Blaming the Victim
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The classic work that refutes the lies we tell ourselves about race, poverty and the poorHere are three myths about poverty in America:– Minority children perform poorly in school because they are “culturally deprived.”– African-Americans are handicapped by a family structure that is typically unstable and matriarchal. – Poor people suffer from bad health because of ignorance and lack of interest in proper health care. Blaming the Victim was the first book to identify these truisms as part of the system of denial that even the best-intentioned Americans have constructed around the unpalatable realities of race and class. Originally published in 1970, William Ryan's groundbreaking and exhaustively researched work challenges both liberal and conservative assumptions, serving up a devastating critique of the mindset that causes us to blame the poor for their poverty and the powerless for their powerlessness. More than twenty years later, it is even more meaningful for its diagnosis of the psychic underpinnings of racial and social injustice.
But all agree on the prevalence of promiscuity, particularly premarital promiscuity. The second component of the ideology is the belief that poor girls are not at all concerned about the consequences of sexual activity, only the immediate pleasure it brings. Though perhaps dimly aware of the mechanics of reproduction, they pay little heed to the future and are blithely careless about contraception. (A hasty postscript is usually added: that this is characteristic of their “culture” rather than
military-industrial complex is, in this sense, a party which exercises great power in American life. Class, status and party are, of course, highly correlated but they are by no means identical. Ethnic and racial minorities, for example, rarely achieve a status position commensurate with their class ranking. Political power, particularly at a local level, can be and has been accumulated and exercised by groups of relatively low status and economic class. In American cities, as one example, the
call a criminal as a victim at all. In what way is the mugger, the purse-snatcher, the thug who beats up our neighbor in Central Park, a victim? How can the processes of criminal justice, in any sense, be defined as Blaming the Victim? The problem here, even more so than in the case of other kinds of social problems, is in the nature of the facts we are talking about and the nature of public knowledge about those facts. The average, literate, educated citizen (provided he has never been arrested
kind is usually left alone. III As I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, my wife, and I, and four of our friends turned out to be the kind that get arrested; the slum landlords we were protesting against were the kind that get left alone. In New Haven, at that time—and still today as I write—slum landlords had their property inspected by city agents, got notices of violation, got warnings, and got rich, but hardly ever got arrested. The law is very clear but the law is not enforced;
psychiatrists, a vision of neighborhood mental health centers; and so forth. Each one views the center as an outpost of a centralized agency or—at the very perimeter of radical thinking—as an uneasy alliance of outposts of several centralized agencies, operating under one roof and depending prayerfully on the emergence of huge quantities of good will to ensure coordination. On the question of citizen participation there is far less agreement than on decentralization. This problem has been made