“They’re Playing the Victim”, Spoke the Self-Styled Victim

victimsI have a confession to make:

I love the movie “The Crow” starring Brandon Lee. It’s dark, gritty, goth, violent, filled with cuss words, and definitely not appropriate for children. And, on some levels, the argument could be made that the film isn’t appropriate for anyone of any age either.

The basic plotline is this: Lee’s rock star character, Eric Draven, and his girlfriend Shelly are assaulted and murdered for speaking out about slum-living at the hands of their tyrannical landlord, Top Dollar. Top Dollar and his goons are responsible for “Devils’ Night” (the night before Halloween where Top Dollar and his crew engage in large-scale arson to keep the people in their area afraid and under control). A year after Eric and Shelley are killed, some magical force brings Eric back from the dead to avenge their deaths using the power contained in a crow that becomes his familiar.

Told you it was a bit dark.

But somehow the darkness reflects the absurdity of power, its ease with which it demands oppression and violation to maintain its status quo. You might not like the movie’s presentation, but it’s message is profound.

Anyway, there’s one scene where, while offing one of Top Dollar’s lackeys, Tin-Tin, Draven’s last words to him are: “Victims… aren’t we all?”

Eric and Shelly were victims; Sarah, Eric and Shelly’s sort-of adopted little sister, was a victim of a drug-addicted mother and neglect; the tenants were victims of Top Dollar’s violence; everyone was a victim of something. Some were genuine victims, others were wannabes (anyone remember Gideon, the pawn-shop owner?), and others still fell somewhere in the middle somewhere (anyone remember Darla?).

I was reading the blog of a prominent evangelical blogger today; and he was digging into how “abusive” it was that a transgender female had demanded to use the girls’ locker room at school, and now all the true girls were being put at risk. His words were emotive, damning, and yes, accusatory of the local LGBTQ+ community for portraying themselves as victims (in the author’s opinion).

I was angry. At first.

He blamed liberalism, leftists agendas, and other people who disagreed with his point of view. The blame-game then became funny to me because as much finger-pointing he did towards his enemies’ tactics, he was using exactly the same things. Same words, same name-calling, same accusations, different perspective.

And the humour became sadness because I know I also do the same things.

“Victims… aren’t we all?”

  • The right accuses the left of victimization.
    The left accuses the right of victimization.
  • LGBTQ+ people accuse people of faith of persecution.
    Some people of faith accuse the LGBTQ+ of persecution.
  • Fundamentalists accuse people of special interest groups of being martyrs for their causes.
    These same groups accuse fundamentalists of being martyrs for their causes.
  • Secular humanists blame Christians for believing fairytales.
    Christians blame secular humanists for leading the general masses down a dark path.
  • Christians blame the media for gross misrepresentation (but in fairness here, Christians often create our own sub-media that is laughable and downright crazy).
    The media blames Christians for anything (and in fairness here, I think it’s more for laying clickbait than anything else).
  • Conservatives blame Liberals (or anyone left of Liberal) for treatment of migrants.
    Libs blame Cons (or anyone further right of Conservative) for treatment of migrants.

Christians claim to be victims.
LGBTQ+ people claim to be victims.
Migrants claim to be victims.
Anyone of any political party claims to be victims.
Women claim to be victims.
Men claim to be victims.
The working class claims to be victimized.
The middle class claims to be victimized.
People of colour claim to be victimized.

Like the movie, there are legitimate victims, there are not-so-legitimate victims, and there are those who fall into the middle of a wide, messy spectrum. One of the main reasons it gets so messy is because one of the top methods of dismantling another human’s reality is to accuse that person of “playing the victim”. Once that happens, the person is discredited, considered “too sensitive”, and the masses are given the feeling of power to decide whether true victimhood is deserved or not.

We are all guilty of this.

Left, right, Con, Lib, male, female, trans, people of all faiths — we all do this.

The messier part is when we point fingers at true victims and gaslight them, declaring their realities and experiences as untrue or as never having happened at all.

Another tactic is to claim to be a victim right away to try and sway popular opinion. If I refuse service to someone who is “—-” (gay, trans, person of colour, migrant, person of faith) and receive backlash for that decision, AND THEN declare that I’m being persecuted for my trampled constitutional or charter rights, then I’m portraying myself as a the martyr in the situation while demonizing those opposing me.

We are all guilty of this too.

All the same tired arguments and finger pointing that goes on have been going on for centuries. We simply extract the names and labels that no longer apply, and insert the names and labels that are more relevant to our situations.

Aren’t we tired of it all?

How do we stop?

  • There are truly legitimate victims in our world. I’d be cold hearted if I didn’t break over the image of a dead Syrian toddler washed up on Turkey’s shores yesterday. The smallest of the small, snatched from his homeland, fleeing with family for safety and the promise of a better life, he lost his life.
  • LGBTQ+ people who are refused communion, participation in faith or religious ministry, marriage, or family are victims of spiritual abuse. They are treated as “less than”, and repeatedly given the message that the holy institution of marriage is between one woman and one man. (Hmmmm… there’s that word “abuse” again. Ironic.)

    Now having said that, LGBTQ+ people who return this kind abuse with threats, damage to property, verbal attacks against ALL people of faith, or other forms of violence make victims out of the oppressors. Is the anger or sense of marginalization wrong? Of course not! But there are ways to express genuine anger in truth rather than resorting to tactics that simply satisfy our own pain and hurt.

  • First Nations, Metis and Inuit groups in Canada have long been victims of church and government policies seeking to exterminate and/or assimilate their people. And with continued misrepresentation in the media, in schools and in churches, there remains a large stereotype of “the drunken Indian” in our society, or how FNMI people receive everything for free, or that FNMI people are horrible parents and have their kids apprehended or that native spirituality is evil/demonic/against God. And even with the reality that First Nations women are one of the most vulnerable people groups in Canada (with over 1200 missing or murdered indigenous women in the past 3 decades), popular bias leans towards how these women brought it upon themselves.

    If we took the time to dig deeper into intergenerational trauma, Canada’s residential school system, the ’60s Scoop, and myths about how native people get a free ride, we might just discover how our “unbiased” positions have whitewashed history, stripped entire people groups of their identities, and created the colonial systems many of us benefit from now.

How cruel.

We assume that our Age-of-Enlightenment science and logic is the most bias-free form of discovery and research, giving us oppressive privilege to tear down any other group seeking the truth. We simply swipe them with the “special interest brush” or “the bias brush” and that’s that. End of argument. Our ways of thinking and perceiving are the most objective, thus we create a world where everyone else’s ways of thinking and perceiving are untrustworthy because they are filled with bias.

Now…:

  • A Calgary bus driver who refuses to drive a pride bus in Calgary, I would say, is not a victim when the public pushes back. He chose to take his personal religious stance, he likely knew the responses his move would generate, and there are perfectly equitable ways for him to resolve his issue with Calgary Transit. He is NOT a victim. He may have sought to sway the public into seeing him as a martyr, but that’s an assumption on my part. I don’t know his intentions and, as it most often is, speculation is useless.

    However, hate mail and hate speech back at the driver is offensive too. Are his actions speaking louder than words? Sure. He’s pretty much told the world that he won’t associate with gay people while he’s on the job. Of course people are going to be angry and hurt! I can understand why some would send some vitriol his way, but I can’t condone it. If love is the goal of the pride movement, love must be the means as well. And by attacking him, we simply give him reason to point to LGBTQ+ people and declare that we’re hateful and spiteful.

  • A victim of rape is a true victim.
    A person remorseful in the morning after a one-night stand is not a victim of rape.
  • A child cornered everyday by another child who spits at him is a victim of bullying.
    A child declared “OUT!” by another child after getting hit by a dodgeball is not a victim of bullying. That’s the nature of dodgeball. And if the child can’t handle that kind of stress or if parents rush in each time their kids face natural growing stages, perhaps dodgeball isn’t the game for them.

What am I trying to say?

I’m saying that as we evolve as a global village and make room for all of us at the Table, we are beginning to discover how our own words and actions have hurt other people we didn’t even see before. That can be frustrating and challenging because, likely as not, most of us don’t set out to hurt other people when we wake up in the morning.

With this grand new learning curve, we have become a bit raw and sensitive towards the words and actions of others. It’s a hard road, humility is, and we’re trying to live side-by-side but it’s not easy. We’d much rather live how we’ve been living and not be worried about how others are going to think or feel.

And yes, I agree that with this sensitivity and rawness there are growing certain over-sensitivities. But not everyone is going to agree with who is being over-sensitive or how; we can’t even agree on a definition of what being over-sensitive actually is. It’s much easier to call someone over-sensitive than to go back (again) and examine how we might have become a part of the problem.

Where’s God in all of this?

That’s another whooper in and of itself since so many sides claim they know best about who God is and how S/He would act. Maybe God’s simply present with all of us, whatever our failings, present with us as we navigate this agitated waters. Perhaps we should be slower to invoke God’s authority, and quicker to examine our own standpoints?

What am I really questioning here?

I am not telling legitimate victims of “—–” to keep quiet, or to dishonour their anger or shame or embarrassment or sadness. I am asking legitimate victims to be the ones to find creative ways to break cycles of violence so that the original oppressors will be unsaddled by radical love. Not an easy road. Never an easy road. And I’ll leave it at that.

I am asking all of us who engage in rigorous debate over hot button issues to thoroughly examine our styles of argument. Are we dehumanizing the other person? Are we making ourselves out to look like victims, while pointing at others and calling them false victims? Are we deliberately using emotionally charged words to sway our hearers/readers/viewers in order to attract popular opinion? Are we seeking out the worst forms of behaviour in “the Other’s” lives so that we can use it as ammunition against them?

Let’s ask ourselves.

And as we demand space at the Table for our voices, may we be gracious and open as others elbow their way in for the same space.

And if those Others have to elbow their way in, perhaps we — I, me, myself — have to examine how hard I’ve been trying to keep them away instead of moving aside in order to welcome them in.

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