Victimhood: Experience, Identity, Excuse, or Manipulation?

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 10.46.26 PM.png

Hello Everyone,

Thank you for reading my weekly newsletter, and a warm welcome to all the new subscribers!

I am back from an amazing trip to S. Africa.  Recently, I saw a short video on Trevor Noah, who had some insightful comments on how "victimhood" can be used as a powerful political tool.  Coincidentally, I had a poignant conversation about just that topic with a driver who was a native of South Africa. 

Today, I would like to share what I learned from my driver during our safari.

Have a great week!


Victimhood: Experience, Identity, Excuse, or Manipulation?

"Do you know what Afrikaans do for fun?" The safari driver asked me.

"Afrikaans?  Do you mean white people who are born in Africa?"  I asked him.

After affirming that I was on the right track, he continued, "On weekends, they will go to the bars and get drunk, and afterward, if they see a native black man in the fields, they will kill him just for fun.  They will tie him up with a rope and drag him along the road behind their truck." 

After a moment, as I remained speechless, he continued, "They treat us like we're monkeys. Every day I have to fight to be treated like a human being.  After Apartheid was over, we should have become more unified, but nothing changed.  We just tolerate their insults and pretend not to notice.  They feel justified in treating us like animals because they think that we have hurt them.  We are the ones who have been hurt.  We are the victims!"

The irony of the situation rested like a cloud over us, as we drove through the wild landscape covered by dry grass and dotted by acacia trees.

At the end of my trip, another driver talked about the communities we drove through on the way to the airport.  He explained that the people there start off with a "shack" and work hard over decades to save enough money to build a home with a flushing toilet.  It seemed that having a flushing toilet and indoor plumbing was a sign of their financial affluence.  The people will keep their shack by their new house to remind them of where they came from. 

I saw the shacks as we drove along the road, each one about the size of my walk-in closet, made of scraps of single sheets of metal or wood.  Some were located close to small houses made of brick.  I thought of my house with its four flushing toilets, and I marveled at his state of acceptance and joy, chatting and chuckling as he shared what he knew about the sights along the way.    

"Do these communities have both white and black people living together?" I asked.

"Oh, no!" He responded. "There are no white people who live there."

"What if a white person wanted to live there?  How would the people feel about that?  Would the people ignore them or reject them?" I asked.

"Oh, we would be very happy and honored to have them live with us.  We would love them and help them and treat them like they are one of us!"  He said with a big grin.  His words brought tears to my eyes.  They were so genuine and filled with warmth.  Where was his resentment?  The thought didn't even seem to cross his mind.

Finally arriving home, I had time to read the news and saw that Trevor Noah had been quoted in the Washington Post.  He was talking about Trump using victimhood as a tool to galvanize people against each other, using it as a powerful political tool to manipulate voters' emotions by inciting fear.  Here is the link: Trevor Noah. 

I thought of the two drivers who shared their thoughts with me during the drives in S. Africa.  They were victims of racism, but their hearts were filled with something else.  In one, there was the fire of a fighter.  In the other, the acceptance of a saint. They did not embrace the identity of victimhood even though they, of all people, had a right to that label.  I admired their spirit.

Sometimes, people who hurt others use victimhood as an excuse (an entitlement) to continue their racism, discrimination, or persecution of others.  And sometimes, politicians use that moral weakness for their own political purposes.

As I reflect on what I've learned,I have come to appreciate that being a victim doesn't necessarily mean living in a state of victimhood.  I admire the native people of South Africa for their indomitable spirit and loving tolerance.  Despite difficult circumstances, their strength and goodness shine through.