U.S. and World Politics

Growing Up Under Threat

New study reveals Black boys still don’t feel safe in the USA

By Glen Ford

new study  has rediscovered—or scientifically verified—a very old fact of Black life in the USA: Black boys don’t feel safe in white neighborhoods, or in Black neighborhoods that they perceive as poorer than their own Black section of town—in this case, Columbus, Ohio.

Researchers from the Department of Sociology at Ohio State University gave smartphones with GPS tracking to 506 Black youngsters, aged 11 to 17, about evenly divided between the sexes. Five times a day, the kids were asked to report if they felt safe or not in the location they were in. The study found that, the whiter the neighborhood they entered, the less safe Black boys felt, while Black girls registered no decreased sense of safety in whiter surroundings.

Black boys didn’t report feeling unsafe in their own neighborhoods, but that doesn’t mean they are unaware of the dangers closer to home, according to Christopher Browning, the study’s lead author and a professor of sociology researcher at Ohio State. “We are not arguing that growing up in a poor, segregated neighborhood doesn’t present challenges,” said Browning. “One of the challenges are that those neighborhoods tend to have higher violence.”

The story produced the usual commentary about Black parents’ practice of schooling their children on how to navigate the geography of racism. The New York Times  reminded readers that “the study came at a time of widely publicized incidents in which Black children were reported by white people to the police for selling water, mowing the lawn and playing in the yard, selling hot dogs, playing at a pool, and other ordinary activities.”

The overarching truth documented by the survey is that young Black males know they are targeted for harm by whites, and that Black people in other neighborhoods need watching, too.

The sociologists’ report said nothing about how the police factor into young Black male’s fears, although this cohort is well aware that they are the special prey of the boys and girls in blue, of all races. The researchers think Black youth anxieties about traveling in whiter places could have consequences for their health—a logical conclusion.

A June 27 article in CityLabtitled “Police Killings and Violence are Driving Black People Crazy,” calls attention to two recent studies. The first, on “Police Killings and their Spillover Effects on the Mental Health of Black Americans,” by researchers for Harvard and Boston University, found that Black Americans reported experiencing poor mental health days in the months after hearing about police killings of unarmed Blacks. Whites reported no similar reactions to such killings.

The other study, “Neighborhood Violence, Peer-Effects, and Academic Achievement in Chicago,” by Johns Hopkins University researchers, found that students in areas of intensive policing do badly on tests, whether they have witnessed violent crimes or not. Researcher Julia Burdick-Will concluded: “Trauma is not necessarily directly related to having witnessed a crime, but it’s also related to living in a neighborhood where there is intense policing.”

The long arm of white supremacist law enforcement mangles even those young Black lives that it does not physically pummel, imprison and kill—just as it did their parents, grandparents and ancestors through the centuries on this continent.

No more studies are necessary to prove that Black folks need to get FREE. The permutations of oppression are endless. White hostility is as intractable as ever. The system that made things that way—born half-a-millennium ago with European colonialism, whose pillage of the planet spawned capitalism—has no further use for the Black ghetto, except to disperse and imprison it, a reality sensed by the young people tracked by researchers in Columbus, Ohio.

The Lords of Capital that run the system—or rather, who claim most of the wealth that chaotic capitalism drains from human labor—want to push young Black males, and their less anxious sisters, and the very fearful mothers that bore them, out of the city, to who-knows-where. The communications mouthpieces of capital, like the New York Times, preach “diversity” while their owners unleash a fury of ethic cleansing. “Diversity” is apparently waiting at the Black family’s next destination, somewhere in the amenity-less inner suburbs. SWAT teams have prepared a welcome.

Police violence is the capitalist’s blunt weapon of social control. Against Black people, it is deployed with near-ceremonial cruelty, as a political statement—one that is welcomed by many whites. It is intended as a daily reminder to Blacks, especially the young males, that they are not free. Since the Harlem rebellion of 1935, Black youth, and many older folks of both sexes, have answered police insults to their humanity with counter-violence. In the Sixties, the Black response to oppression developed an exquisite vocabulary that spoke to liberation, which still echoes. It was heard again in Los Angeles in 1992, and in Ferguson in 2014, and in Baltimore just a few months later. Yearning to be free of oppression is not a psychological problem: it is a human condition.

The oppressor is the problem, and his very existence is maddening to the oppressed. Every study that measures the enhanced anxiety of Black tweens that find themselves on a strange corner, or that shows Black mothers die after birth at three times the rate of whites, is an indictment of the white men at the top of the capitalist pyramid—as both racial and economic (class) oppressors.

But, to get to Jeff Bezos and his ilk, you’ve got to go through the police—who have been coming for you, if you’re Black, since you were smaller than Tamir Rice. 

Black Agenda Report, August 16, 2018