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William Ryan  BLAMING THE VICTIM, (Vintage Books, 1976)  

From Subject
gmklass@ilstu.edu (Gary Klass) REVIEW: William Ryan, BLAMING THE VICTIM (Klass)
"Keenan Jakarta Saulter" <kjsault@ilstu.edu> Review:Blaming the Victim (Saulter)
"andrea kim addy" <akaddy@ilstu.edu> review:BLAMING THE VICTIM(addy)
"jANELLE GORDON" <jlgord@ilstu.edu> Review of BLAMING THE VICTIM (Gordon)
"blair nelson" <bhnelso@ilstu.edu> Review:BLAMING THE VICTIM (Nelson)
chris <cgstroh@ilstu.edu> Ryan's Blaming the Victim

Date: Sat, 11 Feb 1995 14:01:47 -0600 
From: gmklass@ilstu.edu (Gary Klass)
Subject: REVIEW: William Ryan, BLAMING THE VICTIM (Klass) 

Review of William Ryan's BLAMING THE VICTIM, rev. ed. (Vintage Books, 1976)

Reviewed by: Gary Klass, Illinois State University

In the Introduction to the 1976 edition, Ryan notes that this was a book "fixed in time". Fixed in a time when nothing was fixed. He says that he began writing in Spring of 1966; the book was first published in 1970, revised in 1976. Some of what he wrote with such certitude in 1970 and 1976 wears today like a tie-dyed shirt and love beads. Much else is timeless. He attacked liberalism from the new left (then, "liberal" was a word detested by the left), with a clarity, conviction and style the eludes the left today. And the rhetorical device Ryan created still retains its power and insight -- most frequently and effectively today in public discourse over rape, a subject, I was surprised, that Ryan did not address at all in this book. Today his agenda would be just to the right of liberal, closer to William Julius Wilson than any of the authors on our reading list.

Ryan believed in integration, an idea that no longer retains its power and insight and that was falling into disfavor as he wrote. Integration is the corner-stone of blaming the victim analysis: white and black, rich and poor share the same values and interests, the same culture, the same morality; they want the same things. The only thing that separates them is power and money. He says:

Specific differences that might be identified as signs of separate cultural identity are relatively insignificant within the general unity of American life; they are the cultural commas and semi-colons in the paragraphs and pages of American life.

Who would say this today? D'Souza.

Ryan was one of the first to criticize the Moynihan Report and bears much of the blame or credit for the reception it received. I think Ryan was unfair -- Moynihan was much less a victim-blamer than Ryan made him out to be. His critique of the language (but not the findings) of the Coleman Report was better reasoned.

Ryan draws a very subtle distinction between his and Moynihan's interpretation of what was happening to the Black family, why it was happening, and what could be done about it -- a distinction the belies his very sharp rhetoric. Moynihan is a victim-blamer, we are told, because he believed that the black family was falling apart when it really wasn't and that non-traditional families foster social dysfunction. Moreover, Moynihan did not sufficiently blame racism for whatever differences there are between black and white families, nor did he realize money and an end to racial discrimination are the solution.

Today, few could get away with Ryan's claim (in the 1976 Appendix) that: "Every interpretation, every prediction, every insinuation that Moynihan drew from his data was wrong in virtually every detail." (p. 312). Something was seriously wrong in the black family, and Ryan now bears the blame for being one of those who closed the nation's eyes a catastrophe. Today, Moynihan rightfuly claims some vindication, if not nearly as much as he claims for himself.

That Moynihan did not sufficiently blame racism is hard to establish: the most oft-quoted paragraph of the Report begins, "Three centuries of injustice have brought about...". It ignores that Moynihan was advocating a "Call to National Action" to address the problems of racial inequality that would remain after the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts enacted. And Moynihan's solution to the problems that Ryan said didn't exist was hardly different from the solution Ryan nevertheless proffered: money and jobs. Few in American politics have done more than Moynihan to advance much the social policy agenda Ryan recommended throughout his book: a negative income tax, family allowances, universal health insurance, and the kind of universal family policies found in Europe.

Nowhere in Moynihan's agenda do we see the kind of social-work bureaucracy solutions to poverty that Ryan says are typical of the victim-blamer.

And many other of the social policy recommendations Ryan offered would hardly find favor with the left today: school vouchers (oh yes, see page 263), tieing teacher's salaries to students' scores on standardized achievement tests, getting rid "of seven or eight doughy layers of administrative bureaucracy" in the public schools (William Bennet never said it better), and jobs, not job training. He said much that would drive advocates of bilingual education and multiculturalism up a wall. That his ideas seem reactionary today says much about what has happened to the American left, its allegiance is now with those Ryan called the "Giving Enemy", the human service workers, tenured professors and their bureaucratic interests.

The conservative victim-blamer ascribes deviant behavior to a culture of poverty and prescribes individual initiative, moral reform and family values. The liberal victim-blamers Ryan critiqued differ only in that they don't blame the victims for their culture of poverty. Their prescription is just a little more kinder and gentler: re-education and more tolerance of deviant behavior.

Where would Ryan place the liberals of today? It is a surprisingly small step from blaming the victim to blaming victimization. Notions about culture that his method would have decried as racist in 1970 -- African-Americans have trouble with the written word because they come from "an oral culture", Native Americans have a different time-orientation, women's thought processes are not geared to competition -- are now more prevalent on the left end of the political spectrum. The difference, of course, is that these cultural differences are now thought of as authentic expressions of culture rather than deviations from the norm, and the dominant culture values rather than the subordinate are deemed dysfunctional. But the remedies are much the same: segregation, separate standards, values education and more bureaucracy (albeit a bureaucracy more attuned to the victim's cultural ethos). The fault, the thing to be corrected, still lies in the victim, in the victim's lack of self-esteem, even if the fault is a product of three centuries of injustice.

Conservatives, it has been said, are those who honor dead liberals. The corollary is that to stay progressive one must constantly modify one's convictions. Admittedly there is much in BLAMING THE VICTIM that still strikes a chord with the radical left, but it may not be long before this book is regarded as a conservative manifesto (not to wish Mr. Ryan anything but a long life).

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Date: Fri, 10 Feb 1995 15:53:31 -0600 
From: "Keenan Jakarta Saulter" <kjsault@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review:Blaming the Victim (Saulter) 

Review of Blaming the Victim- William Ryan

Blaming the Victim is a very interesting and thought provoking concept, that William Ryan explains throughout this book. Ryan claims that victim blaming is a central idea used, throughout the American Society when examining social problems. I think one of Ryan's central idea is that American people blame victims in this country, far more often than they are aware of. Ryan attacks a multitude of social problems from welfare, education, family structure, unwed mothers, poverty, injustice, riots, and ect...

Ryan begins with a section on the general idea of victim blaming. He address the idea of who does it, why they do it, and how it might benefit them. "The generic process of Blaming the Victim is applied to almost every American problem. The miserable health care of the poor is explained away on the grounds that the victim has poor motivation and lacks healthy information." Ryan gives many examples to support his assertions throughout his work, he makes it very hard to even argue against his opinion. Ryan maintains that the people who partake in victim blaming rarely mean any harm by it, Ryan also asserts that the victim blamers benefit from the action wheather they know it or not, "it is important to realize that Blaming the Victim is not a process of intentional distortion although is does serve the class interests of those who practice it. And it has a rich ancestry in American thought about social problems and how to deal with them."

Ryan focusses on the fact that there are two ways to look at every problem. The first way to look at problems is the way that the upper and middle think that all the problems that poor people have in this country are caused because of themselves. The other prospective the blaming the victim idea suggest that the upper and middle class are responsible for some of the problems that are experieced by this class of people. Upper and middle class valus might hold the value that everyone can pull himself up by his boot straps. Ryan would suggest that this idea works for the upper and middle class, but everytime someone from the lower class tries this his boot straps are cut off. And he must continually start over, and after a while he gets sick of this process, and must find another way to satisfy his needs. This idea is important when we look at people from backgrounds that differ from our own. Often times we look at these people a base our opinions on their situations, on our own personal experiences and beliefs. I feel that some people have a hard time realizing that people are different, and they expect people to conform to their way of thinking or doing things. There is a certain group of middle class values Ryan asserts that, "we have been comfortable for years with the 'Negro problem,' a term that clearly implies that the existence of Negroes is somehow a problematic fact. Ebony Magazine turned the tables recently and renamed the phenomenon as 'The White Problem in America,' which may be a good deal more accurate." This shows that there are two ways to look at anyone problem.

Ryan also focusses on the idea of social problems and who and what is a social problem. Ryan asks the question, "what is a social problem?" He claims this question may seem very logical until one asks, "What human problem is not a social problem?' Since any problem in which people are involved is social, why do we reserve the label for some problems in which people are involved and withhold it from others?" He asks why is crime a social problem when university administration isn't? I think that as a college student university administration ranks much higher on my list of problems that I encounter everyday. Ryan claims we must ask ourselves, "to whom are social problems a problem?" He claims that those who have the problem are those who are on the outside looking in at what has been defined as the problem. "Negroes are a problem to racist whites, welfare is a problem to stingy taxpayers, delinquency is a problem to nervous property owners." Ryan goes into further detail about the beliefs concerning the cause the problem. "We cannot comfortably believe that we are the cause of that which is problematic to us; therefore, we are almost compelled to believe that they-the problematic ones are the cause and this immediately prompts us to search for deviance. Identification of the deviance as the cause of the problem is a simple step that ordinarily does not even require evidence."

Ryan also attributes that problems are selected and described largely according to predetermined norms. I think this idea is inter-woven into the fabric of the so called american value system. The system that tells us we should love apple-pie and baseball, personally I don't like either one very much. The fact of the matter is that many americans have this idea of the average red-blooded all american person. If 99% of the time this person is white, is that trying to suggest that being non-white is somehow un-american? Ryan argues that there isn't much thought as to how these norms might help to contribute to the development of problems. "Within such framework, then, deviation from norms and standards comes to be defined as failed or incomplete socialization-failure to learn these rules or the inability to learn how to keep them. Those with social problems are then viewed as unable or unwilling to adjust to society's standards."

The fact is that Ryan does a very good job, at examining these problems. What I admire so much about Ryan is the fact that he shows the ability to look at these types of social problems and find alternatives to the widely accepted answers. Those answers usually take the form of blaming the victim, if you consider part of the reason for this is the fact that this strategy may very well be part of human nature. I think that the reason these are so widely accepted is because, they perpetuated everyday in conversation and the media. After years and years of hearing about something such as the problem with black children in school, rests with those children and their parents, and them only, you tend to believe that viewpoint. The reason people believe that viewpoint is because not only are these assertions being pounded into our heads everyday, but they are being pounded into our heads by sources that we trust such as the evening news, newspaper, or our so called leaders.

When reading this book, it may seem to the reader that Ryan covers a lot of topics, but I think that the reason he does this is because he sees a problem that is so overwhelming so widespread that he feels compelled to attack the entire thing. In my opinion Ryan could have developed most of the chapters in this book into books themselves, because the problems are so vast. I also think that Ryan, rightfully so, places a lot of blame on middle and upper class whites, but he doesn't offer as many solutions. The reason that Ryan doesn't offer many solutions is because at the time that he wrote this book his purpose was probably to make America aware of these problems. I think this type of awareness is necessary to begin to stop this type of problem. If the middle class that Ryan metions in his book keep on walking around with blinders on, and blaming the lower class for every aspect of their problem this will continue.

The thing that upsets me the most is that fact that the problems that this book list are still very serious problems today. Ryan began writing this book in 1970. Many of the problems that Ryan discuss are around today, and these problems are just as bad. Not only are the problems just as bad, the victim blamers are still on the prowl. Some of the exact same arguments that Ryan makes about his era are still true today. To me this fact is one of the scariest associated with this work. The fact that after 25 years we still have much of the same problems. After the civil rights movement and 25 years of finding new ways to hide age old problem and racism, in some aspects we have not advanced passed the 1970's. This fact is appalling, this would lend to the notion of institutionalized racism.

I think that Americans allow the media to influence it's opinion on what's important and what's not. The media focusess on poverty type crime such as burglary and carjacking. Then politicains focus what the media says is important. What about white-collar crime? There's no media outcry or public dissatisfaction about this so it's not focussed on. If everyone is always focussing on the economic system and proposals such as cutting welfare, why not crack down on white-collar crime? White-collar criminals accumilate much more money than your common criminal, yet when these casses go to court these types of criminals are just slapped on the wrist and fined. Yet when an inner-city youth steals from a grocrey store to feed his family, the issue of manditory sentancing is brought up why is that? I've heard the argument that these lower class crimes are more harmful because they could be violent. What about the executive in the chemical company who breaks health and safty laws? He's still given a slap on the wrist, eventhough he could hurt a large number of people who come in contact with this chemical. Why does this happen? People are showed this inner-city crime everyday in the media so they get scared. Then politicans notice people get scared and so they advocate a crackdown on inner-city type crime. Why do they crackdown on one type of crime and not another? Because their constituncy are the people who commit these white-collar crimes, and they know that people in the inner city don't vote as much, and they certainly don't vote for the type of politican who advocates cutting welfare, and building more prisons.

I think the bottom line is that Americans must realize that this is not a utopian society, and that we do have problems that must be addressed. We must stop looking at society as being fair and that everyone has an equal chance to succeed. I think that main problem in America is that everyone doesn't have an equal chance to succeed, yet some people expect people whose conditions are much worse than others to be able to suceed to the same level without any help at all. Americans need to stop whining so much about helping individuals out, and focus more on making this society a better place to live for all of it's members. Stop wasting time blaming the victim, if you're really that concerened with someones condition why don't you try to help, them or just be quiet!

Mr. Keenan J. Saulter

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Date: Fri, 10 Feb 1995 16:52:40 -0600 
From: "andrea kim addy" <akaddy@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: review:BLAMING THE VICTIM(addy) 

Ryan, William: BLAMING THE VICTIM. (Vintage Books, 1976)

Blaming is such an easy thing to do. It's like an effortles act that practically everyone engages in at some point. Whether the blame is placed on a teacher for someone failing or traffic is blamed for being late to work; blaming is a part of our lives. When I finished reading Ryan's book, I thought about several different issues such as, where does the blame end?

I also wondered, is there always someone to blame for everything that doesn't turn out the way we hoped that it would? Or could both or neither parties involved be right or wrong? When I finished reading the book, I began to think about these issues and it seems that we're a society that likes to place the blame somewhere and on someone. Blaming happens all the time and as Ryan points out, it can hurt everyone involved.

Ryan explains that the blame for the social problems has been placed on the wrong people. Blacks and the poor are not the only victims, it's the majority of American society because anyone who has to depend on wages or doesn't have a substantial amount of wealth, can be considered a victim. However, in the process of blaming the middle class and others, Ryan also defends them. He states that this blaming the victim, practiced by the middle class, is an "unintended" process. He feels that they are trying to do good and believe themselves that they are doing so, but in the process, they're also hurting the less fortunate. The middle class also benefit from this victim blaming whether they want to or not. Throughout the book, Ryan states and explains the social problem and he points out the"real" individuals responsible for the problem.

In pointing out the source of the problem, he attacks everyone. He criticizes conservatives as well as liberals. Ryan also mentions several reports and experiments to emphasis his points. One report that he heavily criticized, was the Moynihan Report. This report dealt with the "crumbling" black family and how single-parent households were not good for the ociety. Ryan clearly identifies this report as classic victim blaming. A key point that Ryan brings up is guilt. One issue that points out the guilt is the concept of "heritage of slavery". When Ryan explains this concept, he says that this arguement has a "certain dramatic credibility". He states that the white citizen likes this idea because it offers partial reinforcement of racial stereotypes, but more importantly, it puts a great deal of the guilt and blame on the slavemaster. Ryan then takes it a step further and says that the "heritage of slavery" notion is a way of "copping a plea". America today is taking on the guilt of the oppression of blacks during slavery, but only as a way to get out of the crimes today.

The Coleman Report was another report that Ryan criticized. This study displayed the correlation between the educational background of black and white students, the students ability to learn the information and how black and white children respond to that learning environment. The problem Ryan had with this report was the report displayed to much correlational data and not enough about the people, whether that includes the students, teachers, administrators or the parents. It seemed as if everything in the report was about cause and effect. This report did not go into why blacks and whites perform the way they do, it just focused more on ideas such as, blacks and low success in schools are related and whites and high success are related. However, there was an experiment conducted called the Ocean Hill-Brownsville, which proved Coleman's report wrong. This experiment explained how schools should change the level of power and how how the redistribution of power worked to the advantage of the students, the teachers and the parents. This experiment showed that race and background have no direct effect on achievement.

As far as identifying the actual incidents of wrongful blaming, Ryan had several excellent examples. One of the examples he used was slum landlords. The landlords blamed the tenants for the terrible conditions of the apartments, but what the landlords don't want to admit is that tenants on't control the plumbing or the electrical wiring of the buildings. The enants don't have control over how many people move into the building nor can tenants control the rodent or cockroach probelm. Another example Ryan used was illegitimate births. Blacks and poor women have been blamed for the high illegitimate birth rate, but the difference is that middle-class have more resources at their disposal. Middle-class women have more financial security which allows them to get abortions or put their babies up for adoption.

Ryan brings up several good points about the victim blamimg process. He also does a very good job of describing the problems that were prevalent when he wrote the book. The problem I had with the book was it almost seemed like a cycle with no end in sight. Blacks and poor have been blamed for the problems of society and now blacks and the poor have a voice to the the rich. My problem is where does the blame end? I think that there is soemone to blame, but I also think that in many cases both the victim and the blamer are at fault. Ryan brought to light many of the problems that were affecting him in the 70s and here we are 20 years later with the same problems with still no resoltions. I don't think Ryan wrote the book to try and resolve the world problems, but to try and educate people about the problems that are effecting our society. I don't know what can be done to stop all this blaming, but I do know that continuing to point the finger, certainly doesn't help. Back to top...


Date: Sat, 11 Feb 1995 14:00:22 -0600 
From: "jANELLE GORDON" <jlgord@ilstu.edu>
Subject: Review of BLAMING THE VICTIM (Gordon) 

Reviewed by: Janelle Gordon Illinois State University Feb.10, 1995  

In the late 60's early 70's several changes were occuring. It was just at the closing of the Civil Rights Movement and for many it appeared as if blacks were finally obtaining equal standards in America. Yet, in reality it was clear that the plight of of blacks was looking grim and dismal. Blacks were still obvious victims of racism in every aspect of society.

In light of these events, It was only natural that William Ryan would take it upon himself to assess the condition of blacks in America at that time. In 1971 William Ryan, clinical psychologist at Boston College saught to disprove mistaken notions that the poor and the blacks are responsible for their poverty. According to Ryan, society blames the victims of poverty, rather than examine the inequalities of the American society. Ryan's purpose is to open the eyes of those who have been mislead by the "ideological myths" and untruths of society. It is the social institutions of America that keeps blacks at such a disadvantaged and impoverished state. Focusing solely on the poor and the Negro family as heir own worst enemy merely diverts one's attention from the true causes: " racism, discrimination, segregation, and powerlessnes of the ghetto." Ryan uses what he calls an exceptionalist approach in contrast to a universalistic approach as an analysis and solution to social problems. The exceptionalist view implies "that problems occur to specially-defined categories of persons in an unpredictable manner." (the victim blaming view)

Yet these victim blamers als believe that through individual actio one can alter their poverty. The universalistic viewpoint is the "idea that social problems are a function of the social arrangements of the community or the society and that. . . such problems are both predictable and preventable through public action." Throughout the book Ryan gives examples of each view of how the ideological concept in blaming the victim is to apply "exceptionalistic analysis to universalistic problems. Yet, Ryan is quick to point out that blaming the victim is an unintentional distortion even though it serves the middle class person who practices it.

Ryan develops his case very well using interesting anecdotes and several facts. At times he tends to get a bit off track. But this could be due to the fact that he is taking on the entire system as well as every problem he can jam into a 280+ page book. Ryan uses nine examples of social problems and human services ranging from "Savage Discovery in the Schools: Folklore of Cultural Deprivation." Showing how it is the schools and the teachers who are culturally deprived, not the poor and the black children. To what I think are one of his most heartrending examples- "Taking People Out of Oak Street: Slums, Suburbs, Subsidies." Here he gives the predominant victim blaming theme which holds the view that tenants cause slums and that the only solution is to civilize and "acculturate" the slum-dwelling people.

Ryan then recounts the story of a well-known urban renewal expert who was reported to have said 'You can take people out of Oak Street, but you can't take Oak Street out people.'(Oak Street was/is an urban renewal project area). He the gives his view that it isn't slum tenants who ruin good housing, but that the buildings are worn out and used up first, then the slum is ready for the poor and the blacks to move in. Ryan ends this chapter with the description that a New York caseworker gives when visiting federally- subsidized housing for the poor: "roaches and rats abound, broken flooring, plumbing, windows. . . The average room size (for a family) is 13x15, with two beds, a dresser, two chairs a table and arefrigerator. One community kitchen is shared by seven families. No lock on the door from the outside .... . . this being the abode of thirty families and 105 children." Mr. Ryan then sarcastically tells the reader that this is what a lack of acculturation does to our society, and how poor families create the slum they live in. And on top of this people have to go through means tests, eligibility requirements, and waiting lists to obtain the privelege to live in such housing. Does this sound like an acceptable life to you? I hardly doubt that these people are happily-living on welfare and in subsidized housing. It amazes me that these victim blaming middle class "upstanding" citizens can even thik this. Maybe there are some lazy people (an obvious fact of the world), but I do not believe that the majority of people onm welfare are there due to their ,laziness. If Ryan's anecdote isn't enough just look at the news. That is without listening to tje media's `jibberjab,' but actually looking at the condition of the ghettos, and faces of the poor and the blacks. It is hard to say ". . . It's thier own fault, if only they would do this . . . or that. . . they wouldn't be there." It is institutional racism.

Don't think Ryan is a staunch democrat. He is open to both sides in that e disregards cultural differences as being part of the problem. For Ryan it is a matter of class which equals power which equals money. According to Ryan the absence of power is destructive. I strongly agree with Ryan on this point He tells of how he and his wife briefly lived in housing tenants and the only thing that got them through was knowing they would 'escape" after graduate studies. I can understand this in that I had a summer job in a factory with awful circumstances. The only way I could get through the summer was knowing that I would only be there a few months and would never have a permanent job like that after I got a degree (well hopefully).

Ryan is open to both sides in that he too attacks liberals and has some conservative views. He feels that liberal democrats have also been fooled into blaming the victim. In regards to education he is against bilingualism in the schools and in favor of school vouchers.

Thus, Ryan concludes with his main objective being for the concerned citizen to stop blaming the victim and to focus on real targets which are the "redistibution of money and power. " This is something I find to be quite impossible in America today. Ryan believes these changes will occur through "revision of tax structure, extension of social insurance, public housing and government medical care; a renewal of the drive to unionize the unorganized, the establishment of high universal minimum wage and a guaranteed income well above th epoverty line for those who cannot or should not worl" These are great ideas, but I don't believe that a society that has lived like this- making the poor and the black feel powerless- is going to change and give these slum-dwellers power and/or money. As important as it is for change in America, the redistribution of money and power as Ryan sees it is unfortunately not going to occur (not the in the 70's and not now).

I agree with with Ryan's assessment of the social problems facing America in 1970. Ryan makes several valid points in his view that the victim isn't to blame. I also realize that this book isn't so much about solutions as it is the stating of facts as Mr. Ryan perceives them. Yet, as I continued to read the book I found myself asking -- where does the blame end ? Upon eflection I have come to no definite answers. But now in 1995 slavery is long gone. Everyone is more or less considered to be equal. Open racial discrimmination no longer exists, and there are no more barriers for blacks in America. We have finally reached our freedom, right? Wrong. What is most striking upon reading Ryan's blaming the Victim is the fact that all of the problems that he discusses are still prevalent twenty-five years later. If that isn't a discouraging thought I don't know what else is.

Janelle Gordon Illinois State University     Back to top...


Date: Mon, 13 Feb 1995 12:51:20 -0600 
From: "blair nelson" <bhnelso@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review:BLAMING THE VICTIM (Nelson) 

Subject: Review:BLAMING THE VICTIM (Nelson)

Review of William Ryan, BLAMING THE VICTIM (Vintage Books, 1976)

Reviewed by: Blair H. Nelson Illinois State University February 9th, 1995

How often have we as a society been told of yet another victim? Twenty years ago when William Ryan coined the phrase "blaming the victim", little did we know that he had just taken us on a journey that we still travel today. Though we might be nearing the end of this journey of trying to find out who is to blame for what, or for that matter, who really is a victim nd who just wants to be called one, Mr. Ryan did succeed in bringing to society's attention that there may be other circumstances that are the cause of certain people's state of existence today.

What Mr. Ryan explained in his somewhat long-winded 300 pages was that it is not the fault of the lower economic class for the situations they are in, whether that situation is poor housing, lack of quality education, or poor health. In the end what it all boils down to is their lack of power and money.

While reading this book I couldn't put my finger on where he was coming from, that is which side of the political sphere. However, after reading on for a while, I soon came to realize that no position was safe from Mr. Ryan's critique. While he did accept the fact that the liberals of his day were trying to do good, he did say that they were just as guilty of "blaming the victim" as anyone else.

All through the book he gave examples of how society thinks there should be a different set of rules when it comes to dealing with the lower economic class. The educational system in the slums and ghettos was a huge target for his criticisms. This is where his best points were made in the book. A black woman in Boston was concerned about the quality of education that her child was receiving in the public schools. So one day she went in to see the teacher and voice her concerns. At this point the teacher proceeded to tell her "...not to worry, Donna is doing very well for this neighborhood". It was the last three words that Mr. Ryan said summed up the mess that the public school system was in. He couldn't be more correct. I know from my own experiences that when I had a teacher who expected more out of me than I thought I could give is when I learned the most. How degrading it must be for a student to have the teacher refrain from using the highest standards that might be expected from students of the same age group but just happen to live in a different area. This is where the author espouses what many conservatives do today. He is in favor of the voucher system for students. He even went as far as proposing that teacher's receive merit pay based on student achievment levels. I couldn't quite tell if he was serious because he did say some things with his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek. On this issue I hope it wasn't, but on some others I hope it was. Later in this review I will state some of them.

In one of our discussions in class about this book, one point was made that Mr. Ryan held a double standard when it came to crime. When he talked about education, he left no doubt that he wanted the poor to be held to the same standards as everyone else, but as he switched his discussion to rime he seemed to believe otherwise. Mr. Ryan said in so many words that he could excuse some crimes committed by the poor because of the situation they are in, and partly because so much white collar crime is unchecked. I don't care what your financial situation is, all crime is wrong and should be treated as such. Besides, when people engage in white collar crime it's not like the rest of the population (meaning the middle and upper class) are benefitting from it. Also, when people in the lower class commit crimes, they are only hurting those who have to live around them.

Along these same lines is when he dealt with the issue of urban unrest that took place in the late 60's. All through this part of the book it seemed as though he was trivializing the fact that these people acted in ways that cannot be tolerated in society. He kept referring to the fact that the main target of the rioter's violence was property. First of all, he never once mentioned that they were just destroying the areas where they have to live even after the riots were over. But at the same time, why is it permissable to destroy property just because you don't like the situation you are in? Then he got a little 'tricky' with his language. When he was describing the scenes at the riots he would say things like, "...a gang of police" and "...a large crowd of ghetto residents", or "...a few hundred people and "...relatively calm". His spin on this issue couldn't have been more prevalent. Then when he talked about the police, he never did resign to the fact that most of them, and I stress most, not all, were just doing their job. In describing the number of people who were killed, he would go into great detail on the death of the rioters and give just a ittle snippet about the police officers. By using these tactics the situations these people are in lose a great deal of validity.

Welfare was another issue on the firing line of Mr. Ryan. According to him the way it is set up now, welfare just insures poverty will continue. While I do agree with him on this point that is where our similarities stop. Where I would propose that people on welfare would be given more latitude on what they could earn outside of the benefits they receive from the state, Mr. Ryan just seemed to say give them more. He did talk about setting up a system that was decentralized so as to give more power to the poor over their programs. But one problem I see with that is the money is still coming from a different sector of the society, and those people are going to want some input on how their money is spent. How can anyone 'blame' them (sorry) for this? If Mr. Ryan is interested in empowering the poor then make them not poor. As he says, welfare just insures poverty will continue.

I would have to go one step beyond Mr. Ryan's position and say lets not worry about placing blame on anyone, not even the rich. Let's just work at empowering the poor by getting them involved in our economy, not just living off of it. Contrary to what most liberals believe our economy is not a zero sum game, there is enough room for everybody. Back to top...


Date: Fri, 12 Apr 1996 14:14:37 -0500 
From: chris <cgstroh@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Ryan's Blaming the Victim 

Blaming the Victim By: William Ryan (Vintage Books, 1976)

By: Chris Stroh  

Blaming the Victim attempts to explain the reasoning behind society's idea that the only people to blame for society's social ills are the less fortunate. Society blames the less fortunate for what they are, poor. Ryan argues its wrong for society to blame the poor for their struggles and the problems they face. It's the standards and expectations society sets for the poor that contributes to their downfall. Ryan defines this way of thinking as blaming the victim.

Ryan examines the ideology of what he calls blaming the victim. Ryan defines it as "justifying inequality by finding defects in the victims of inequality." (Introduction,xiii) In other words, its a way of reasoning that works on the belief that to find the source of the problem, you have to study the people with the problem. This way of thinking is applied to the majority of the problems in society. Education, illegitimacy and welfare are just some of the problems that are blamed on the poor. Using this reasoning, one blames the problem of poor inner city education on the children who supposedly are unable to or are expected not to learn. Victim blamers argue that if and only if the children would try, the problems with education would magically disappear. This is an example of blaming the victim. Ryan better explains the problem as lying within the providers. Ryan goes on to talk about falling down schools, torn and out of date textbooks, and violence as being some of the main reasons for poor inner city education. This is an example of how most of the "experts" view the problems within our society.

The structure of Ryan's book was excellent. Each chapter is dedicated to disproving some fallacy that "experts" have described as the problem with the poor in our society. Ryan presents the problem and proves it to not to be completely accurate. For example, Ryan discusses the percentage of illegitimate children by comparing the white and black races. The figures shown can be misleading. The rates are higher for African-American woman, but there are reasons that contribute to this factor. The first factor is that most expecting black mothers are not given the same options as white mothers. White mothers are given such options as adoption and abortion, while black mothers on the other hand are expected to deal with it. (It is assumed that black children are less likely to get adopted then a white child and remember this book was written in the early '70's.) Another factor is that white mothers are usually sent to private or well established hospitals where it is seen as morally wrong to leave the fathers name off of the birth certificate. Black mothers are usually taken to inner city hospitals where they are not offered the choice of being "morally correct". Ryan describes that If all the factors were taken into consideration the numbers would be more similar.

Ryan takes on topics that were the "smoking guns" of his era. The Coleman report and Monihan's beliefs on the welfare system were all criticized by Ryan. The author describes how these people tend to look at the problems and not the reasons for these problems. For example, we see people on welfare and assume its their fault they are out of work and lazy. We do not look at the reasons they are on welfare. If people on welfare choose to work, they sometimes are prevented from receiving all of their benefits. Why should people go out and work when they can make more money drawing welfare? We rarely take in consideration that these people could possibly succeed if the system was more effective. Concerning education, we wonder why the poor are below national standards. Could it be the standards and expectations we have created for them. Society always treats the symptoms instead of curing the disease.

When reading this book I was surprised to notice how the problems in the early 1970's are so similar to the problems in the 1990's. There are still problems with education, welfare and poverty today. Society still thinks its possible for people to advance through the so called successful programs we have established in the 90's. As Ryan describes in his introduction, the war on poverty was sputtering in the 70's and unbeknownst to him, is still sputtering well in to the 90's. Look at the advancements we have had in such areas of health care, crime and poverty. If anything can't we say that most of the problems are getting worse.

One comment made by the author that I would like to discuss is how we continually overlook the fact that the problem with poverty is lack of money. This is the answer to a lot of the problems. Why don't the rich suffer from the effects of poverty? (health care, education, housing) Because they have money. Don't you think the poor would get health care, a place to live and a job if they could. Most of the upper classes of society view poverty as a condition that was created by the poor, through their own mistakes. It is hard for people to assume this when they have never lived in or close to the poverty level. Imagine trying to live a life other then poverty when you have been raised to accept poverty as being a way of life.

Ryan is right, we do continually believe that the victims are to blame. We assume they suffer from these problems because of the conditions they have supposedly created. We overlook the fact that half of the problem is due to the expectations society as created for them. Ryan's book defines the problems of both era's of our society, then and now. Its a wonderful book that helps to put some of the blame on the system rather then the people on the system. Maybe eventually people will stop pointing the finger at the problem and actually start finding the real reasons behind ociety's problems.

-- Chris Stroh Illinois State University cgstroh@ilstu.edu  

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