My latest reading of Andrew Hacker’s Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal focused on crime. Hacker states that “one out of every five black men will spend some part of his life behind bars” (page 195). That is not a majority of African-American men, but it is still a significant amount. And this 2013 article is about a report that argues that the number could become one in three, if current incarceration trends continue.
Why is this the case, according to Hacker? For one, there is the factor of poverty. Granted, most African-Americans are not in poverty, as most African-American men are not in prison. But about a fourth of African-Americans are in poverty, and that is a significant amount. When people are poor and have few options, one path that they may choose is crime.
Second, Hacker contends that there are African-American men who are resentful of African-American women, and that this could account for a number of black-on-black rapes. More than once in this book, Hacker cites statistics that indicate that African-American women on average do better than African-American men economically, professionally, and academically, and Hacker’s proposed reason for this is that white society believes that African-American women are better at gelling with white ways of doing things: they are supposedly more accommodating, they are more likely to sit down and be quiet in the classroom, etc. Hacker states on page 192 that this “can create social divisions and stir sexual tensions”, and that “Men have always sought to bring down women whose ambitions or achievements threaten male esteem.”
Third, African-American men who commit crimes are likely to commit those crimes with visibility, increasing the likelihood that they will get caught. Rather than breaking into a house in the suburbs, for example, they would try to rob someone on the street. And, fourth, much of the criminal justice system is white. Hacker asks how a white person would feel if he drove into a black neighborhood and accidentally hit an African-American child, and the only people in the courtroom who are white are he and his lawyer. Wouldn’t the defendant feel as if the system were biased against him, in that case? Well, that’s how a number of African-Americans feel.
Of course, conservatives can come back with answers to this: that there are many poor people who don’t commit crimes, and many rich people who do, and that the African-American crime and incarceration rate in the 1930’s was much lower than it is today. Hacker acknowledges all of this, even if he may not believe that it thoroughly undermines his overall argument and observations.