Why do white lives matter more than black lives?

Baltimore has captured the country’s attention for more than two weeks now.

Yet another unarmed Black man—Freddie Gray in this instance—had an encounter with law enforcement. He died April 19 a week after he sustained a fatal spinal injury while he was in police custody. People protested peacefully for more than a week, but the national media did not descend upon our charming little city until a Monday night riot broke out.

Pundits engaged in discussions—some of them heated—as to whether Freddie Gray was dead because of the color of his skin. Was racism a factor in the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police?

On May 1, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed charges against the six police officers involved in Gray’s April 12 arrest. Some people argue that race is not an issue because three of the officers charged are black and three are white.

What people  fail to understand is that racism has two distinct paths with two distinct destinations: privilege and assignation of human worth travel along one path toward a dominant group – a preferred group; and dehumanization and deprivation travel along a different path to an oppressed group – a spurned group.  This dynamic gives rise to self-assurance (some say arrogance) within the dominant group and self-hate within the oppressed group.

Racism results in the practices, beliefs, social relations and phenomena that work to reproduce a racial hierarchy and social structure that yields superiority and privilege for some, and discrimination and oppression for others.

Baltimore started out with peaceful protests but that changed within two days. (Erik Hoffman)
Baltimore started out with peaceful protests but that changed within two days. (Erik Hoffman)

Most people have lost touch with the true definition of racism due, in no small part, to some contemporary dictionaries define racism as “belief that one’s own race is superior” or “prejudice or hatred against a racial group different from one’s own.”

Such definitions assume that we are all equal now, that the idea of systemic racism is defunct.   And many people would like to believe that, to believe that racial privilege is not a major component in their relative freedom.  Still others would like to believe that they are not being held back because of their race.

In a society such as ours, we know, even if we do not think it consciously or say it out loud, that generally, a white life is more valuable than a black life, that white people are the good, upstanding citizens, and African-Americans are society’s problem child.  To illustrate this societal belief, consider how the problem of white crime is handled.

Television news shows report heinous crimes committed by white people—such as several killings of a spouse or child for insurance money, several spouses knocked off cruise ships or yachts, mass shootings in schools, among other places, multiple serial rapists and murderers, kidnappers who torture their victims for years.  There have been stabbings, beatings, sodomies, and the bullying to death of another child perpetrated by white girls.  There has been a rash of young white female teachers sexually molesting their students.

Yet, how often is the entire white community considered more “criminal” than other groups?  How often is it said that if we just don’t hire young white females as teachers, we can reduce the rate of sexual assault in our schools?  If we create separate schools for white boys, we can keep more students safe?  That all white girls are thugs?  That white people must be criminals because look how much they use drugs?  And when white people riot after a sports event, who says, “See how they are? (That’s why they get treated the way they do.)”

When do black lives matter in Baltimore? (Erik Hoffman)
When do black lives matter in Baltimore? (Erik Hoffman)

And with all of this criminal activity among white people, why are police not patrolling predominately white neighborhoods, looking out for such crimes, approaching white people as they sit on their decks to apprehend users of illegal substances, asking white men who they plan to rape or kidnap or murder today, following them to nab them for the crimes they will inevitably commit?  Why are police not randomly questioning young white women, confiscating their cellphones to see if there are any illicit texts sent to 13-year-olds?  Why are we ignoring this crisis in the white community?  Why are we not appalled by the level of white on white crime in our country?

Because white lives matter.  White people deserve the chance to be seen and treated as individuals, not as a lump of inferiority, not as automatic suspects.  White people have the right to comport themselves without undue intrusion, without having to constantly explain themselves (at the societal level, which does not preclude such at the personal level). White people seldom worry about getting shot in the back.

What does all of this have to do with Freddie Gray’s death?

Well, Freddie Gray did live in a neighborhood that police patrolled, scavenging for criminal behavior.  Freddie Gray lived in a neighborhood where he had to watch his back, a neighborhood where opportunities to get a quality education and gainful employment were at a minimum, where levels of lead paint poisoning were among the highest in the country.  Those are class issues, one might argue.  But look around Freddie Gray’s neighborhood.  How racially diverse is it?

Freddie Gray was part of that lump, one of those suspects.  Yes, he had a history of petty crimes, some things a young White man might not have been charged for at all; or his activity might not have even been noticed by police because they were not searching for criminals among young white men. (To test this theory, ask young white men how many times they have been stopped and frisked/questioned as they walked along a city sidewalk or stopped on the road solely for driving their own cars.)  But why are we even discussing Freddie Gray’s rather insignificant rap sheet?  Because he was a criminal, therefore, he deserved to die?  Because it is not such a big deal that he was killed since he wasn’t a worthy man anyway (as proven by his criminal record)?  Because he was just a thug, not a mother’s child?

It also is to be noted that a black man is a dangerous criminal, a thug, whether the crime he commits is possession of one joint or murder.  It’s all the same if a black man does it, because he is, at his core, criminal. If he has committed no crime whatsoever, has never committed a crime, it does not matter because he is a thug by nature, and given time, he is likely to be a danger to society.  His mere being is a threat.

And, whether or not we allow it into our minds or say it out loud, we all know that, in general, a black life matters less than a white life, that police can brutalize or kill a black person with minimal likelihood of facing serious consequences. Yes, white people and people of other races are sometimes the victims of police brutality, but not at the rate that black people are, especially black boys and men.  And white boys and men have assaulted police officers, stolen emergency vehicles, taunted police officers (sometimes armed, sometimes unclad), and run from the police…and managed to live.

But it can’t be about race, some might reiterate, because the police officer who faces the most severe charges is himself black.  But being black does not dull a person’s awareness that a black life matters less, that there are fewer consequences for taking a black life.  Couple that with the self-hate endemic to oppressed populations and we have a potentially lethal combination on our hands.

There are other issues of race and racism that the Freddie Gray case calls into question.  For instance, is it more palatable to bring charges against three black officers and three white ones rather than had they all been white?

Freddie Gray died April 19 - one week after sustaining a fatal spinal injury while in police custody. (YouTube)
Freddie Gray died April 19 – one week after sustaining a fatal spinal injury while in police custody. (YouTube)

I am not at all questioning the integrity of Marilyn Mosby because I believe she is honestly seeking justice, no matter the race of the players; however, will the rigidity around indicting white officers become more malleable in the wake of this case?  Will that segment of the American public who blindly and consistently support white officers no matter how outrageous the reason they concoct for killing an unarmed black man, finally be able to break through their own defensiveness—even if only a little—to consider that sometimes a White person can be wrong in relation to a black person—who could actually be innocent?

There are even more questions to consider.  Some media outlets referred to Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, as the queen of destruction in lieu of examining the merits and blunders of her methodology in handling the growing uprising.  Was this because a black woman did not deserve the benefit of the doubt, because she is not to be taken seriously no matter her position, because she is not worth the time it would take to offer genuine criticism?  Was it because if a black woman is not a welfare queen, then she must be the queen of something rotten?   Did the criticism of Marilyn Mosby’s seemingly swift decision to charge the officers involved and the calls that she recuse herself have just a little extra edge to them?  Even as they rise to positions of power, how much change can African-Americans effect in a system that is so deeply imbalanced?  Is Mosby boldly stepping out to create fundamental change in a faulty structure?

There are these questions and many more.  But there is one question, the answer to which we can almost bet on: if Freddie Gray had been a white man, he’d probably still be alive.



20 thoughts on “Why do white lives matter more than black lives?

  • May 30, 2017 at 8:41 AM

    Thank you, Post-Examiner, for this excellent analysis by Leslie Peace Jubilee. I hope that you’ll invite her to write more pieces on contemporary issues.

  • June 27, 2015 at 2:01 AM

    I’m so done. Black lives DO NOT matter any more than white lives or mexican or asian lives do. It’s stupid how racist this world has become. All of you that say white people are racist and need to take a step back, need to walk off, I’m fed up with this stuff, it’s like no one ever realizes WHY Dr. King fought. HE didn’t fight for black lives. He fought for EVERYBODY’S lives. Because all lives matter. Not one more than others.

  • May 19, 2015 at 8:48 AM

    Mosby is going to find out very quickly how she jumped the gun with the intent on being a savior, but the evidence will not hold up and her new gag order request is simply an attempt to shut up the honest people pointing out her obvious conflicts of interest. On stage at that rally, she is obviously looking to be in a celebrity spotlight. She is not fit for the job and is going to look like a fool. I can’t wait!

    • May 19, 2015 at 11:33 AM

      There has been no verdict. In Ferguson there was no indictment much less a trial. Police are supposed to serve the community and be accountable for their actions. It is clear that many communities do not believe this is happening. If the officers behaved correctly, then the court process – the same process citizens accused of crimes enter – should prevail. Was protocol followed? This needs to be addressed because someone died under the custody and responsibility of the police. If this were a child in a daycare van we would expect better answers and explanations.

  • May 18, 2015 at 12:23 AM

    Leslie, thank you for pointing me to this article. Race, gender, and class are all intertwined. It is very unfortunate that while exceptions prove the rule, the exceptions are used to pretend that the norms don’t exist. Your ending question is a potent and poignant one. If Freddie Gray was white, would he be still alive?

    • May 18, 2015 at 8:20 PM

      Latha. You make a very good point about the attention that goes to the exceptions as though they cancel out everything and everyone else. Thank you for stopping by to read this!

    • May 23, 2015 at 5:50 AM

      If he’s using a deadly weapon against a police officer or threatening a police officer, no. He would not be alive no matter what race he was. Period.

    • January 30, 2016 at 10:29 PM

      The likelihood that he would be alive is definitely much higher if he would have been white. I remember taking a criminal justice class. The professor played a video excerpt where police officers were admitting their actions in racial profiling.

  • May 17, 2015 at 10:13 AM

    The term “racism” is sanitized to be visibly horrid behavior toward those of another race, rather than include all of the cultural assumptions of privilege and placement in the society. As a white person, I can be both friendly and even helpful to people of color, while at the same time have the advantages of opportunities and access that black people and other people of color do not have. People who work hard especially do not always see their journey as more simple due to their race. They do not understand how much more difficult that journey would be with negative assumptions attached.

    • May 17, 2015 at 7:20 PM

      Yes, sdk, you understand what so many people struggle with or against. Some people think that the term “racism” means that they are being called a “bad” person, but what you point out so well is that racism is not limited to the egregious and outrageous, and that is systemicc. I might have to refer some people to you so that you can break it down for them…lol. Thank you for taking the time to read my article and your supportive response.

      • May 17, 2015 at 11:55 PM

        You are welcome. Keep writing!

    • May 18, 2015 at 8:24 AM

      When you use a definition that exists only in sociology textbooks, you’re going to lose a lot of people. An “ism” is a metaphysical concept held in the mind and has no bearing on physical preconditions. Your definition seems to suggest that if you don’t have power to wield bigotry that you’re not somehow a bigot…in some situations it provides a thin veneer for counterracism.

      Furthermore I’d ask, why do black lives matter only when killed by whites employed by the state? Since the riot, black on black homicides have skyrocketed, resulting in a murder rate ten times higher than NYC…

      Where is the outrage in their community? Why aren’t they turning out in the streets over all these senseless murders?

      • May 18, 2015 at 8:46 AM

        The issue is complicated. People do not want to feel guilty or accept that they contribute to the systemic problem. This is especially the case with people in power when the principal problem lies. If this were an assembly line, I would say that people are not addressing the root cause and only looking at the negative outcome. They want to fix the outcome, but not the system that produces it. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. People who gravitate toward police careers yearn for some power, I believe. I think police target vulnerable people who cannot fight back and who the system already marginalizes. It’s simpler and less threatening. The system allows them to rationalize their behavior because it supports it.

        • May 18, 2015 at 10:00 PM

          sdk, be forewarned, I have actually referred someone to you.

          • May 19, 2015 at 8:10 AM

            OK 🙂

        • May 19, 2015 at 12:37 PM

          “People who gravitate toward police careers yearn for some power, I believe. I think police target vulnerable people who cannot fight back and who the system already marginalizes. ”

          This is bigoted no? Are you implicitly making the claim that urban areas are just as safe as suburban areas and that the only reason for a higher police presence and higher crime rate is the weakness of the inhabitants of the urban area which causes police to more readily target them? Really?Where do you live? Come to Newark and tell me it is the cops fault.

          • May 19, 2015 at 1:02 PM

            The problem I see is that we separate the urban condition and “weak inhabitants” from the “normal” folks when in fact they are connected. Why are these people “weak”? Were the born that way (racism)? There are no crooked public employees in the history of Newark? The system produces the result. Corrupt police cannot produce a predictable just outcome. It is impossible. Opposing power that makes bad decisions and is corrupt is also dangerous for marginalized people especially. A corrupt system protects itself. If citizens believe that police are corrupt and prejudice then essentially there are no police from their vantage, but rather people to avoid. Corrupt police (departments) normalize bad behavior. Good people in bad areas can trust no one; criminals or police, because they are both distinct types of dangers. There can be no positive outcome without a change of the system that addresses the root causes.

          • May 19, 2015 at 2:04 PM

            “The problem I see is that we separate the urban condition and “weak inhabitants” from the “normal” folks when in fact they are connected.”

            Connected in by species only. Upbringing, values, ability, outlook, behavioral norms very GREATLY.

            Why are these people “weak”?

            Weak as in “disadvantaged” aka born into poverty and raised without positive role models and surrounded by crime and violence.

            Were the born that way (racism)?

            No, biologically speaking we are all the same. The thing that varies are the cultures we were born into as well as the cultures we adopt as our own.

            There are no crooked public employees in the history of Newark?

            We both know there are crooked public employees everywhere where there are public employees.

            The system produces the result.

            The system helped produce the environment. Results are up to the individual born into said environment.

            Corrupt police cannot produce a predictable just outcome.


            Opposing power that makes bad decisions and is corrupt is also dangerous for marginalized people especially.

            Historically dangerous for anybody depending on how corrupt said power is and how willing they are to use violence.

            A corrupt system protects itself.


            If citizens believe that police are corrupt and prejudice then essentially there are no police from their vantage, but rather people to avoid.

            Believing is merely a perspective and it isn’t always reflective of reality.

            Corrupt police (departments) normalize bad behavior.

            I wouldn’t say they normalize it. They hide it.

            Good people in bad areas can trust no one; criminals or police, because they are both distinct types of dangers.

            Now THIS is where our paths separate. In the larger scheme of things that one should be worried about in terms of survival in this society- police ARE NOT even close to being at the top of that list. Regardless of color your odds of being killed by the police are very tiny and do not justify fearing police.

            There can be no positive outcome without a change of the system that addresses the root causes.

            Could not agree more. The problem is we disagree on what the root causes are. In my opinion the root causes are bad cultural values. One could easily make the argument that historical racism can account for why these cultures are so regressive but that does nothing to provide answers as to what we can do now. From my vantage point the only thing we can do to avoid kids being raised in these environments is to take them away from the unfit parents and to change the incentive structure in our welfare system so that individuals are not incentivized to have more kids that they are not equipped to raise properly. But alas, this is not a neat or particularly popular solution. I want to hear solutions and when I engage in conversations like this I rarely hear any specific solutions.

            “The system needs to change!” means absolutely nothing if you cant say specifically what needs to change and how to do it.

            I hope you don’t take my comments as being aggressive or patronizing. It really is not my intention. My intent is to speak frankly so that those who dabble in critical race theory can understand that opposition to their viewpoints are not always based on racism but instead a completely different interpretation of the reality on the ground and how best to improve things.

      • May 18, 2015 at 10:26 PM

        Nick, the definition was not limited only to textbooks until fairly recently. It was the definition one would see in the Oxford English Dictionary or Webster’s Third Collegiate. I am aware of the difference between racism and bigotry and nowhere did I put any limitations on who could or could not be a bigot. Black lives always matter. The rate of Black on Black crime is only slightly higher than that of White on White crime last I checked. (I will admit it has been a couple of weeks.) Did it occur to you that the media do not give much coverage to the intra-community efforts directed toward Black on Black crime? As I stated above, we were having peaceful protests for more than a week before the night of the major riot. There was practically no coverage of the peaceful activity, and a lot of people around the country believe that the riot was the only response to Freddie Gray’s death. It was not. It was an anomaly in a protest that is ongoing. Further, the beneficial response to Black people killing other Black people is not outrage but outreach. Trust me, there is plenty of that going on. It is because Black lives do not matter that there is hardly any coverage of these activities. It is usually when White lives–such as police officers and business owners–are involved that the media’s attention is perked. There is also a marked difference in the way the media report on Black crime and White crime. Black crime is often reported as a laundry list on the local news whereas White crime is explored on shows like 48 Hours, Dateline, and 20/20. I think that such reporting styles and coverage of riots are more than a vestige of the media tendency to present African Americans as a menace to society and White people as complex, whole beings who deserve to be understood.

        • May 23, 2015 at 5:53 AM

          Use spacing please. Walls of text are normally ignored because their annoying to scrawl through. Why we have paragraphs.

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