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
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 criminals—inferior,
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 pie—a pie theoretically
served proportionately to all, based on their ambition, intelligence, and
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 distortion—his 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
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 soul—the
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.
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 inmates—the inescapable beauty of life.
His memoirs, which also uncover the frame-up that sent him to be
executed—a state-sanctioned murder—belong in the pantheon of other
autobiographies of Black heroes like “The Autobiography of Malcolm
Stanley Tookie Williams, ¡Presente!
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