Politics of Victimization

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THE MEDIA & THE BLACK COMMUNITY

BY C.Stone Brown

Malcolm X once said that the mass media are able to make the victim appear to
be the perpetrator and the perpetrator the victim. Malcolm X may have been
one of the first black political scientist to observe this media dynamic.
Although Malcolm X observed this phenomenon in the 1960s, flip flopping the
perpetrator/victim axis was occurring long before the advent of the mass
media.
The perception of African-Americans as either victim or perpetrator, has far
reaching political implications. Simply observe the media supported,
economically created “angry white male.” The legitimacy of the “angry white
male” rests with the perception of him being a victim or victimizer. With the
passage of California initiative 209, voters gave the ‘angry white male’
legitimacy.

The media, similar to other for-profit American institutions, operates
from an invisible socio/economic model of approved behavior. When words like
‘deep seated’ ‘ingrained’ or ‘systemic’ are used to discuss institutional
racism, it means that those who engage in racism are subconsciously operating
from an invisible socio/economic model. A case in point is the media’s
socio/economic model for referring to black African nations. When you break
the socio/economic model in half, the social side reveals black African
nations being portrayed as chaotic and weak, from this posture they are
perceived as paternalistically dependent on the West. On the economic side,
African nations are portrayed as destitute, lacking even in basic life
sustaining natural resources. This is the model from which the media reports
on the activities of African nations. This model, like so many others,
functions as a propaganda tool, constructed with the political interest of
the propagandist in mind.

A model has also been employed in how the media reports on the
victimization of African-American people. The rule is to displace blame away
from racism, and blame the victim for their condition. According to the book
“The End Of Racism” by Dinesh D’ Souza, racism no longer exists. In fact, it
never really did exist as the book asserts: “American slavery..bore no
necessary link to racism,” and that segregation was created by southern
whites “to protect blacks.” He also noted that “a natural hierarchy of racial
abilities would predict and fully account for” the lower economic status of
African-Americans. With the Atlanta Constitution and Newsweek giving this
book favorable reviews, African-Americans cannot afford to dismiss the
idiotic conclusions of this book. The “The End Of Racism” is the media’s
recipe book for turning African-Americans into the victimizer, rather than
the victim of official institutional racism. If this books’ assertions are
correct, then every African-American who claims to be a victim of racism is
simply making illegitimate claims, in effect as Malcolm observed, the victim
becomes the perpetrator.

MODEL VICTIM

To know and understand a particular culture, is to observe the culture’s
language, myths and traditions. America has many age-old adages that give us
insight into its past. The adage “passing the buck” gives us some insight
into America’s past and present history. This adage means to displace blame
away from the source, and place it on something or someone else. What does
this adage tell us about America’s past and present history? According to
Websters New Collegiate Dictionary the definition of a “buck” is a horse. But
during colonial times, it was also a word used to describe enslaved black
men. The origins of the connection between horses and slaves can be traced to
the infamous slave owner William Lynch. Lynch wrote a book on “slave breaking
and breeding process.” Lynch stated, “The breaking and breeding process is
the same for both the horse and the nigger. Only slightly in varying
degrees.” Indeed, so when we decode the adage “passing the buck” in the
context of American history, we are talking about “passing” blame on “buck”
ie…black men or black people.

Moreover, the word guilt, is a synonym for the word blame, because often
those who have inner-guilt, can find relief in ‘blaming’ others. This is why
people who are consumed with inner guilt are told by psychologist to “talk
out their feelings” since unloading the guilt can provide temporary relief.
Take for example Susan Smith who murdered her children, but unsuccessfully
tried to “pass the buck” on a fictitious black man. Although Susan Smith was
an individual, guilt can also be found in a collective society, and where
guilt is prevalent, the collective must find an outlet of relief. In America,
guilt relief is spelled AFRICAN-AMERICAN.

The propensity to blame the victim(African-Americans) has become a
sociological defense mechanism that some whites have employed as therapy from
the guilt of racism. The role of the mainstream media is to function as the
pharmacist, dispensing relief in the form of racist propaganda models. The
victim model that the media operates from, only mirrors the culture’s past
and present history. History is not a static study, it is dynamic; so the
present can never be fully separated from the past. In order to understand
the politics of victimization, one must look for the origins of blaming the
victim.

What has to be one of the first recorded models of African-Americans being
obvious victim of racism, yet being treated as the perpetrator was during the
1880s at the West Point military academy. James Webster Smith, the first
black cadet in the history of West Point was severely beaten, gagged, bound
and ears slit by white class mates. Since the attack occurred in a dark room,
Smith was not able to identify his assailants, and the white cadets denied
any involvement. In fact, the white cadets claimed Smith gagged, assaulted
and slit his own ears. This wasn’t the only incident at West Point in the
1800s. Another involved West Point cadet, Johnson Chestnut Whitaker. Whitaker
was asleep in his room when three masked men stormed in and severely beat
him. An investigation was conducted which turned up no suspects. Since none
of the white cadets confessed to the crime, school officials concluded that
Whitaker faked the attack, and his punishment was expulsion from the academy.

DISPENSING GUILT RELIEF

When West Point cadets Smith and Whitaker were blamed for assaulting
themselves, this was simply a strategy for the true perpetrators to elude
justice. However, as time passed, blaming the victim has become more than
simply a method of avoiding justice. These documented cases of blaming blacks
for assaulting themselves, have now become a model of operation for the mass
media. Although these West Point incidents happened during the 1800s, they
are very relevant today. In the same manner that incidents in our early childhood affect our adulthood, this can also be said for the collective history of a nation.
Ironically, it is during the stages of early childhood that Americans are
indoctrinated to the concept of blaming the victim.

The American educational system has standardized the teaching of American
slavery to appease the present day descendants of former slave traders. This
teaching of slavery has been tailored, to meet the psychological needs of the
majority population. Justification for American slavery has been
ideologically protected by orthodoxy scholars who point out that slavery
already existed in Africa. And since African chiefs sold other blacks into
slavery, Africans themselves are as guilty-if not more, for the trade.
Although very short sighted, this is a very common teaching on the role that
Europeans played in the slave trade, and the complicity of Africans.

The reason African-Americans have Black history month is to resurrect the
history that Europeans suppressed from African people. This suppression of
history is still taking place and it has applied itself in the teachings of
the American slave trade. European slave traders employed multiple strategies
to obtain labor from the continent of Africa. The number one method was crude
kidnapping, simply raiding unsuspecting African villages with guns and
knives.

Another method that seems to get the most advancement is African
chiefs who sold their own brothers and sisters into slavery. It is true that
African chiefs did sell their own brothers and sisters. However, the people
who advance this truth, leave out a very important point-that slavery wasn’t
a monolithic institution, how it functions in every society is determined by
how that society dignifies human life.

This is true when you study the slave cultures of Africa and Europe.
Slavery in Africa wasn’t a dehumanizing form of slavery, slaves were
servants, often POW’s from tribal conflicts. When Europeans solicited the purchase of
slaves from the African chiefs, it was out ignorance that the chiefs didn’t know
what ‘slavery’ meant in the context of the newly created Euro-American
empire.

In addition, European slave traders befriended African chiefs with the
ulterior motive to induce alcohol(rum) addiction. Once the chiefs were
addicted, rum became bartered for slaves. Indeed, many Africans came to
America under the guise of ‘T.U.I’, traded-under-the-influence.
Just as West Point Cadet, James Webster Smith was blamed for cutting his
own ears, Africans are blamed for the slave trade. This standardized teaching
of American slavery is a ‘textbook’ example of “blaming the victim,” by
attempting to make Africans accomplice in their own enslavement.

INTELLECTUAL SEGREGATION

Racism similar to segregation can exist in many forms. We all know from
the Texaco and Avis revelations that racists no longer live as vampires, they
walk among us during the day. They are our ‘hoodless’ managers, newspaper
editors, teachers and board members. No more racist speeches in dark grassy
fields, illuminated by burning crosses. These neo-racist can operate from a cherry oak desk, wearing designer suits. Indeed, methods of segregation have become as polished as the‘hoodless’ corporate manger.

In many cities across this nation, the separation between the Black
community and the white community was often divided by railroad tracks. These
are the remnants that remain from the period of official American
segregation. In today’s world, segregation is executed in a very
sophisticated manner, often it is subconsciously planted in our thoughts. The
print media is very clever in how it uses words to divide, fragment and alter
our perception of reality. For instance, the print media uses language to
segregate communities, baiting unsuspecting readers with words and phrases
such as ‘third world,’ ‘hood,’ ‘crime’,‘black-on-black crime’ and ‘inner
city.’ Of course these words seem unbiased and appropriate when used,
however, they have an intended purpose to alienate, by segregating the social
problems these words are associated with. The perception becomes, if it’s in
the ‘hood‘ or its black-on-black’ crime’ it’s their problem.

Considering that two West Point cadets supposedly assaulted themselves,
they qualify as two of the first ‘black-on-black’ criminals, since they were
accused of assaulting-self. For this reason, the phrase ‘black-on-black’
crime should get special attention.

The media’s use of the phrase “black-on-black” crime is the 90’s antithesis
to the infamous 60’s ‘whites only’ water fountain. It immediately segregates
the condition as one that “blacks only” should be concerned with. This places
the blame of “black-on-black” criminality, not where it should go-with the
custodians of America’s ghetto politics, but back on the victims of ghetto
policies.

With the media’s inordinate attention to the crimes of blacks, they are
tacitly declaring to America that blacks are pathologically prone to
genocidal behavior.

Contrary to public perception, history shows that “black-on-black” crime is a
relatively new phenomenon-in fact, is predated by the unacknowledged
‘white-on-white’ criminality. The majority of homicides that occur today are
related to poverty, and this was also true of the homicide rate between 1931
and 1934 when the rates were comparable to the rates in the 1990s. The
homicide rate peaked in 1933 at 9.7 per 100,000 residents, which was higher
than in 1993 when the rate was 9.5 per 100,000 residents. The 1930’s homicide
rate can be explained by the economic conditions of that period, which were
very bleak after the stock market crash in 1929. This only proves that
poverty often breeds homicides, regardless of race. No stranger to poverty,
African-Americans were already living impoverished before and after the stock
market crash. So the homicide rate in 1933 can be attributed to the
competition over resources in the white community.

These are just a few examples of how the media flip-flops the
victim/perpetrator axis as Malcolm X observed 30 years ago, but also how it
originated before the advent of the mass media. This reading should make us
cognizant that victimization is political, and there are consequences to be
being perceived as a victim or victimizer as the assault on affirmative
action revealed. If our minds are to be instruments of the media agenda,
then we need to carefully dissect what tune is being played to us. This means
holding the print and electronic media accountable for how it portrays and
reports on the victimization of African-American people.

Author: C.Stone Brown
email: mrb92@aol.com
copyright (c) 1996

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