The right-wing exploits tendencies toward victim-blaming to advance its worldview. But are Americans wising up?
When Geraldo Rivera and other right-wing figures zeroed in on Trayvon Martin's hoodie as though it provided some sort of explanation or justification for the young man's tragic death, when right-wing websites began a smear campaign against the dead child's memory, they were playing right into a blame-the-victim script.
It's a script that is used almost always to reinforce white supremacist and patriarchal power structures. And it's a script that plays off a weakness of our Western worldview, our inclination to assign negative moral value to those who suffer--what psychologists call the "just world fallacy."
For many, it can be less disturbing, simpler to blame the victim than the system (and, by extension, ourselves) and no one exploits this weakness better than the right wing. Any time there's been a major backlash to a social movement, from civil rights to feminism to AIDS activism, the right has followed a similar victim-blaming script. The message gets injected into the culture: Black poverty is a symptom of pathology. Rape victims are asking for it. AIDS sufferers are being punished for their lifestyles. Those without health care should be left to die. And now, most horribly and tellingly, a dead young boy with skittles and iced tea in his hands had it coming.
The idea behind these smears is: it can't happen to you. It's not your problem. But racism, xenophobia, homophobia, patriarchy--these are our problems, problems the majority and the privileged perpetuate.