a reflection on victimhood

A certain Facebook friend of mine often posts content from conservative websites. Much of it features people of color scolding or talking “common sense” to protestors, rioters and others who supposedly “blame all their problems on race.” One recent post was an article from “GOPUSA” with the title: “Tell people they’re victims — they’ll act like victims.”

This is a common line of reasoning: since “liberals” treat poor Black people like victims (blaming their problems on racism), they are somehow debilitated from improving their situation and overcoming the injustices they face. Presumably this is because they have a “victim” mindset instead of a rugged individualist one, which would enable them to just rise above their lot through hard work and perseverance. It is a seductive, misleading, half-truth of an argument, which I won’t deconstruct here.

Here is what I did write (with minor edits):

This article says that we shouldn’t see ourselves or others as victims. But what about when you actually are a victim, in the most literal sense of the word? When you’ve been gunned down in the street and denied due process, you are the very definition of a victim. The message that I’ve heard over and over in much of the coverage of Ferguson and Baltimore and #BlackLivesMatter is that even then, you’re not allowed to be a victim. As your body lies lifeless and your family mourns you, the justifications pour in: you were a “thug,” or you should have pulled your pants up, or your father didn’t raise you right. The narrative of aggression and victimhood is inverted — -you must have deserved to die that way, and so you cannot be a victim.

But there are a lot of people who somehow are allowed to be victims all the time and expect to be seen as such. The Christian business owners angry about the government denying them the right to discriminate against gay couples seem to have no trouble gaining access to national media to air their victimhood. The rich, those forlorn and unfortunate victims of government over-reach and taxation, so distressed by their victimhood that they can’t even appear in public to tell you of their oppression, but instead have to pay Congressmen to do it for them. What injustice.

So I am asking: why are these “victims of government tyranny” allowed to be victims, when the men and boys and women who lay in the streets literally dead from government overreach and misconduct are never allowed the same, but rather, blamed for their own demise? To many, the answer is clear. What do those victims all have in common? They are Black and come from communities that have been made vulnerable by generations of disinvestment, segregation, and government and corporate policies ranging from neglectful to predatory. In America, to acknowledge the “victims” of such systemic and historical malice would mean acknowledging a cause of said malice. But this almost never happens because, in America, that malice cannot be pinpointed to the level of the individual racist. the vulnerable have to bear responsibility for what has happened to them and where they find themselves. They themselves are the cause. Everyone else was just looking.

This is the point people are trying to make with #BlackLivesMatter. It is painfully simple, and a shame that it even needs to be said: “Let us just have our humanity. Let us not be killed in the street by those sworn to protect us, and if we are, let us still be treated like humans.” Part of being treated like a human is to be allowed to be a victim when you actually are one (and thus worthy of justice), and to have your unjust death provoke more compassion and outrage than the burning down of a convenience store.