Why blame the victim for their own victimization?

A week ago today the verdict of the Zimmerman trial was announced and I have heard a lot of discussion and outrage over it. As a mother of a 13-year-old African-American son, I found myself discussing with him what I think he should do if he is in a similar situation. I as many mothers felt the pain of Sabrina Fulton and other mothers who have lost their children to gun violence. No one except for that mother will ever know how it feels to lose a child that she carried in her womb for 9 months and raised. I had a brother to die due to an illness five years ago and I watched and continue to watch the affect of the loss on my mother. As I listened throughout the week on the attack on Trayvon Martin’s character to characterize him as a thug, showing pictures of him with golds on his teeth, flipping the bird, smoking,etc. and to go even farther to state that he somehow caused his own death was shocking. Growing up a teenager/ adolescent is a very turbulent time. Children are dealing with peer pressure, self-esteem issues, self-image issues, trying to fit in with the in crowd, drugs, alcohol, sex, hormonal changes, etc. During those times you do things and say things that later in life that you wish you had not done during your stage of immaturity. I will be first to say that I have said and done all sorts of things that I now regret but cannot take back. But does that gives us the right to characterize, dehumanize and blame the victim? Blaming the victim, whether black, white, Asian,etc. has been a long-standing problem that continues today. A woman who is raped is often blamed and questioned if she may have worn something too sexy, said something to make the man think she wanted to have sex with him, had too much to drink and was unable to control her actions,etc. No woman asks or solicits to be raped and yet women are often blamed for their rapist actions. In undergrad, I along with my colleagues were introduced to,”Blaming the victim,” written by William Ryan. Ryan discusses that every important social problem,crime, mental illness, civil disorder, unemployment has been analyzed within the framework of the victim-blaming ideology. He also states that Blaming the victim can take its place in a long series of American ideologies that have rationalized cruelty and injustice. He presents the miseducated child in the slums school. He is blamed for his own midseducation, containing within himself the causes of his inability to read and write well. He doesn’t know about books and magazines and newspapers, they say. They say that if he talks at all-an unlikely event since slum parents doesn’t talk to their children-he certainly doesn’t talk correctly. In pursing this logic no one remembers to ask questions about the collapsing buildings and torn textbooks, the frightened, insensitive teachers, the relentless segregation, the insulting history books, etc. We are encouraged to confine our attention to the child and to dwell on all his alleged defects. This is blaming the victim. He also discussed pointing to the supposedly deviant Negro family as the “fundamental weakness of the Negro community” is another way of blaming the victim. “Negro family” has become a shorthand phrase with stereotyped connotations of matriarchy, fatherlessnes, and pervasive illegitimacy. Negro family is supposed to account for most of the racial evils in America. Insiders have the word, of course, and know that this phrase is supposed to evoke images of growing up with a long-absent or never present father (replaced from time to time perhaps by a series of transient lovers) and with bossy women ruling the roost, so that the children are irreparably damaged. This refers particularly to the poor, bewildered male children, whose psyches are fatally wounded and who are never, alas, to learn the trick of becoming upright, downright, forthright all-american boys. Is it any wonder the Negroes cannot achieve equality? From such families! And, again, by focusing our attention on the Negro family as the apparent cause of racial inequality, our eye is diverted. Racism, discrimination, segregation, and the powerless of the ghetto are subtly, but thoroughly, downgraded in importance. Ryan began writing this book in 1966 and revised it in 1976 during the Civil Rights period. Still today as evidenced with Trayvon Martin, we are seeing a victim being blamed. As Ryan states, “The stigma that marks the victim and accounts for his victimization is an acquired stigma, a stigma of social, rather that genetic, origin. But the stigma, the defect, the fatal difference though derived in the past from environmental forces is still located within the victim, inside his skin.” Blaming Trayvon Martin for his death will never solve the problem. We must identify problems such as Gun violence, a broken criminal justice system and Stand Your ground laws. Then identify those that are affected by it and take action to prevent injustice. Laws should not be created for one, but for all.

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