There is something about that phrase in the headline – “black crimes matter” – that makes you flinch, isn’t there? There is at least a part of you that thinks it is racist. We’re conditioned, as Irish people, and indeed as white people, to be on edge as soon as the word “crime” appears next to the name of a minority group. There have been thousands of opinion pieces and television programmes where such practices are denounced as stigmatising, or scapegoating.
But when you think about it logically, there is nothing racist about it.
After all, and to quote the movement of the moment, as the “Black Lives Matter” people say, “we’re not saying that only black lives matter, we’re just saying that our lives are especially ignored, and treated differently. Obviously, all lives matter.”
And so, it goes the same way with crime. All crimes matter – and in truth, the race of the perpetrator has absolutely no impact on the victim.
It doesn’t matter to you whether you’re hit on the head, or your house is robbed, or you’re stabbed, by a white person, a traveller, or a three legged donkey with a human head. You have been the victim of a crime in any of those scenarios.
But it does matter, very much, to our media, and to many of our people.
That is, after all, the only possible explanation for the events of this weekend in Ireland.
We are being told, in the name of decency, not to share the video of the violent assault of a teenager in Carrigaline over the weekend. We are, largely, being told this by the same people who have spent several weeks shoving the video of the death of George Floyd in Minnesota into our faces and telling us we must watch it.
What happened at the weekend is not the first recent example of crimes being committed by members of a minority group being played down. The most prominent local example of the phenomenon comes from the United Kingdom, where forty seven young women were repeatedly sexually victimised by gangs of Asian men, and where the police in Rochdale failed to act for almost a decade because, as local Labour MP Ann Cryer said, “they were afraid of being called racist”.
In Sweden, it is almost verboten, in polite society, to discuss the issue of sex crimes committed by immigrants from a different culture. In Germany, when the police reported that 1,200 women were sexually assaulted over two nights in the New Year’s Eve Celebrations to begin 2016, German television completely failed to mention the ethnicity of the attackers.
The same thing has happened in Ireland before, very recently. Reports of large-scale misbehaviour by groups of dark-skinned teenagers in various Dublin suburbs, and the widely accepted problem of Nigerian gang violence doesn’t translate into media coverage. Even here, at Gript, we understand the reasons for that. You can’t afford to make a mistake when covering crimes by a so-called vulnerable minority, because if you do it once, then you’ll be called a racist for ever and ever afterwards.
This is an uncomfortable topic, because most of us are burdened or gifted, depending on your views, with an instinctive liberal decency, and most of us are deeply conscious of the genuine challenges faced by minority and immigrant communities. We are conscious that there are those in our midst who want to portray all immigrants as criminals, or freeloaders, or a threat to our civilisation, and we do not want it to seem as if we are giving them ammunition for their cause. We fear that if we highlight the ethnicity of a criminal, we are “tarring them all with the same brush”. And so, when something like what happened in Carrigaline takes place, we do our best to downplay it, and urge people to look the other way.
And we do the reverse, too. When a crime is committed by a white person against a minority victim, we immediately wonder was it racially motivated, because, again, we are fearful of those elements in our society that hold genuinely racist views. We are eager to highlight the crime, to condemn it, and to call for strong punishment because it is a good way of sending a message to everybody that we, ourselves, are not racist.
But this is, of course, a form of racism in itself. A society that sees everybody as equal will hold every member of that society, and every group within society, to the same standards. The young man attacked in Carrigaline was attacked by a black assailant, yes, but he has been injured and humiliated and damaged just as much as if he were a black teenager assaulted by a gang of white supremacists. The attack on him warrants just as much public anger and outrage as would be forthcoming in the alternative scenario.
But that’s not how our media, or much of our society, sees it.
Imagine, for a moment, that the roles of the attacker and the victim in Carrigaline were reversed, in this moment, in the middle of the black lives matter movement.
There would be no calls from politicians “not to watch the video”. In fact, watching it would be compulsory.
There would be no emphasising of the fact that “we do not know the motive”. In fact, people would be calling for it to be investigated as a hate crime, simply because it was perpetrated against a minority.
There would be no cursory media coverage of a man being arrested, without reference to the ethnicity of the victim. In fact, every media report would lead with the fact that the victim was black.
The entire machinery of the Irish left would swing into action, were the roles reversed. Black lives matter protests would swiftly be augmented with posters calling for “justice” for the victim. Ireland’s horde of NGOs would be racing to put out press releases calling for hate speech legislation. Reporters would be writing features about other immigrants who have experienced racial abuse. Josepha Madigan would be calling for a month of silence in the Dáil.
But of course, the double standard backfires, it always does. The objective of the double standard is to protect the idea that minority groups are equal and just like the rest of us from those who would denounce them as criminal or a threat. And in doing so, it just ferments the idea that minority groups are a protected class who can do what they like and will be protected by the authorities. All we end up doing is exchanging an irrational prejudice for an entirely rational resentment. Rather than combatting the idea that these groups are different, we entrench it.
That is why black crimes matter. And white crimes. And Asian crimes, and Slavic crimes, and Latin crimes. If we are all equal, then our race should not matter in the coverage or public reaction to the things that we do.
But it does. Many people will have automatically decided, for example, that this article is racist before they read beyond the headline. While you are reading this last paragraph, they’re on their keyboards denouncing Gript as a racist publication. And that instinct, that refusal to think, more than anything, is building support for the politics and the resentments that decent people are trying to defeat.