Black Murder

Imagine the devastating effect, even on the mass of young black men who successfully resist the temptation to violence, of Gwen Guthrie's song Ain't Nothin' Coin' On But The Rent:

Boy, nothing in life is free / That's why I'm asking you what can you do for me / I've got responsibility / So I'm lookin' for a man who's got some money in his hand . . . / I've got lots of love to give, but I will have to avoid you if you're unemployed . . . /You've got to have something, if you want to be with me . . . / Life's too serious, love's too mysterious, a black girl like me needs security . . . / We're only wasting time if your pockets are empty . . . / No romance with no finance.

Perhaps this moves some young men in the direction of employment ("You've got to have a J-O-B if you want to be with me"), but for many—for whom any employment possible in practical terms would clearly be insufficient to satisfy the woman in the song—the song can be only a taunt that makes crime alluring. It is astonishing that more of the deprived and unemployable do not turn to violent crime. I would.

For many it is received wisdom that America's catastrophically high murder rate is explicable in terms of a tradition of violence inherent in American culture. This belief persists despite the fact that such an "American...

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