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Jona Olsson really hit the nail on the head when she wrote Detour-Spotting. It really is a comprehensive view of racism and the elements that make it next to impossible to prevent it in the United States. Ultimately, the problems meticulously cited in this essay are basically true, more or less, for not just the USA, but for most all of Europe, Australia, New Zealand...

I hope you're finding some worth and meaning in this series of thinkposts. Here's the one for today:

4) Blame The Victim

“It’s their fault they can’t get a job, or be managers.” or “We have advertised everywhere, there just aren’t any qualified people of color for this job.” or “If he only worked harder, applied himself more, or had a stronger work ethic.” or

“If she just felt better about herself...” or “Internalized racism is the real problem here.” or “She uses racism as an excuse, to divert us from her incompetence.” and “If he didn’t go looking for racism everywhere...” (As if racism is so hidden or difficult to uncover that people of color would have to search for it.)

Reality Check and Consequence

All “blame the victim” behaviors have two things in common. First, they evade the real problem: racism. Second, they delete from the picture the agents of racism, white people and institutions, who either intentionally perpetuate or unintentionally collude with racism. (Similar to agent deletion in discussions of rape. Most statements refer to a woman being raped, focus on her clothing or behavior at the time of the rape and delete the male rapist from the picture.) As long as the focus remains on people of color we can minimize or dismiss their reactions, and never have to look directly at racism and our own responsibility or collusion.


Sexism and racism are closely related and connecting them, the way Ms. Olsson does here, makes that point very easy to see. We invariably hear about how a rape victim is quizzed about what she wore, how that might have differed from what she regularly wears, her drinking, smoking or drug usage during the time in question and anything she might have said or done to create an atmosphere that made her need to be raped.

Think about that.

The "she was asking for it" defense puts the choice to rape her by the perpetrator on the back burner. That person isn't responsible, and none of this would have happened if the hem of her skirt were three inches lower, or her jeans weren't so tight or if she wore a bra.

That's dead wrong.

But it's a way of protecting the attacker, of shielding what he did, of preventing him from being viewed for the decision to physically force his victim into that heinous situation.

And this method of ignoring racism does the very same thing. It's a very common response to simply blame the victim for their inability to achieve, for not being prepared, for being the reason they failed.

If we can see that blaming a rape victim for her attack is nonsense, and we should, no matter what she wore, who she was, what her job was, or what her stature in life was, or any of the elements that were about her at the moment of the assault, then all of these other elements we are discussing when it comes to racism must also be examined as the hollow excuses they are.

Now, to dig a bit deeper here, this is one of those circumstances where proponents of this concept might consider themselves "justified," as qualifications for jobs do require certain skills. Let's be honest, though. A lot of the job requirements are arbitrary and are designed to make sure that applicants who either can't prove or don't have the skills listed won't even send a resume. And that's just another method of assuring that a minority job seeker won't get that position. They won't even apply.

But, for the sake of argument, let's say that all of the skills listed as requisite are actually needed. Acquiring the skills to accomplish the task means you need training. And that training may not be readily available to you if you weren't accepted to the school that could have provided it, if you weren't able to afford to attend that school, if you weren't aware that a particular school could have provided your training, if you didn't know such a school existed.

So, even in a case where you might claim that an applicant wasn't suitable for the job, the root still likely comes back to racism in some form. You see how complex and challenging discussing racism can be? This isn't always an obvious or a straightforward issue, but that doesn't mean it's not the root element that created the problem. This is why and how we require a discussion of race in America. The subtlety of racism can be very easily overlooked in some cases. But the results are anything but subtle.

We have to stop blaming the victims.

Previous thinkposts in this series:

1. Day One - I'm Colorblind
2. Day Two - Bootstrap Theory
3. Day Three - Reverse Racism

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