a police officer in blue uniform holding a black belt

Is There a Better Way to Think About Racial Discrimination?

In this post, Miron Clay-Gilmore examines the findings of the Ontario Human Rights Commission Report (published in August 2020)[1] and argues that Black Male Studies offers us a better way to understand the pattern of police violence that disproportionately affects Black communities.

In 2020, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), a Canadian government agency tasked to promote and advance human rights in Ontario, reported that Black people “bear a disproportionate burden of law enforcement” and are more likely than others to be “arrested, charged, over-charged, struck, shot or killed by Toronto Police.” This claim shouldn’t be surprising. It is inconvenient but not uncommon to hear that police forces in the West tend to disproportionately target Black people. What the OHRC report does is confirm this assertion using quantitative data gathered from the Toronto Police Service (TPS) from 2013 to 2017.

The purpose of the OHRC report was to inquire into patterns of racial profiling and discrimination of Black persons by the TPS to make better policy recommendations that addresses police abuses. The OHRC also endeavored to collect qualitative and ethnographic data in order to further help in building trust between the police and Black communities. While the findings are significant, the way the report interprets the function and effects of police violence on Black communities in Toronto commits some rather hasty generalizations. Black Male Studies scholars have pointed out that the pattern of police killings and other forms of state-sanctioned violence can be thought of not in terms of some general link between Blackness and police violence but more specifically in terms of misandric patterns of racial discrimination that leads to what is called ‘gendercide’ (Curry, 2018; Curry, 2021; Del Zotto, 2004). The targeting of Blacks by police has a sex-specificity and is part of a broader matrix of patriarchy that systemically aims at the removal of Black males from civil society. These are claims that Black Male Studies scholars have sought to substantiate in their work.

These sex-specific dynamics are understood as enduring features of Western social organization which play a systematic role in replicating present social hierarchies. The very rise and development of Western social organization is built on social and cultural constructs that give legitimacy to the status of the “superior” races and at the same time condemn those deemed lesser. At the same time, the sex-specific basis of this patriarchal society seems to aim toward the decimation of Blacks in a way that affects the character of a given population.

In George Floyd Jr as a Philosophical Problem (2021), Professor Tommy Curry argues that Mr. George Floyd’s murder (and other Black men killed by the police) is the “product of misandric social processes used to discipline, debase, and in many cases eliminate Black males from American society” (p.2). Not only are the most negative stigmas whites have against Black people—their alleged violence, promiscuity, and lack of intelligence— “based on their beliefs about Black males”, but these beliefs form the very basis of Western social and cultural order. One way of unpacking this is in terms of the ‘subordinate male target hypothesis’ which characterizes the relationship Black men have to patriarchy as ‘outgroup’ males that threaten the dominant group and social order and sets them up as targets. As Curry explains,

Social dominance theorists argue that outgroup men are the primary targets of arbitrary set discrimination, while women of subordinate and dominant classes are primarily victims of patriarchal oppression.  In other words, the patriarchal violence against women is paternalistic and coercive, not lethal, and exterminatory.

Curry, p. 2

With this, it is easier to see how the misandric patterns of violence within racist capitalist patriarchal societies have remained stable in their targeting of Black males that “mirror the trends found in ethnic conflicts, wars, and genocides” since the 20th century (Jones, 2000; Curry, 2021, p. 3).

A link is often made between Blackness and death by police in academic circles, especially those influenced by intersectionality. These scholars tie sexual vulnerability with the female body and infer that those bodies with multiply subordinate identities will be more oppressed than those with raced and sexed as male. But the evidence is clear that Black males have a unique relationship to state violence and death by police in many Western societies. As Curry observes, “the overwhelming number of cases where police escalate to lethal violence resulting in death, and their likelihood to escalate are predicated on race and maleness, not race or Blackness alone” (Curry, pp. 3-4).

One of the reports cited by the OHRC substantiate this sex-specific pattern within the TPS. The report is titled Use of Force by the Toronto Police Service (2020). In Part C, ‘The impact of sex’, the authors show us evidence of the patterns that is regarded by Black Male Studies scholars as gendercide. Noting an overrepresentation of Black males in the data collected on the TPS Special Investigations Unit (SIU), they note that “Black males have, by far, the highest SIU investigation rates… Female SIU investigation rates are much lower than the rates for men” (Worley, et. al. p. 53). This pattern is consistent throughout the report. For instance, Black males had by far the highest reports of sexual assault cases in one segment of the data reviewed on sexual assault cases (p. 48). They also were the vast majority of those killed by police. As the authors write,

The data suggest that Black males are particularly over-represented in police use of force cases… From 2000 to 2006, Black males were involved in 34.9% of all SIU use of force cases, even though they represented only 3.8% of Toronto’s population. In other words, Black males were 9.2 times more likely to be involved in a SIU use of force investigation than their presence in the general population would predict. Similarly, from 2013 to 2017, Black males were involved in 28.8% of all SIU use of force investigations, even though they represented just 4% of the population. In other words, during this period, Black males were 7.2 times more likely to appear in a SIU use of force investigation than their presence in the general population would predict.

Worley, et. al. p. 53

While it is useful for documenting trends of police violence and harassment in Black communities in Toronto, the results from the research conducted by the OHRC do not entail the usual kinds of thinking we often hear about race-based forms of discrimination. If there is to be a successful intervention with policies that facilitate better relationships between TPS and Black communities in Toronto, we must engage with the sex-specific ways this kind of violence actualizes and targets these communities. We need an explanatory framework that better captures the actual data reported. For Curry,

The effect of Black male death is cumulative. The absence and removal of Black males organize civil societies and produces an underclass of Black males that fall below many of the women in the very same society economically, politically, and socially… The targeting of Black men is merely one example of how gender is an apparatus of racial propagation for whites but one of racial diminishment and disposability for Blacks.

Curry, p. 4

Influenced by racist social science and criminology, contemporary scholars either go about relying on generalized intuitions about the racial discrimination Black people face or imposing popular intersectional ideas in interpreting police abuses. These interpretive frames either say nothing about Black males or argue that they are dangerous to women and children in their community because of their patriarchal aspirations arising from their manhood (Curry, 2021; Curry, 2021).

These views can be corrected with an empirically sensitive methodology, arguing for a more nuanced position that the targeting and elimination of Black males from civil society is in fact a gendercidal function of Western capitalist, racist, patriarchal societies. Pursuing this line of thinking isn’t merely an academic matter, but something that matters for the Black community living in these societies.


Miron Clay-Gilmore is a husband, father, and PhD Candidate in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests include Black Male Studies, Anti-Colonial Philosophy, Black Aesthetics and Black Nationalism.

[1] Findings from the Commission can be found here: https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/news_centre/new-ohrc-report-confirms-black-people-disproportionately-arrested-charged-subjected-use-force

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