Derek Thompson of the Atlantic published an article this morning detailing how racially divided American workers are and how this stratification really has not changed in decades, mainly due to differences in social networks and education. He followed that up by taking a look at racial variations in careers and came up with a list of the 33 whitest jobs in America.
Having spent the last few weeks poring through crime statistics while researching my gun violence book, I’ve also noticed a wide racial variance in arrests for different offenses. Black Americans make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, but account for 28 percent of all arrests (data from the U.S. Census and 2012 FBI Uniform Crime Report, as is all data in this post). They are arrested at a disproportionate rate relative to their share of the total population (and most likely a disproportionate rate relative to the crimes they commit, although as there is no data on unreported crimes, we can’t verify this), but it’s not even close to the same rate across all crimes. Just as there appear to be white jobs and less white jobs, there are white crimes and less white crimes.
In the spirit of the Atlantic, here are the 10 “whitest” crimes in America, as judged by the racial composition of arrests for said offense:
And here are the 10 “blackest” crimes:
Note: White and black are the only population groups being compared because Hispanic Americans are categorized as either white or black according to the FBI’s system and none of the other two groups, Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American, is responsible for more than 4 percent of the total arrests for any crime.
A few things jump out here:
1. “White boy wasted” is not just a figure of speech. White people make up 79 percent of the population according to the census, but over 80 percent of all arrests for the three alcohol-related offenses categorized by the FBI. Alcohol is America’s establishment drug.
2. The presence of a significant racial gap between burglary and robbery, and property crime and violent crime as a whole. Some of this might be due to the combination of burglars being harder to catch than robbers (because burglars generally don’t encounter their victims in the flesh) and police associating street crime with black people and letting that bias affect how they investigate such crimes, but it seems farfetched that this alone would account for a more than 20 percent disparity.
3. Police are still busting dice games on the corner in a country with Las Vegas and the stock market. Gambling on the street may be reckless and irresponsible, but it shouldn’t be a life-changer for the more than 4,000 black people arrested for it.
4. Aside from gambling, the only crimes where black arrests outnumber white arrests are murder and robbery.
That brings me to this study published a few days ago, which found a positive link between anti-black racism and gun ownership. The Australian and British authors of the study took that news to get on the highest of horses and make fun of Southerners, but it’s not as simple as whistling Dixie.
It is not a stretch to assume that people who keep guns in their home generally think a lot more about being a victim of a crime that might require them to use a gun defensively than people who do not keep guns around. (Attempted) murder and robbery are the two major crimes they’d stand to fear most. These crimes are disproportionately committed by black perpetrators in their minds, on the news and according to the data.
There is certainly a substantial population of gun owners who occasionally fantasize about shooting black people. This is abjectly racist and inexcusable. There is also a population of gun owners who occasionally fantasize about shooting potential home invaders, whom they often visualize as black men, just as they might picture the high school valedictorian to be Asian-American and the city’s best divorce lawyer to be Jewish. Prejudiced? Absolutely. But given a hypothetical situation where Chinese-Americans were committing a disproportionate share of armed robberies, would these gun owners care so much about rap music and Obamaphones? Of course not, they’d revert back to Old San Francisco style racism.
The bottom line is this: Gun owners almost certainly spend more time thinking about black people as criminals than non-gun owners do. This is because they are overly concerned about being victims of specific violent crimes and understandably associate black people with being perpetrators of said crimes. This association can easily metastasize into a full-on racist mentality (and often does), but the statistics don’t lie.
It’s racist to assume a random black man is coming to rob you. It’s not racist to think that the person who has already robbed you has a good chance of being black. It’s best not to assume anything, but people always do, and past performance is the best indicator of future results. White people disproportionately drive drunk in America. Black people disproportionately commit murder.