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Tookie Was Right. They Want You to Blame Yourself

Tookie Was Right. They Want You to Blame Yourself

by Susan Rosenthal

The labor movement has a slogan, An Injury to One is an Injury to All. Capitalism has a different slogan, It’s All Your Fault. Blaming the victim protects the system. Self-blame (also called “self-hate” and “internalized oppression”) serves the same purpose.

In Blue Rage, Black Redemption, Tookie Williams explains that he became a brutal gang leader because of the self-hatred that flows from racist stereotypes of Black men. He began to recover his humanity when he realized that his gang activities were terrorizing other Black people and providing justification for a racist injustice system. Tookie spent the rest of his life appealing to youngsters to stay out of gangs and stand together as advocates and champions for their people.

Injured workers experience a huge amount of victim-blaming. One injured worker told me that she hates it when people ask her what she’s doing. She feels ashamed to admit that she’s off work on disability. She thinks that being unable to work makes her a loser. She doesn’t see her employer as a loser for creating unsafe working conditions. She blames herself, even though she knows the injury was not her fault.

During the1960s and 1970s, injured workers organized to fight for benefits, treatment, and health and safety legislation. The shame of being injured gave way to anger at the criminal negligence of employers and the doctors and politicians who back them. In the same way, the civil rights movement transformed the shame of racial oppression into Black Pride, and the gay liberation movement transformed the shame of homosexuality into Gay Pride. We must return to these principles.

An injury to one is an injury to all. When any of us is harmed, we all pay the price. Blaming ourselves for being unemployed, overworked, poor, sick, injured or needy, allows the system to keep on oppressing us.

The State of California didn’t execute Tookie in spite of his message of hope, but because of it. The greatest fear of all rulers is that ordinary people will stop blaming themselves and stand together against their common oppressors.

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