As a person of color I have experienced direct and explicit aggression as well as significant forms of exclusion. I also experience plenty of microaggressions. As a man who has been culturally conditioned by patriarchy, I have also been the perpetrator of explicit and implicit aggressions. I have been hurt and I have hurt others.
It is unfortunate that we have structured a society in which the power embedded in relationships of race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, exclusion and privilege define so much of our human experience.
There are few things uglier than the oppression olympics, elaborate arguments to understand who is more oppressed than who. But the fact is that some groups are more oppressed than others. One could probably come up with an algorithm to sort out everyone’s place on the ladder of privilege and oppression.
We can hold enough complexity to acknowledge these facts. To account for them. To become more inclusive. To end gender gaps in pay, racial gaps in education, and the outrageous lack of diversity in the Senate, boards of directors and power centers like Silicon Valley. All of this matters.
Where we start to lose is when we start to uplift the role of victim as the highest, the innocent and the pure. It is a perversion of the struggle for justice. It turns us from grown humans who seek freedom into babies who seek coddling. It nurtures an environment in which everyone is paralyzed by the fear of hurting someone who has already been hurt.
I have a strong reaction to the growing culture of victimhood. A lot gets triggered for me when I find myself enmeshed in it. Reading the recent article in The Atlantic on The Rise of Victimhood Culture, I came to understand at least one of those triggers -
The availability of social superiors—especially hierarchical superiors such as legal or private administrators—is conducive to reliance on third parties.
People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large
Complaint to third parties has supplanted both toleration and negotiation. People increasingly demand help from others, and advertise their oppression as evidence that they deserve respect and assistance. Thus we might call this moral culture a culture of victimhood ...
There is the name to my trigger. Victimhood culture relies on the availability of social superiors, the authority of third parties, it actually reinforces the idea that power is ultimately held by others.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X was at the heart of my first political awakening. It was the opposite of victimhood. Malcolm invited us to claim our own power, to stand in our own dignity, to take our own stance. The very boldness of this idea terrified the power structure.
In victimhood culture “[r]ather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization.”
I am ALL FOR restructuring the objective conditions that shape too much of our human experience. I am all for standing in our dignity and demanding respect. But we lose too much when we attach the inherent value of who we are to the experience of being a victim.
We will always be more than the things that hurt us.
Let us take our stance from a place of strength and inner worth.