Tookie Williams: A martyr for the struggle

Workers World book review

By Larry Hales
Published Oct 2, 2008

"My rage was nourished by the hate I saw and felt from mainstream 
society and white people, a hate based on my black skin and my 
historical place at the nadir of America's social caste. I was filled 
with hate for injustice. Yet my reaction to the hate was violence 
directed only toward blacks."

Stanley Tookie Williams' "Blue Rage, Black Redemption" is a story of 
the seething rage within him and the heroic task he undertakes to 
understand that rage and place it in a historical context.

He begins this process while on death row, where his life has been 
given an end date. And though he conveys that he knows the system has 
every intention to fulfill the barbaric sentence, while deepening his 
political understanding and self-actualization he gives the 
impression of always looking forward, beyond the conditions of 
prison, the hole and the death sentence hanging over him.

By writing his memoirs, he intends for his life to be an example, a 
warning sign for other oppressed youth to not diverge down the same 
path that he took.

In the introduction, Tookie says: "The title of this book represents 
two extreme phases of my life. 'Blue Rage' is a chronicle of my 
passage down a spiraling path of Crip rage in South Central Los 
Angeles. 'Black Redemption' depicts the stages of my redemptive 
awakening during my more than 23 years of imprisonment on 
California's death row. These memoirs of my evolution will, I hope, 
connect the reader to a deeper awareness of a social epidemic that is 
the unending nightmare of racial minorities in America and abroad as well.

"Throughout my life I was hoodwinked by South Central's terminal 
conditions. ... From the beginning I was spoon-fed negative 
stereotypes that covertly positioned black people as genetic 
criminals­inferior, illiterate, shiftless, promiscuous. ... Having 
bought into the myth, I was shackled to the lowest socioeconomic rung 
where underprivileged citizens compete ruthlessly for morsels of the 
America pie­a pie theoretically served proportionately to all, based 
on their ambition, intelligence, and perseverance."

Tookie begins the book at his birth on December 29, 1953, at New 
Orleans Charity Hospital, recounted for him by his mother, with the 
words, "I entered the world kicking and screaming in a caesarean 
ritual of blood and scalpels." He relates how his mother endured the 
ordeal without anesthetics, which were denied to her because she was 
Black, and that to try and dull the pain in her mind she sang the 
Christmas carol, "Silent Night," over and over again.

His birth foreshadowed his life and death, because, though lethal 
injection is touted as being quick and painless, because of a botched 
procedure during his execution Tookie languished, struggling for 
life, for 30 minutes. In the epilogue, Barbara Becnel, Tookie's 
friend, advocate and co-author, who witnessed the horrifying ordeal, 
describes: "The midsection of Stan's body did not stay still. It 
began to contort, caving in to the point of distortion­his stomach 
appeared to have been sucked dry of all internal organs, as it sunk 
so low it nearly touched his spine. And his convulsing continued for 
a while. At the sight of Stan's monumental struggle to die, I thought 
that I heard an audible and collective gasp fill the room."

But the recollection of the difficult conditions of his birth also 
portend his life, because it points to the toll racism takes on the 
Black soul­the real effects it has on everyday life, the damage it 
does to the Black psyche and the ramifications of a colonized mind.

In "Black Skin, White Masks," Frantz Fanon, the Martinique-born Black 
revolutionary theorist, wrote: "A drama is played out every day in 
the colonized countries. How can we explain, for example, that a 
black guy who has passed his baccalaureate and arrives at the 
Sorbonne to study for his degree in philosophy is already on his 
guard before there is the sign of any conflict?" Of course, the 
situation depicted is different, but the meaning is that it is with 
great reservation and tenseness that an oppressed nationality steps 
out into the world, because of the history of wealth built off the 
backs of those of darker skin and the history of genocide, theft of 
land and slavery.

The rage of the first half of the book comes from the conditions 
imposed upon oppressed Black youth in South Central and of the 
inferiority complex pressed upon them because of the whitewashed view 
of history taught to U.S. society.

The rage, however, manifested in a self-hatred: "Unlike those ashamed 
to admit their motivation or too blind to recognize it, I forged 
through much of my life locked into a hostile intimacy with America's 
wrongness. Conditioned and brainwashed to hate myself, and my own 
race, other black people became my prey and the Crips my sword. 
Though I cannot condone it, much of the violence I inflicted on my 
gang rivals and other blacks was an unconscious display of my 
frustrations with poverty, racism, police brutality, and other 
systemic injustices routinely visited upon residents of urban black 
colonies such as South Central Los Angeles."

Seeking self-worth and the protection of other street organizations 
of Black youth, Tookie, Raymond Washington and their friends built 
the Crips and consolidated many of the other gangs into the fold. He 
states that they were not aware of the Black Panther Party or other 
militant and revolutionary organizations, but that if they had been, 
that perhaps their energies would have been directed towards the 
struggle and that he and his friends would have been ready and 
willing foot soldiers.

Real material conditions bring about phenomena. Tookie is a martyr 
for the struggle for a better world. Not only was he victimized by 
the conditions of exploitation, but, facing certain death, he 
transformed himself and sought redemption from the oppressed around 
the world by using his life as a guide, exposing both the ugly and 
his many mistakes, the camaraderie of himself and his fellow 
inmates­the inescapable beauty of life.

His memoirs, which also uncover the frame-up that sent him to be 
executed­a state-sanctioned murder­belong in the pantheon of other 
autobiographies of Black heroes like "The Autobiography of Malcolm X."

Stanley Tookie Williams, ¡Presente!


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