The Myth of Black-on-Black Crime


Nicholas Kristof profiles Lady Gaga's latest efforts against bullying:

When she was in high school, Lady Gaga says, she was thrown into a trash can. 

The culprits were boys down the block, she told me in an interview on Wednesday in which she spoke -- a bit reluctantly -- about the repeated cruelty of peers during her teenage years. 

"I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point," she said. "I didn't want to go to class. And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn't even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was..."

Searching for ways to ease the trauma of adolescence for other kids, Lady Gaga came to Harvard University on Wednesday for the formal unveiling of her Born This Way Foundation, meant to empower kids and nurture a more congenial environment in and out of schools... Bullying isn't, of course, just physical violence. 

Lady Gaga's mother, Cynthia Germanotta, who will serve as president of the Born This Way Foundation, says that one of the most hurtful episodes in her daughter's childhood came when schoolmates organized a party and deliberately excluded Lady Gaga.
I was reading this and thinking about how invisible the actual bullies always are from any conversation around anti-bullying. I strongly suspect that this is because the line between bullying and bullied is blurrier than we would like. I don't want to be mean here, but I find it hard to believe that Lady Gaga never deliberately excluded a school-mate from a social event.

This is one reason why I've really pushed the idea of being specific in what we mean when we say bullying. The seed of our current conversation lay in the travails of the LBGT community. The difference there is we know who the bullies are and we know who informs that particular breed of high school bully. Indeed, the most powerful anti-gay bullies are not children at all, but people who control entire legislatures.

That aside, worth thinking about the unspoken racial component. If you are a black kid growing up in urban America, as I was, you can expect to have a consistent and enduring  relationship with violence. You can expect to find yourself ambushed by packs of children simply for walking down the wrong street. You can expect guns to intrude upon your world. And should you be perceived as "weak" in any way, you can expect all of these forces to fall upon you with an exponential fury.

Should you grow and survive, should you even rank among those who learn to negotiate that world of violence, you will never have the luxury of losing your native language. Small provocations will send you to thoughts of violence and even acts, if you are less lucky. This will have lasting consequences for your life. But you will not call your experience "scars" you will call it "coming up hard."

I want to focus on how we talk about the young people who daily endure this reality. We don't see them as victims of bullying so much as victims of the latest dance craze. Consider "black on black crime" a phrase which assumes a kind monolithic unity which has never existed among any known carbon-based organism. For matters as slender as a failed party invitation, we invoke "bullying" and thus invoke a kind of failure of society. But for matters as crucial as murder we offer "black on black crime" and thus strictly invoke the failure of black people.

I am glad to see Lady Gaga and Oprah combating bullying at Harvard. It would have been nice to see them in Harlem.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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