McGowan: Black Lives Should Matter

August 12, 2020

by Richard McGowan, Ph.D.

“I have always been a believer in truth. Palliatives are harmful.  One must have the courage to face reality. Without that courage, life is meaningless.  The people who do us the most harm are the people who shield us from reality.” — Agatha Christie, Murder in Retrospect, p.150

When President Donald Trump was elected my hope was that people would do their own research on various claims made by politicians and celebrities. After all, the media portrayed Trump as a fanciful fabulist.

Alas, my hope was dashed in short order by the FBI’s shenanigans with the fabulist Steele Report.

The hope that empirical research on controversial matters would lead to more civilized and informed conversations also has been dashed, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement started with NFL team owners and bosses allowing the team’s employees, the ones on the field, to kneel during the anthem. Subsequent research by people such as Harvard’s black economist Roland Fryer showed, however, that the incidents of legal enforcement killing did not demonstrate anti-black bias: “On the most extreme use of force — officer-involved shootings — we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account.”  

To be fair, which is more than can be expected from today’s media outlets, Fryer’s research showed that police do harass blacks more than whites, but not regarding legal enforcement killings.

Other research and data exist that speak to race relations, but do any of the data appear in public discourse or from media outlets? Actually yes, so long as the data cast a shadow on white men since the popular narrative embraced by media appears to be that all white men are racists — and race appears to be the only category of any importance, though sex is a close second.

What if journalists took the category of sex to be important and did some research. Media outlets would report data that men, who are approximately 50 percent of the population, constituted 53.7 percent of COVID-19 deaths as of Aug. 5, 2020, and that men are over twice as likely to suffer a death of despair. Data on COVID-19 mortality and deaths of despair are easily obtainable for journalists as are data on race relations

For instance, the FBI has data on ‘hate crimes’ by bias motivation. In 1996, 1,106 incidents of crime motivated by anti-white bias were committed while 3,674 incidents demonstrated an anti-black bias. In 2001, the numbers were anti-white motivation for crime at 891 and anti-black at 2,899. The numbers dropped in 2006 to 890 and 2,640 for whites and blacks, respectively; anti-white motivation produced 25 percent of the incidents of hate crimes by race. Ten years later, in 2016, the numbers were 729 anti-white incidents and 1,739 anti-black incidents, or, 29 percent of incidents involved anti-white motivation. In 2018, the last year that FBI data on hate crimes was available, anti-white bias produced 762 incidents, or 39 percent, while the number of anti-black incidents was at 1,943.

The data show a decrease of all incidents of hate crimes by race bias motivation, which is a happy thought. In fact, the population in America in 1996 was 266,792 and 324,356 in 2018, suggesting a lower rate of hate crimes by racial bias and, thus, improved race relations. As well, an increasing proportion of those crimes exhibited anti-white motivation. Whatever improvement in race relations the data suggest, it would be a much better world with no hate crimes.

It would also be a much better world with fewer murders. Here again, there are differences in white and black experience. The Center for Disease Control reported that the leading cause of death in 2017 for non-Hispanic black males was heart disease, followed by cancer and unintentional injuries. Homicide ranked fourth among leading causes of death for non-Hispanic black males followed by death from a stroke. The leading causes of death for non-Hispanic white males were, in order, heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases and stroke. 

However, if the leading causes of death are broken into age groups, differences are striking. For non-Hispanic blacks, the leading cause of death from age 1-19 is homicide, at 35 percent, followed by unintentional injuries at 25,5 percent and suicide at 7.1 percent. Those numbers compare to non-Hispanic white men’s leading causes of death from age 1-19 as unintentional injuries, at 38.4 percent, followed by suicide at 23.2 percent and cancer at 7.4 percent.

For non-Hispanic blacks aged 20-44 years, the leading cause of death is homicide, at 27.6 percent, followed by unintentional injuries at 24.3 percent and heart disease at 11.8 percent. For non-Hispanic whites aged 20-44 years old, unintentional injuries, at 44.5 percent, leads, followed by suicide at 16.8 percent and heart disease at 8.5 percent. Homicide, which is typically intra-racial, not interracial, ranks fourth, at 5.2 percent.  As for women of all races, homicide does not even make the top 10 leading causes of death.

Given the data, two significant problems are apparent: homicide deaths of black males and suicide deaths of white males. Of the 2,970 homicide deaths of blacks in 2017, 2,627, or 88.5 percent, of the homicides were committed by a black offender. White offenders committed 264 homicides against black victims, or 8.9 percent. Conversely, white offenders killed 2,861 white victims, or 80 percent, while black offenders killed 576 white victims, or 16 percent. If black lives matter, policy should be designed to reduce homicides by black offenders.  

Policy measures should begin with better schools and educational facilities. Policy measures should also work to ensure family stability. As AFRO: The Black Media Authority stated, “Social scientists have long espoused the benefits for children who live in two-parent homes, including economic, educational, health and other advantages.” AFRO noted, though, in 2016, that “while 74.3 percent of all White children below the age of 18 live with both parents, only 38.7 percent of African-American minors can say the same.”  Since homicide by black males aged 1-19 is so prevalent, those measures would help greatly for black lives to matter.

As for suicide deaths by white males, that pattern has existed since the early 1900s, when data on death by suicide was first collected. In the current cultural climate, that means a shift from thinking and talking as though boys and men are the wrong sex and introducing more hopeful language to boys and men. If it was wrong to create policy and cultural practices that treated girls and women as the wrong sex — and it was wrong — then it is wrong to do the same thing to boys and men.

Finally, the media can do a better job of reporting the world as it is and not presenting the world as ‘popular narratives’ say it is. It would also be a better a better world, and more inclusive, if all categories of human beings mattered. Media outlets report monotonously about blacks being disproportionately represented in the data on legal enforcement killings. What if journalists took the category of sex to be important and did some research? Media outlets would report that men, who are approximately 50 percent of the population, constituted 95.4 percent of the legal enforcement killings in 2017. In the last full year, 2019, Statista reported that men constituted 95.7 percent of the killings.   

Black lives should matter. Men’s lives should matter. Better still, all lives should matter.

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has taught philosophy and ethics cores for more than 40 years, most recently at Butler University.


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