Victim-blaming is as American as apple pie. One need look no further than William Ryan’s seminal book from 1971, Blaming the Victim, to understand just how deeply rooted this phenomenon has been in American society, and just how central victim-blaming is to maintaining power dynamics in this country.

Unfortunately, we’ve been reminded of this fact repeatedly over the past month via high-profile cases and global crises. Or rather, we’ve been reminded by the way in which a mostly white, mostly patriarchal middle class has responded to such events. Women have been blamed for being victims of domestic abuse and assault, black men have been blamed for being victims of police brutality and murder, and innocent Palestinian children have been blamed for being killed my missiles.

Contrary to those who dismiss victim-blaming as a liberal misinterpretation of the good old American boostrap-pulling ethic, this phenomenon has been in existence in this country for as long as there have been those in power seeking to maintain that status, buttressed by racist and sexist ideals.

This past week, we have seen high-profile women publicly attacked for their own abuse – itself a form of abuse. In the past 24 hours, it’s been the story of Janay Rice, the wife of NFL running back Ray Rice, who was knocked unconscious by her husband at a casino and dragged out of an elevator. Video of the incident has sparked outrage and a focus on domestic abuse, but it’s also trained patriarchal, rape-culture-focused eyes upon Janay, judging her. Wondering about her role. About how she could marry that man. About how she, she, she …

Last week, it was celebrity women who were the focus of scrutiny after a hacker revealed nude, explicit photos of countless known personalities. The hack, itself a form of assault, was compounded by those who violated these women’s privacy by viewing the images and then crowing, If you don’t want nude photos revealed, don’t take them, which is the digital equivalent of blaming a rape victim for being flirtatious or wearing a short skirt.

For the last month, African-American men have been the target of high-profile victim-blaming. Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager killed in Ferguson, Missouri, was vilified and blamed for his death at the hands of a white police officer, despite evidence he had his hands raised when he was shot six times. That racists in America ran to the officer’s defense, and have cast Brown as a “thug” – code if ever there was one – came as no surprise. However, even the New York Times regrettably called Brown “no angel” in a profile of the youth who was tragically gunned down.

He wasn’t the only black man to be blamed for his own death in recent weeks, backed by racist language. NBC fitness ‘guru’ Jeff Halevy, unprompted, blamed Kajieme Powell for his own death, calling him a thief and a thug. Powell is the knife-wielding man gunned down by St. Louis police, just after the death of Brown, who was by all accounts emotionally disturbed, not a criminal.

Over the past two months, Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza have been blamed for their own deaths by right-wing talking heads on Fox and American Jewish leaders. Over 500 children were killed during Israel’s Gaza operation, and yet the American Jewish Committee’s Executive Director, David Harris, blamed parents in Gaza for not keeping track of their children. The president of the New York Board of Rabbis took that one step further, stating that anyone who voted for Hamas, or their offspring, were no longer civilians and had a right to be killed (the logic, incidentally, used by al-Qaeda to kill innocent Americans).

All of this victim-blaming in America over the past two months — indeed, during the span of this country’s history — has been perpetrated by those who are afraid. It has been perpetrated by those in power who, often backed by bigotry, tremble at the thought of relinquishing a stranglehold on privilege.

They are sexist men afraid of losing their privileged place in society. They are racist white men and women afraid of losing their privileged place in society. They are bigoted Americans afraid of Palestinians gaining equal rights.

All the more reason for Americans, and for society as a whole, to focus on those abuses eliciting such victim-blaming, rather than on the victims themselves. For when we allow those doing the abusing to distract us from the root problems, we become complicit in that abuse.

-§-

What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

 


Bookmark and Share