RACIAL PROFILING, THE “KNOCKOUT GAME,” AND THE SILENCE OF THE BLACK COMMUNITY

A popular sentiment among people of color is that racial profiling is wrong. Conversely, a not as popular view is that racial profiling, regardless of its assessment, is at bottom, necessary. If not necessary then it is understandable, in other words – it is justified. You may be asking, “Under what circumstances is racial profiling justified?”

In recent weeks, the “knockout game” has made its rounds on the internet and evening cable news. The objective of the “game” is to sucker punch someone in hopes of knocking them unconscious. It is carried out in public. The victim is always a stranger to the perpetrator and never suspects they will be senselessly assailed. Several people have died while “playing” and every perpetrator, as far as we know, has been Afrikan American. That lives have been lost because of this ridiculous “game” is unfortunate enough, but that Afrikan American males are the perpetrators makes it all the more unsettling for the black community. Just how does the “knockout game” affect Afrikan Americans? 

For a number of Afrikan Americans the proliferation of instances involving racial profiling is a phenomenon that strongly suggests racism is alive and thriving. And just what are we doing about it? After weeks of watching clips of random white people being knocked silly by black youth, I think the elephant in the room has grown too big to ignore. The unfortunate fact of the matter is the “knockout game” not only gives an empirical foundation for racial profiling, but it makes it necessary. 

The “knockout game” works precisely because white people are not racially profiling. The element of surprise is essential to the objective of the game. The victims are caught off guard because they are not on their guard. One of the more disturbing clips features a fifty-year old school teacher walking toward a group of black males. The teacher did not turn and run when he saw the group. He treated these men in a way that I, having experienced racial profiling on several occasions, would like to have been treated. Unfortunately, this made him a perfect target.    

And now, with the knockout game pervading social media, the question many concerned citizens are asking is, “how can I ensure this won’t happen to me?”

There seems to be only two answers: 1) end the knockout game, or 2) put yourself in a position that minimizes your chances of becoming a victim which necessarily means taking precaution around, or avoiding, black males. And to the extent that the former option is out of the control of potential victims (after all, they’re not the ones playing the game), the only option left for them is to avoid those who may be playing this game. That is to say avoid those who fit the profile.

Immediately one might argue that this conclusion – which I’m arguing is not a vindictive but natural response any rational person with a hint of self-interest would make – is racist on the grounds that not all black men are playing the “knockout game.” Firstly, by definition this would not be racist. Secondly, in any event, this contention is not valid. To be justified in feeling that a group of young black males whom you’ve never met may harm you does not require that all black people be dangerous. If there is a considerable degree of probability that you will be harmed, then it is reasonable to err on the side of caution even at the expense of the innocent among us.

In addition to the immense impact this video is having on the perception of black males nationwide, many in the black community seem content to hold their peace; confining their criticisms on the issues to a private setting. However, I think the lack of outcry is a big mistake.

The black community must publically express contempt for this behavior, as it would make it clear to the nation that we have high values within our community. Our condemnation of such behavior would convey to the public that we view this sick game as a direct violation of those values and that we expect more from ourselves. However, as it stands, we have remained mum. Why is this?

As a people, we are disinclined to scold “our own” publically. Given the generations of abuse towards Afrikan Americans from whites, there has developed, by means of the media, a justifiable fear that public black on black criticism would appear to validate the caricatures of our culture. Therefore, certain black misdeeds are taken to be “in house” business, and are expected to be dealt with as such – if at all.

I think we should reconsider this posture. While we certainly want to discourage criticism if it is indeed indicative of racism, it is fallacious to assume that any internal criticism must be of this sort. The hallmark of a virtuous people or nation is their capacity to be self-critical, as this is the means through which improvement and growth come. Moreover, this way of thinking is quite unfair. In the case of the “knockout game,” the majority of the victims are white. To couch this phenomenon as “in house” when it affects so many “outside the house” is just wrong. 

But there is another reason why many Afrikan Americans are against speaking out about this. Many blacks feel that coming down on these young brothers would be attacking the “victims.” Considering the centuries of oppression and discrimination that went into creating an environment in which such maladaptive behavior has developed, many view any criticism of black youth or black males in general as callous.

The historical factors contributing to maladaptive behavior are well received as explanations for why the actions may exist, but they do not justify them. If right and wrong is about what one ought to do, as opposed to what one is inclined to do given their past, then we must hold these brothers to the same standard we would anyone else lest we dehumanize them and our culture.

How silence equals dehumanization will be clear if we consider how we, the black community, would respond had the “knockout game” been characterized by whites knocking innocent blacks unconscious. There would certainly be an outcry – and rightly so. But what would such a hue and cry tell us about the kind of behavior we expect from whites? It would say, among other things, that we expect them to behave better than that. This much is assumed by the criticism. For it would be senseless to criticize one’s behavior unless it was mutually understood that they ought to do better and could do better. And so we find a paradox in criticism: our protest against certain behaviors of others is proportionate to our beliefs about their capacity as moral persons. Here something very curious emerges. If we expect others to behave appropriately as moral persons, how then do we expect ourselves to behave? After all, we too are moral persons. Or do we, the black community, lack such a capacity? If we remain silent on such issues as the “knockout game” it seems to suggest that we do.

Michael Holmes Jr.
UCLA Undergraduate Program
Philosophy & Social Thought

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