Point of View Columns

Do Black Lives Matter?

During the past week a new book Ghettoside,  by Jill Leovy, appeared in bookstores across America. Ms. Leovy chronicles the progression of homicide in South Central Los Angeles, but the story that she tells chronicles a national disaster that has been created over the past several decades – a disaster that begs the question, do black lives matter?

The statistics are numbing and serve to anesthetize the sensibilities of the American public in general as well as those of the national black community. But we can try to focus.

• Black Americans comprise approximately 13% of this country’s population.
• African American males make up approximately 6% of the American population.
• African American males comprise 40% of the people murdered in this country.
• Over 90% of African American murder victims are killed by African Americans

While these are numbers that would warm the heart of any member of the Ku Klux Klan, they should be horrifying for any person of good will or decent conscience. The homicidal mayhem being waged against the black community by members of the black community would be considered genocide if the perpetrators were of another hue.

This decimation of the black community must be seen within the larger context of the high levels of incarceration which the black community experiences. Recalling the fact that black Americans make up 13% of the population of the United States, it is stunning to realize that 40% of the prison inmates in this country are of African descent. Further, the overwhelming number of these black inmates are men between the ages of 18 and 34.

It is simply not possible to amputate such a significant part of any community – by murder, mayhem or selective law enforcement – without eviscerating that community and damaging the prospects for that community to be a full partner in the larger society. These are not excuses or rationalizations. These are the facts.

The search for solutions to this seemingly implacable vicious cycle is the only useful and rational response. Better education, more employment opportunities, reformation of the law enforcement and penal systems are certainly important steps on the road to progress.

The marginalization of cultural messages that glorify “thugs” and all their accoutrements is also a necessary strategy. The reality of “Ghettoside” is that it is not only found in Los Angeles, Ghettoside is a part of black America that must be recognized, addressed and eliminated.

Let the first step be recognition of the crisis. The next steps must be born out of creativity meeting innovation meeting imagination.

The future depends on it.


5 thoughts on “Do Black Lives Matter?

  1. Enos Banda says:

    This is such a thought provoking assessment that requires all people of good will to sit up, listen, and do something. Thanks Wallace.

  2. I grew up watching Soul Train. It was the first time I heard the song “Respect Yourself.” At the time, I wasn’t aware that it was Gospel music, albeit with an incredible rhythm in the mode of the music, my music, that in those days was, “Super Cool.”

    I was very touched when Don Cornelius (the greatest voice on TV) interviewed the Staple Singers and they spoke of “truth”. I went out and bought the album. (for those under 30 reading this, look up what an album was) The song was Cut 2, Side A – Stax records! Not at first, but eventually the lyrics sunk in.

    The grim, horrific statistic that 90%, or 9 out of every 10 black males that are killed are killed by other black males, begs the question, why?

    I would offer up one possible explanation; that if there’s a 90% percent chance that you will be killed by someone who shares your skin color, your experience, your culture and your struggle, then that is a matter of intra-cultural disrespect. And since, in the positive construct, self-respect leads to self-esteem then it follows that self-disrespect leads to low self-esteem. It becomes a downward cycle when a person is a part of a group they don’t respect, then that group is probably going to have the same esteem issues. Put another way, if a person of low self-esteem values his or herself less then that creates cultures of low self-esteem and as a group might value their community less. Does that mean black lives don’t matter to blacks? That would be too simple to conclude, but the seeds are there. Certainly the gangster culture thrives on this “vacuum of respect” and has exploited it. Turning the Staple Singers message 180 degrees around.

    In the end of your very thoughtful piece you call for next steps born out of creativity meeting innovation. I submit to you that the path was cut back in the early 70’s by the Staple Singers as the lyrics of Luther and Rice Ingram laid it out, “If you don’t respect yourself, ain’t nobody going to give a good cahoot.”

    I think they were the early warning system in recognizing the crisis you outlined. Society at large is ill-equipped to address the problem, it must be nurtured in every individual, imagine if every black male’s level of self respect was elevated, then the group esteem would certainly rise, and I have to believe it’s harder to kill someone that you respect.

    Creating respect in any individual is very difficult, it takes love, time and compassion, and the first, best person to do that is the person them self. That could be why the cover of the album showed the Staple Singers inside the cowling of a jet engine. Why? Because the name of the album was “Be Altitude: Respect Yourself” – as in elevate yourself respect.

  3. DENNIS YOUNG says:


    Good and timely article. I guess black lives don’t matter to other black males. I recently heard/saw a line from a dead rapper’s lyrics: “Act like a fool. Dress like a clown. No wonder cops [and other brothers] shoot me down.” [Insert added.]

    I commend you for your continued efforts to make a difference.


  4. Ron says:

    Another good and bold piece. However the answer is rhetorically clear, yes black lives do matter. I suggest the follow up question should be, “to whom?”. Here I suggest the macro answer is also clear, yes to all of us. But it is the more granular responses that are often deficient.


  5. Shamonda Graham says:

    Again, you amaze me. It is all too clear that we must save ourselves, starting at the root-the African American home. While I do not blame parenting for what our community has become, I do believe it originates with the African American male “choosing” to behave in manners that will allow “them” to rip our families apart by incarcerating the family foundation and likewise them “choosing” to walk away from their families that desperately need them. Reinventing and reinstalling our community sense of values, morals, principles and pride can create a foundation to begin the process of educating, employing and empowering our people.

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