Rootsie's European Roots  

The Victim Mentality Among the Privileged  
By Rootsie
August 23, 2003

What does playing victim buy us? It buys us out of assuming responsibility for our privilege, for one thing. If we are self-proclaimed victims, we can always point to others and say, "See how they oppress me. They have all the power. I have none." We might also choose to play savior, seeking to speak for the victims or lead movements of victims, not realizing that we are seeking privilege for ourselves off the backs of the oppressed. We do not understand that we bring privilege and its assumptions wherever we go. Or we can lash out with hostility and rage towards those who have more privilege than us. We say we reject privilege, when really, we are angry that we don't have MORE. What is ironic to see in so many cases is that the real victims are left out of the equation.

What do I mean by real victims? I am speaking of ones with neither the skin-tone nor the cash needed to soften the effect of their disadvantage in any way. In the world as it is, in every country in the world, the most disadvantaged are the poorest and the darkest. Add gender to that, and we see who needs the most upliftment to bring justice to the world. Whether American (North and South) Indian, or African and Asian and Australian black, the situation is the same. Now it is difficult for the ultimate victims of this system to acknowledge that they are indeed the victims, and at the same time move in the direction of their own empowerment. But this is what must occur. And here is where the privileged of all races have a crucial part to play in righting the balance. By encouraging, to the absolute detriment of their own privilege, the worst victims to step forward and claim their right to equal humanity with every other human being, privileged people are making the moral choice. But they must be willing to make sacrifices, material sacrifices; personal ambition must also be sacrificed.

White Rastas all the time talk about their dreadlocks as the 'Cross' that they carry in the non-Rasta world, the persecution they receive for declaring their difference from other whites. This may be so, but it is a cross they chose. And then they think to come into Rasta and declare equal privilege with, and sometimes even power over, Blacks by virtue of this 'Cross'. It is in many cases a brave move to step out of the mainstream mold, but dreadlocks are merely an outward symbol; an intense inner process must take place if one is to be, in the soul, Rasta. And, from that inner knowing, there comes an urgency to act to bring balance on the earthly plane. Ones who deny the power their privilege gives them on the earthly plane will not feel strong to act.

What about the victimhood one is born with and cannot choose or unchoose? In one sense ALL are victims as long as systems of grave injustice persist, but if people are by birth given a position in society that allows them to maneuver more freely than others, and to have an impact to expose and eradicate those systems, not to do so is a profound violation.

Degrees of privilege presuppose degrees of victimhood. Men have more privilege than women. Slim women have more privilege than big. Rich more than poor. White more than black. In societies where most are dark-skinned, it is still the blackest who are victimized most. In Somalia. In Jamaica. In Cuba. In Brazil. In India. And in societies which are mostly white, privilege is accorded also to the degree of Blackness one possesses.

It is extremely difficult to be a light-skinned African in Western society and hold to one's integrity. One receives privilege in the black community, because Western blacks have internalized the oppressor, and subscribe to the same or similar standard of beauty and acceptability that whites do. And in white society, light-skinned blacks have more opportunities, a higher socio-economic standing, and are the blacks the white people like to call their 'friends'. This sets up an understandable rage towards whites and an absolute rejection of their own whiteness, also understandable. But impossible. The task for all privileged people is the same-it is to reject the tendency in an evil system to identify themselves personally with the worst victims, and move with their privilege to help the victims end the systems of privilege once and for all. For multi-racial people in particular, this is a tricky dance. It exposes the depth of the evil of white supremacy that variations in skin-tone confer privilege. It is an appalling reality. But it is reality.

Ones who deny the reality of their own privilege can and do all too easily unconsciously exercise their privilege over others. These people probably hold some sort of idea that THEY know better what is good for the victims than the victims do themselves. Instead of giving support, they seek earthly rewards for themselves. Privilege is a monster that must be tamed, and the only way is for ones to become conscious of it.

The real victims of the skin/money/gender games we play here on Earth must be amused on some level to see privileged ones running to shed their privilege to join them in the ranks at the bottom of the ladder. What good are these people to the struggle to end this system of privilege once and for all?

The relationship of the pseudo-victims to the real ones is that the pseudo-victims are not truly eager to see real justice done, and when given the opportunity, they will use their privilege to make sure those at the bottom stay there. They will assert their privilege and then claim it does not exist! They will take it upon themselves to speak for 'the wretched of the earth,' receiving all the earthly benefits which a position of leadership brings. They will use the self-confidence that privilege naturally gives them to deliberately blur the lines between themselves and those most oppressed in order to do NOTHING of substance about the very real inequalities which exist. Instead, they prosper in an unequal system. When people deny their privilege, these sorts of distortions will always occur.

Playing victim is very popular these days. No one likes to be seen as 'the bad guy'. When it comes to gender and skin, it is not as if anyone chose to be born the way they are. But the sad reality is that one must live in the reality they have been given. Not to do so means spiritual death. There is no overstating the importance of this. If people with privilege are not willing to literally get out of the way so that the voice of the voiceless may be heard, if they are not willing to literally sacrifice their own power in order to help uplift the powerless, how can the system be righted?

This is the ultimate question: how can the system be righted? Will those who are to this degree or that beneficiaries of privilege gather one day in a smoke-filled room and hammer out an agreement to bring justice down on the world from above? That seems most unlikely. Isn't it far more likely that those at the bottom. with the help of sympathetic privileged ones, will find their voices and claim their birthright as equal human beings? What in this time should enlightened privileged ones be doing except supporting the aspirations of the worst victims of this cruel system? Every privileged person with a brain and a heart knows somewhere within them that the day will come to 'pay the piper', and on that day, what to do but get out of the way?


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