One thing that became evident to me from Michelle Alexander and Tim Wise is, first, that privilege makes us blind to the experiences of oppression, and, second, that the stigmatization of oppressed communities is a form of victim blaming that gives the privileged a tool to justify the oppression of these communities. The stigma of the felon title now works to ‘justify’ in the eyes of the public the targeted and violent treatment of communities of color by the police and legal system.
After watching how the Watts Rebellion was reported on in 1965, one thing becomes evident: media perpetuates stigma, enabling those who gain from privilege to sit back and justify to themselves why their lives are so comfortable. The fact that the media does not address the cause for the rebellion, and treats it as an unfounded “riot” and violence – never addressing the systematic violence experienced by those rebelling – perpetuates stigma, and makes the audience ask “why on earth are they acting this way? What possible justification could they have?” This stigma in turn perpetuates the same dehumanization that stands in the way of the privileged from asking themselves: “What if it were me? Would I not be forced to react the same way? Would I not be as angry?”
In Israel-Palestine, stigma and privilege play a key role in the functioning of colonization and oppression. One stark example is the ongoing displacement of the native Bedouin communities in the Negev desert. The Bedouins are residing on their historical lands, but the Israeli state has declared their lands as ‘state land’, rendering the Bedouins’ being on the land illegal. The Bedouins are also seen as “primitive,” “violent,” and “thieves,” in a way that ignores the abysmal lack of infrastructure provided to the community; lacking roads, electricity, and water in the heat of the Negev desert. The reason the Israeli mainstream is not enraged about this complete lack of resources for an entire community is because of those same myths and stigma that are prevalent towards the Bedouin community.
This video article by Israel Social TV addresses how the mainstream media covered the Bedouin protests that happened in 2013. The media perpetuated stigma and did not address the root causes of the protest against the government’s plan to displace and forcefully urbanize entire communities that want to continue their agricultural way of life.