Michigan has been front and center regarding two separate stories in the media lately, and neither is good news. One is about somber statistics concerning the murder rate of African Americans around the state. The other covers the aftermath of weekend vandalism at a pair of northern Michigan ski resorts that resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in damage. At each story’s core is senseless and disturbing levels of violence.
Let’s get one thing straight, murder can never equate to material carnage. It just can’t. That’s apples and oranges. The taking of human life is reprehensible and deplorable. Still, those who have followed the ski resort scandal and murder rate reports are shaking their heads and asking, why?
A very few others are wondering if, at some level, they might be connected.
So what does the state of Michigan’s homicide rate share in common with the trashing of two of its posh winter vacation spots? Most say nothing. Yet they bear more in common than one might want to believe. First some facts and statistics.
According to a report from the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., in 2012, 90 percent of black persons killed in Michigan by handguns were men. This ranks Michigan third among states with the highest homicide rate in which the victims were black.
The other story: during recent stays at several northern Michigan resorts, students from six fraternities and sororities at a prestigious Michigan university, caused substantial damage to the properties where they were staying.
Something’s going on. Frankly, it’s been going on – white middle class college students conducting riotous, property-destroying rampages that masquerade as celebration. And black lower income men shooting each other. On the surface, these occurrences seem unrelated. But are they?
What happens when you step and start looking at the forest rather than the trees. A few things begin to emerge. Both groups are young. Both are engaged in destructive activities. Both, it would seem, move in social circles that apparently find it acceptable to participate in such action – at least in the moment.
How are the actions of young white college students getting so drunk they have no compunction about trashing vacation resorts connected to young black men who are so enraged (or fearful) that they try to assassinate each other?
What’s driving their state of mind?
There appear to be forces placed on seemingly reasonable college students that compel them to commit violence so unreasonably. Likewise there seem to be forces being applied to rational black men that coerce them to behave in irrational ways. Could they be connected? If so, what’s the missing link?
As mentioned, the destruction of life doesn’t compare to the destruction of property, yet something is leading both groups of young people to act out. Some deduce the pressures of school is a motivating force for such behavior in one case. Some assume the stresses of poverty in the other. Both are likely suspects but not the driving force.
There’s something else at play. Something tangible yet simultaneously illusive. It’s largely invisible and running in the background, woven into the very fabric of American culture. And, it somehow signifies to youth that violence as a means of expression is okay.
My take? It’s white privilege. It’s also internalized racial oppression. Both are two sides of the same coin and destructive result of the cultural driver known as white supremacy. Not to be confused with the more familiar white-hood-and-burning-cross euphemism.
White supremacy is a system (not an individualistic construct) that creates and perpetuates destruction based on the notion of racial hierarchy; in these cases, the laissez-faire destruction of property and the incomprehensible destruction of lives. They may be of a different scale and committed by people of different colors, but they are born of, and perpetuated, by the same system.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.