We see victimizers playing victims over and over again, in a vain attempt to escape guilt and responsibility. This needs a name and recognition.
When an oppressed group explains how it has been hurt, others are often much too quick to highlight their own suffering. Often in a sort of jealous competition, minimizing the others asking attention for their victimhood, sometimes to even denying to have been their victimizers.
- So, the Japanese were not ruthless occupiers and aggressors in WW II because the US dropped atom bombs on two of their largest cities?
- Poles did not enable and assist in pogroms and executing the Holocaust because the Nazis fought also them and actually hurt them more and many (though a small percentage) Poles saved Jews?
- The Germans were not the main perpetrators of WW II because they had family members die in battle and in the allied bombings?
- Palestinian Muslims suffering is not largely the consequence of their own militant rejections of resettling Zionist Jews and attempts to wipe them out?
- Women are not oppressed because men have harder lives? (They have harder lives because they are trained and stayed oppressors of women!)
Everybody Gets Hurt on Our Way to Eternity
Everybody gets hurt. Part of life. If that is a valid basis to reject blame for past action and refuse responsibility helping to build a better future, no one would work toward a better world.
It is important for women and the whole of humanity that women learn to think and organize as feminists.
It is important for non-Whites and the whole of humanity that non-Whites learn to think and organize as anti-racists.
But if everyone only fights for their own just rights, little will change.
What is needed is that many people start specializing in being proper allies to other mistreated groups. Not because their own oppression is not important. But rather, because in their own liberation struggle they learned the value of having allies. And they recognize how their lack of alliance colludes with other oppressions and reduces their own lives.
As the Jewish mother to a queer son who always opens her lectures with: “As a Jew, I know what’s oppression. We must stop gay oppression.”
How different from: I know they suffered but we suffered more. Or: You think they suffered (from us) but we are the real victims here.
There is little pride in glorifying one’s suffering unless it leads to standing with all (including Jews!) other oppressed groups. Not because they suffered more. Rather, because in your liberation, you grew to understand the story of them. And you became intolerant of any and all oppressions.
This is extra vital when own victimhood has been used to deny own complicity in oppressing others. Denial of past evil is not a road to true pride; frank rejection of an evil past is. And so is committing to betterment.
Cultivated own victimhood is just another ugly excuse for egotism.
Minimizing our own part in oppression does not help. True, most Germans under Hitler were rather powerless citizens, but collectively, they stood for a lot of evil. True, most Palestinian Muslims were rather powerless people, but collectively, they buoyed a lot of hatred and violence against Jews.
Alliance with others is not only generosity and grace but also the ultimate path to redemption for all. Do you want to be free? Spend most of your time freeing others and we all will be. So use your own awareness on how unfairly life has treated you, to fight for others’ place under the sun. When you are an ally, you’ll have allies. But don’t have that as your motivation (or you’re back to being an egotist). Give freely. Then you will receive — all will receive.
Being allies is especially vital because the basics of how to oppress others are learned in childhood under the vicious — but often unrecognized — oppression of young people. (“You have enough freedom; now obey. Who cares what you feel?!”) Unless many grownups and young adults step in as allies, the next generation will learn to hate and oppress again.
NB: In all the above, I restricted myself to true suffering “on both sides.” How much more should oppressors stop using imaginary suffering of the oppressors supposedly caused by the oppressed! (Muslims claiming that Jews want to wipe them out; men claiming that women exploit them; etc.)
I started by writing that we need a name for perpetrators playing victim (instead of repenting and proudly taking responsibility). How about calling this: replacement victimhood. Let’s uproot it, first of all in ourselves.