“But What About Chicago?” is Not a Rebuttal

White denial, deflection and “black-on-black crime”

Tim Wise
7 min readJan 8, 2020


Photo used under Creative Commons license, Wikipedia Commons

It never fails. Whenever a story breaks about a police officer killing an unarmed Black person, or a white supremacist committing a vicious hate crime, you’ll hear it. Literally every time.

“But what about Chicago?

Those who offer this query will then mention something about how a dozen people were shot in the Windy City over the weekend — all of them Black — but because other Black folks shot them, we who talk about racism remain silent. Supposedly we only care about Black lives when taken by White folks or by agents of the state. Black-on-black violence, they proclaim, is irrelevant to us.

Even when such folks manage to keep Chicago out of their mouths, they remain firmly committed to pushing the larger black-on-black crime trope. The assumption is that so long as Black people kill more Black people than White people kill Black people, worrying about the latter is an unaffordable luxury at best. At worst, it’s a leftist disinformation campaign rooted in anti-white animus or hatred for cops.

But this default position — so instantaneous it is almost a reflex, like when the doctor taps you on the knee, and you kick — is marinated in incredible bad faith, a deceptive deployment of data, and the reliance on well-worn stereotypes about Black criminality that are false. Ultimately, its only function is to downplay the problem of White racism, or at least minimize the sympathy that attaches to Black folks when they do end up victimized by it, given all the horrible things they do to themselves.

First, the bad faith. Does anyone believe that when Donald Trump rants about Chicago being “more dangerous than Afghanistan,” it’s because he cares about the people who live there? Does one assume he could even point on a map to the Black neighborhoods experiencing the bulk of crime and violence in that city if his life depended on it? Has he ever ventured into that part of Chicago? Does he know anyone there?

Of course not. Donald Trump’s Chicago is limited to the building there with his name on it. You know, the one R. Kelly lives in, totally unironically. To Trump, dissing Chicago is about dissing Barack Obama, who is…



Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)