going nuts! Admit it.

    • jojo

      “Here’s the fascinating thing about this “spreading”
      trend: nobody seems to have any evidence that it’s spreading, or that
      it’s new, or that it’s racially motivated, or that black youths are the
      ones typically responsible, or that whites are typically targeted. This
      hasn’t stopped Mark Steyn, Thomas Sowell, and Matt Walsh from describing this specifically as a crime committed by blacks against whites, CNN from claiming that it is “spreading,” or Alec Torres at NRO from say it is “evidently increasing [in] popularity.”” is there any part of this you can disprove.

      • MystiKasT

        I will give you evidence, I am a viction of ‘the knockout game’. I was recently on the Gary Yarnell Show on 1210 giving an interview recounting the attack. I was attacked coming out of the WaWa in University City. While I was assaulted, the black male doing it said ‘this is for trayvon’ and ‘F you whitey, F you cracker B’. The interview took place 11/21 at 6pm.

        At the time, the police told me they call it ‘polar bear hunting’ — because the blacks target you for the color of your skin.

        • Jay

          You should’ve whooped his ass. I’m gonna need you to take some self defense classes and whoop some ass. There are too many stories of people thinking that you are weak. For Martin I would’ve whooped his ass.

    • I meant to say this a few weeks back when he said it, katiefan, but you evidently missed Al Sharpton’s condemnation of kids playing the “knockout game” in Crown Heights, where many of the targets are Jews, the neighborhood being heavily Orthodox. So no, I won’t “admit” anything, for you appear to have your own blinkers on.

      On the other hand, I am very much flattered that you have lumped me in with Jonathan Capehart. He’s very intelligent and cute to boot.

      • MystiKasT

        Statistically speaking, a black man is most likely to rape you at gunpoint, then you can see how great diversity is first hand!

        • FunkensteinsRevenge

          mmmmmmm…sounds hot

  • RO

    Exhibiting and succumbing irrational fear is unbecoming of a man. I wonder if the person quoted about his SEPTA fears in this article talks like that in front of his woman.

    • MystiKasT

      Irrational? I suffered a concussion for being white in Philadelphia, so I think my fear is ‘rational’.

      • Flabbergasted

        I completely understand your story and your experiences. What people keep saying is “oh, it’s racist” to assume that, or “that’s just wrong to blame black people” but the truth is, you went to school in Drexel & had terrible experiences because of black men. I went to school in Jamaica, Queens, NY… and it was scary. I myself, as a minority said it was racist to assume that black people are thugs and would shun the notion. But As an asian girl experiencing horrible things, my idea’s and perceptions have changed, and that is reality. Multiple times was I assaulted and harassed by black men, my friend were even mugged TWICE in one night by black people, my brother as well was mugged & beaten up by 5 black males in Washington, DC, my cousin was robbed AT GUN POINT in the streets in Philly. The TRUTH OF THE MATTER IS, there are violent people everywhere, the majority being in cities and certain areas but the majority of violent people in those cities and areas are black. It’s just the facts. MystiKasT said who would feel safer, a white person in an all black neighborhood or a black person in an all white neighborhood, well I am asian and i would feel safer walking through a white neighborhood, because let me tell you i had to walk through pittsburgh streets by myself to school when I was 16, and that was one of the worst experiences of my life.

        • MystiKasT

          Thank you for sharing your life experiences with us!

    • Suk_m3_h47d

      That’s bullshit. Being afraid is a normal human attribute; otherwise you wouldn’t be able to experience it. Fear is what has kept the human race as a species from extinction for all these thousands of years. Only a fool ignores fear or pretends not to feel it.

  • MystiKasT

    I am the user who made that comment (obviously) and I do have to say that while I came to school in Philadelphia (Drexel) with no preconceived notions about black people, I certainly left with some. I’ve often been targeted because of my race in Philadelphia. I learned not to walk alone in the city after dark, several of the times I had walked alone, I had been robbed or assaulted, by black males.

    I learned not to look at someone the ‘wrong way’, because that could get me killed.

    I’ve learned not to walk in certain neighborhoods, because as a white person, I don’t ‘fit in’ and would be a target.

    Let me ask you — is it safer for a white person to walk in all black neighborhood — or for a black person to walk in an all white neighborhood? I doubt anyone would say here that it is safer for the black. We are under assault as whites in Philadelphia.

    I’ve had four year old little (black) boys call me a cracker and a honkey while standing in line, and I’ve often had people say ‘what the [bleep] are you looking at, cracker?’ in a very hostile tone while looking the wrong way (I suppose) on SEPTA itself.

    Everytime I have been physically or verbally assaulted, it was by a black male. They didn’t tell me any of this when I enrolled at Drexel, but I certainly left the city knowing that my skin color was of importance, even if I paid it no mind.

    If you ask any student at Drexel what their biggest safety concern is, the answer will be unanimous: black men.

    There are even roving bands of young black teenagers that go around assaulting people.

    I went into philadelphia color-blind and left well-aware that I am white. It was made painstainkingly clear, in the subway, on the street, in the stores. I was targeted because of my skin color and had racial epithats thrown at me for it.

    • I have a number of white friends. I live in an overwhelmingly black part of East Germantown near La Salle University. So far, none of those white friends who have visited me, one of whom is sitting across from me as I type this in my living room, have reported anything untoward happening as they walk to my place. Then again, I live close to several bus stops and about a 7-minute walk from a Regional Rail station, so there’s not much opportunity for stuff to happen in such a short distance, but I suspect you’d be freaked out by the guys who hang in front of the stop ‘n’ go up the street. None of my friends have yet.

      Robbery is a problem, mainly because of La Salle students not being aware of their surroundings. Knockouts? Haven’t heard of one yet.

      • Suk_m3_h47d

        The problem isn’t the fact that “Black” people are targeting you; it’s that certain types of Blacks are doing this awful thing. These individuals do NOT by any means represent Black people as a whole any more than the Aryan Brotherhood or the KKK represent all Whites in the world.

        • MystiKasT

          Why do so many more blacks do it than any othe race? Blacks commit crime disportionally.

          • Suk_m3_h47d

            The only people who ever use the word “disproportionately” in a discussion about racial statistics are individuals who got all their facts–and their opinions—-from a website rather than doing their own research. 93% of all crime committed by persons identified as African-American….are COMMITTED AGAINST other African-Americans. So statistically, you have more to fear from another White person than you do a black person in terms of being a victim of crime. Your concern should be, however, being a victim of your own ignorance, which you most assuredly are. And your assertion about Blacks commiting more crime than any other race is just some delusional fantasy poor Whites cling to in order to justify their own aggression and anger towards a system that ignores and marginalizes them despite their skin color.

    • LN

      *Sigh* This is why I don’t have white friends and I don’t really talk to white people. #icant with your constant whining. I am truly sorry you were the victim of violence because of your skin. It is wrong and those who perpetrated should be brought to justice. It sounds like they are poor black folks who see you as a symbol of racism and are treating you as such.

      Meanwhile, as a black woman, I deal with stereotyping every day of my life. And that stereotyping affects what kind of interest rates I get, my job prospects and how my son will be treated and perceived. So forgive me if I can’t stop to shed tears for your plight.

      • MystiKasT

        Maybe you blacks should stop #robbing and #raping peopkle.

        • LN

          You mean like white people did to Native Americans and blacks to build this country? Crimes which have gone largely unaccounted for? Or do you mean how Wall Street CEOs robbed this country and raped people financially to create one of the worst recessions in modern history? Yeh, right. I won’t be taking morality lessons from you, so don’t even try it.

          • MystiKasT

            Yup, thats how the world worked 400 years ago. Whats your excuse for your behavior today?

            We all know I am morally responsible for something some white person did 400 years ago. You are exactly right.

            How dare I say it is wrong to rob and rape people.

            How dare I notice that blacks are only 13% of the U.S. population yet they commit 52% of all violent crimes.

            How dare I say it is horrible that 80% of black children are born without a father around.

            How dare I say it is wrong that 75%+ of black women have, or have had, at least one STD.

            How dare I say these things, because some europeans and spaniads conquered north america 350 years ago.

            HOW DARE I!

          • LN

            Listen to me. I, myself, have never EVER rapped or robbed someone.

            How dare YOU say that I should be lumped in with “rapers and robbers”. I own a small business in my community that hires 6 people. I am married with a son. I pay taxes, and my earnings actually put me in the 2% of Americans. So don’t YOU DARE treat ME like a criminal.

            And, for the record, criminality occurs AT ALL LEVELS of American society.

            Whether it’s the senseless wars of aggression America has waged around the world for the past several decades — wars that are DRAINING our economy.
            Or the BLIND ROBBERY that happens on Wall Street
            Or the fact that politicians are BEING BOUGHT by special interests
            Or the whole CHARTER SCHOOL SCAM

            You can stay in your little bubble, and pretend that it’s black people who are messing up this country. Yeh, keep drinking the Koolaid while politicians and businesses ROB YOU BLIND. While the public school system breaks down and the gap between the middle and the upper class widens.

            Oh, and newsflash, America is just becoming more diverse. And where are you gonna run to when whites are the minority? Back to Europe? Or are you going to try to find another “undiscovered” “uncivilized” land to rape and plunder. HA!

          • LN

            And you know what, don’t you DARE lecture me on morality. I’ve looked through your previous comments. You spew a lot of hate talk — that borders on violence — about removing black people from this country and applauding George Zimmerman. If you look through my history of Disqus comments, you won’t see me ever EVER resort to violence. So how dare you TURN AROUND and try to lecture me on morality.

            I am a great citizen of this country. I am hard working, I am progressive, and I always get involved in my community. I am a job creator and I am a responsible LAW ABIDING citizen. So don’t you dare get in this comment box, and try to lump me with “robbers and rapists”. You don’t even know who I am and you are SO FAR out of line.

            If I walked down the street and I saw you (I’m assuming you were white), I would probably greet you and keep on walking. If you saw me walking down the street with my black son, you would probably try to think up a reason to shoot one or both of us. And then you would pat yourself on the back and say you did the right thing. So don’t you f*cking get in this comment box and act like you have some kind of moral high ground. You DON’T. You are a VIOLENT individual as expressed by your worldview.

            F*ck you.

    • dewnada262

      a part of me wants to call shenanigans solely because “cracker” and “honkey” are very generation-, place-, space-specific words. i doubt ANY 4 year old (born in the 21nd century) uses those words let alone uses them to project a prejudiced worldview wherein whites are villainized. this claim seems especially dubious given that most black folks…especially black folks in Philly…live in racially segregated neighborhoods, learn in racially segregated classrooms, pray in racially segregated churches, etc. the shear opportunity for 4 year old black kids to develop the language to signify a villainous white person AND DO SO using 40-year old jargon seems so improbable. so. i’m actually gonna do it. i’m calling shenanigans.

      • MystiKasT

        Go walk to 42nd and lancaster yourself, please. Then come back and talkt o me.

    • Jamie

      I hate to tell you this but this is not a black thing, this is more of an inner city thing. So, I am black and I learned a long time ago not to walk alone in the city after dark. And sometimes you cannot do that in the wrong neighborhoods in the day. I also learned not to look at people the wrong way. Why do you think most black people mind their business when arguments or violence pops off on public transit. They are just as fearful as you are. And instead of calling me hunkey they would call me a punk ass nigga when they robbed me. Blacks are subject to the same violence and verbal assaults that you are. They do not target people based upon their race but rather based upon whether they determined that you were a weak person or not. Watch the news there is black on black crime. There are just terrorists who terrorize any and everyone…It’s not because of your race. Its because they think that they can over power you. More likely than not you showed some sign of weakness such as averting your eyes quickly or something that gave the impression of weakness. I even got to the point as a teen where people asked me why I looked like I was angry when I walked down the street. And the reason was because I didn’t want to appear to be weak. Because I was just as afraid as you were. Not of blacks. But of the criminal bullies that walk the streets period. This was in a totally different state. I am afraid when I am alone at night anywhere. I work in the burbs and I had a white male walk in my direction while I was in the parking lot alone last week and it scared the daylights out of me. I rushed to my car and locked the door quickly. What the writer is trying to convey to you is that this is not a black thing. There are bullies and criminals just like the ones that were in your school in your predominately white neighborhood who walk the streets in philly and terrorize people and that is not race based that is personality based. And don’t tell me that they didn’t exist in your high school because I experienced them when I attended predominately white schools. They are demonstrated on TV and otherwise. These type of people exist everywhere. Its not a race thing. Its a bully thing.

  • MystiKasT

    I am a viction of ‘the knockout game’. I was recently on the Gary Yarnell Show on 1210 giving an interview recounting the attack. I was attacked coming out of the WaWa in University City. While I was assaulted, the black male doing it said ‘this is for trayvon’ and ‘F you whitey, F you cracker B’. The interview took place 11/21 at 6pm.

    At the time, the police told me they call it ‘polar bear hunting’ — because the blacks target you for the color of your skin.

  • Shmoopy

    MystiKast is lying, as there is no Gary Yarnell Show. Neither Gary Yarnell (as a media personality) nor any show bearing his name can be found on Google. This would likely be because MystiKasT made them up, just like this BS story about being a “viction” [sic] of ‘the knockout game’.

    • MystiKasT

      It is Gary Arnel*, not yarnel, my mistake.

  • Larry Frazier

    As 51 y/o blk man ,i’ve always adhered to my late mothers advice”know your place,know your role”.There have been situations where the wht folk felt threatened in my presence,and i had to set them at ease.If you look at me you would say :”hes non threatening looking blk man”.but dont think for one moment i couldnt “be black” and act out because i could/can at a moments notice,but another thing my mother toldme,”there are consequences to your actions”. always makesme stop n think

  • Daayiee Abdullah

    Since the supposed “epidemic” of “knockout” attacks is unsubstantiated, the media seeks its next meal through lies and racial fear mongering–the few cases that are recorded arrest, charge and punish the knuckleheads, not a blanket statement to promote further fear…as stated below, the person who causes the most harm is usually of the same race. Fear is the justification for claiming the other is the problem. The real issue for those who have lied about “their experience(s)” always turn their event(s) into an event that all who are not like them (POCs) will attack all who are like them (whites). Still not seeing it’s not about race but economics, i.e., 1% versus the 99%.

  • MystiKasT

    Checking in 3 months later: no new updates, black people still commit most violent crime.

  • Voice_of_Reason

    if white on black violent crime is as common as black on white violent crime, then blacks disproportionately commit violent crimes against whites because the black population is about 1/5 the size of the white population. The offender rates per capita are very different.

    So your premise is nonsense.

    But white on black violent crime is NOT as common as black on white violent crime. First, robbery is a violent crime. Force is used or threatened. As you noted, whites are more likely to be robbed by blacks than the other way around.

    Second, many crimes committed by Hispanics are recorded as being committed by whites.

    The reason many whites often avoid blacks in vulnerable situations is because not all whites are stupid.