Our conversation about race is suffering from a terrible abuse of the English language. As a result, we are not addressing racial mob violence. Here is an analogy to illustrate how the conversation about race goes awry: Everybody knows that not every American likes football. So when we hear someone say, "Americans like football," we understand that they mean that the people who like football are generally American. That same common-sense observation about grammar applies to controversial racial topics. Take the following statement: Black teens have been attacking non-blacks in flash mobs.
Everybody knows that not all black teens attack in flash mobs. There is no one in a position of prominence in society who would say or mean that. When someone says "Black teens have been attacking in flash mobs," we should know what they mean – that the people who attack in flash mobs have been black.
Nonetheless, in articles and radio interviews, I've pointed out the simple fact that black teens have been attacking in flash mobs. A common response to my factual observation is that "Not all blacks are that way," or "You can't generalize." But I've never stated or implied that all blacks are that way, or made any generalizations. Our conversation about race is stuck in this bizarre cycle where someone makes an observation about group behavior, and the only response from many people is a cliché like "Don't judge entire groups." It's as if the plain meaning of words becomes clouded when we pass into the forbidden topic of race. Many are playing word games to evade the stark facts about racial mob violence.
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While the shooting death of a young gay man named Lawrence King makes the cover of Newsweek magazine, an equally harmful type of hateful violence has been underreported. Anna Taylor, Emily Guendelsberger and Thomas Fitzgerald of Philadelphia all suffered in separate, violent "flash mob" attacks, committed by blacks. The details of their attacks are shocking; the trend is to pick a random pedestrian, punch them and then kick them brutally while they are down. Whether it's the shooting death of Andrew Graham in Denver, or a young white lady named Shaina Perry being taunted and beaten in Milwaukee, or Carter Strange having his skull fractured in Columbia, S.C., or Dawid Strucinski beaten into a coma in Bayonne, the facts are clear: There is a trend of black teens in groups randomly attacking innocent people, usually non-black people. It's not about robbery; sometimes these attacks are just vicious "games" like the "knock out game" that took the life of 72-year-old Hoang Nguyen in St. Louis. The victims of these attacks, nationwide, are generally non-black, and the attackers are invariably black. What we are seeing is a social problem with a racial element, and it needs to be addressed.
It is undeniable, based on reporting from even liberal news sources, that the people who attack in violent flash mobs are almost exclusively black teens. According to the New York Times, "Most of the teenagers who have taken part in them are black and from poor neighborhoods." Of course, the Times can't name a single incident where non-blacks have taken part in such mobs, so their use of the adjective "most" is misleading. That Times article was the last mention, in the mainstream press, of the flash mob attackers' race.
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Our conversation about race has been stifled by double standards, resolute denial and a peculiar distortion of language. Minorities can, and do, point to racial differences in group outcomes, and complain about group inequalities. Yet, when someone outside the racial group points out that racial groups themselves are responsible for those inequalities, the conversation about race starts to break down.
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All black teens are obviously not responsible for flash mobs, but the only people committing theses attacks are black teens. In other words, black teens are committing these attacks, but it's only a small percentage of black teens doing so. So, in that sense, black teens are responsible for the attacks. Of course, black race is not the cause of the problem; the distinct culture of the black teen attackers is the cause of the problem. That culture in turn arises from the unique constellation of mores, habits, attitudes, family structure and government dependence found within a segment of the black community. Those factors have nothing to do with biology, or genetics, or "all black people." These qualifications wouldn't even be necessary in a society where people were prepared to face facts and be honest about social issues. Instead, our conversation about race breaks down, and the core social problem is lost in accusations about "broad brushes" and generalizations.
No one who matters is actually making remarks about entire groups. What people are doing is making observations about group behavior and race: that black teens have been attacking in flash mobs. Based on that factual observation, my interpretation is that there is an emerging social problem, made worse by double standards about race in our society. Blacks (meaning those blacks who are committing these crimes) benefit from the media's preferential protections, and the public is deliberately misinformed by media outlets like the Washington Post, New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, all of whom refuse to accurately report on the racial element of these violent crimes. The net result is that the public, of all races, is placed at greater risk as we fail to address a social problem.
John Bennett is a veteran, writer and law student at Emory University. He holds an MA from the University of Chicago and lives in Atlanta.