The Counterproductive Rhetoric of “Victim Blaming”

Something that confuses me about the rhetoric you often here in social rights circles is that they often seem dead set on ignoring the people they’re trying to help. I don’t mean that they don’t listen to them–they put a lot of effort into listening to them–it’s just that that’s all they really do. They listen to [insert disadvantaged group here]’s problems, tell people not to question or criticize what [insert disadvantaged group here] says about it because that would be “silencing and disregarding their voices” and wouldn’t be a “safe space” for them, constantly try to make [insert disadvantaged group here] feel as comfortable as humanly possible to the point of acting like “micro-aggressions” are the worse things ever, and call out other people in the name of being allies.

That is what they do, and that is all well and good. Be nice to people, help them out. But help has to come from within as well as the outside. They are only concerned with making other people do something about “the problem.” They never encourage any self-reflection. They never sit around a table to try to figure out what [insert disadvantaged group here] can do to make the situation better for themselves. Because [insert disadvantaged group here] shouldn’t have to do anything and doesn’t have to do anything, and if you say they should take at least some measures into their own hands to better their situation for themselves and others, that makes you [insert _____-ist here] because you are victim blaming. It’s a very black-and-white way of looking at things: X Group always good and in the right, Y Group always bad and in the wrong. Nothing X Group does should be questioned or scrutinized and there is no need for internal improvement or developments at all because they’re the victims, whereas Y Group needs all of the improvement and needs to do all the work to make things better because that’s on them.

And I’ll say right now, you have to have both of these things in order to work. The activism situation would be just as ineffective if it only ever focused on internal development and never addressed the second party involved in any significant way. But both of these things are not present in a lot of modern-day activism. The group they’re helping can do no wrong and doesn’t need to change its behavior at all in even the most minuscule of ways, and that’s the end of the conversation. It’s all the Bad Man’s fault, and we don’t need to address anything else.

I want to say it infantalizes [insert disadvantaged group here], but even that is too generous. People are okay with enforcing upon children the things they can do to be safer in a world that isn’t always safe. If anything, it idolizes [insert disadvantaged group here] as the Perfect Victims–The Good People Trodden Upon By the Man. You’re not going to deal with racism if you never actually address racist ideas, of course. But you’re never going to deal with racism if you never address what black people can do about it either. And, no, I don’t mean “Black people should step up and tell the White Man how racist he is more often!” That’s what activists are doing now, and it’s all they’re doing. I’m not saying they should stop, I’m saying they need more balance. I mean: “Black people should ask themselves what they can do, independent of the White Man, that could possibly make things better.”

You can really replace black/white with any perceived-to-be-victim/perceived-to-be-victimizer groups, by the way. This is not just a race thing.

Social progress is a two-way street. One group should not be doing all the work while the other one just stands aside and yells at them for not doing all the work good enough. Sometimes, compromises need to be made. Sometimes common ground needs to be granted as opposed to painting people as eternally opposed to each other. When people insist that [insert disadvantaged group here] doesn’t have to do anything to better its own situation, it oftentimes not only discourages what would in many cases be self-improvement, but it also perpetuates their victimization. That is the exact opposite of what you want to happen!

In an ideal world, people wouldn’t have to know what to do in bad situations. In a ideal world, no one would know how to throw a punch and that would be a-okay. But this is not an ideal world. And acting like it is only in the case of the people who are going to be hurt by that mentality doesn’t make any sense. People are quick to point out that it’s not an ideal world when talking about how racism is bad, but when it comes to telling black people to read up on their legal rights because racism is a thing and it would benefit them to know how to legally deal with it–NO, that is victim blaming. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t have to do that, so they shouldn’t have to do it now! What sense does that make? That does nothing but make things worse for the people being victimized, because it’s telling them to doing nothing about to try to prevent it. Because the fact that victimization exists is sad and they shouldn’t have to deal with it. So, what, they should be naive and under-equipped to deal with problems they could possibly face on principle? Is not knowing how to deal with difficult situations in a way that minimizes the chances of you getting hurt a legitimate protest? That just sounds like self-sabotage. Because in a perfect world that problem wouldn’t exist.

Black people should know their rights so that if a cop ever harasses them, they don’t just escalate the situation and/or let the cop walk all over them. Women should carry a tazer if they’re alone in a dangerous area. Children should be taught how to avoid bullies. You should also try to train cops to be less biased and to actually do their job and NOT make situations worse once they show up. You should also try to make it more difficult for someone to get away with physical assault. You should also punish bullies. But you have to do BOTH. Otherwise, you’re putting all of your energy into storming the castle and none of it into protecting your own camp back home.

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One thought on “The Counterproductive Rhetoric of “Victim Blaming”

  1. BArbara says:

    I love this post! I usually don’t go around commenting on blogs but this is something I’ve been saying for a long time, perhaps much less eloquently. As a brown woman of Mexican descent, I always tell people that in order to combat racism, we need to educate ourselves and stop being the stereotype! Of course that never goes over very well…

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