We white people can be particularly skilled at fooling ourselves into believing that we are victims.
Straight people and the cisgendered — those who identify with the gender they’re assigned at birth — have the same tendency. It’s also common among Christians. This nation, which once fancied itself white, straight and Christian, is fast becoming less homogenous, thank goodness, but those who fear losing their grip on power as a result of this inevitable shift are lashing out.
Last year I blogged for the BDN — and commented generally — a great deal about race. On a number of occasions I was informed by white people that they considered me a “race traitor,” or that, in acknowledging the contentiousness of race relations in America, I was buying into and further perpetuating narratives fabricated by the so-called mainstream media.
“You are as racist as those blacks who commit those crimes because they see all whites as rich or deserving of getting beat up,” I have been informed via email. “Clearly you have never been victimized by black crime. You have never had your girlfriend held up at gunpoint by two black teens who walked away saying, ‘That was easy.’ Clearly you have never been burglarized or threatened by blacks who referred to it as ‘Getting paid.’”
Interestingly, I was beaten up by a black teenager when I was 12, only to be beaten by three white teenagers when I was 17. When I was 15, I witnessed a group of black teenagers beat up a couple of passersby in Philadelphia, and when I ran to tell a white police officer, I was told to not worry about it before he went back to standing by idly.
Beyond those encounters with black crime, numerous white people have stolen from me, many of my past girlfriends have reported being assaulted or raped by white people, and the last time I was in Boston Common after dark with my wife, a group of white teenagers threatened to beat us and to rape my wife. If, according to the “woe is me” white victim, black crime is to be viewed through the lens of race, then I should, based on my experience, see other whites as Chiksika did.
Chiksika, the elder brother of Tecumseh, said of white people, “The whole white race is a monster who is always hungry and what he eats is land.” He, of course, said this in response to what he and his tribe had seen of European settlers’ behaviors. Chiksika said to his brother, “When a white man kills an Indian in a fair fight it is called honorable, but when an Indian kills a white man in a fair fight it is called murder. When a white army battles Indians and wins it is called a great victory, but if they lose it is called a massacre and bigger armies are raised.” Whites have long been known for this tendency.
Fortunately for the foolish, gullible consciences of white men, we have had the luxury of writing the history books. Otherwise we might have to face the fact that our arrival and subsequent policies and brutality resulted in the deaths and displacement of tens of millions indigenous peoples, whom we replaced with more than 10 million slaves.
This is what the progress of tolerance is up against — people who are otherwise unaware of or unconcerned with the plight of others as a means of believing themselves to also be victims. It is this aloofness that makes those who police norms in one way or another extraordinarily difficult to have dialogue with.
On Dec. 30, over on Fox News, Elizabeth Hasselbeck played the victim by saying that she is “over attacks against Christianity.” Before you shed a tear for a white celebrity millionaire, consider that earlier this week Leelah Alcorn took her life in large part because her parents’ Christian outlook prohibited them from acknowledging that their child, born a male, was actually female. They refused to see who she was, to treat her with dignity. This is not representative of how all Christians apply their faith, of course, but it should put into context Hasselbeck’s feigned victimhood.
Celebrities are asking for a reprieve on behalf of their dominant faiths. Police officers are literally turning their backs in response to legitimately being called out for brutality. Many whites, the benefactors of — among so many things — having a several-hundred-year head start by not having been collectively enslaved, are choosing to interpret black crime as acts of race war.
Were they not so involved in preserving the mythology of their own victimhood, these people could take a half a step outside of their own perspectives and see how sad and absurd their behavior is.
Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was a teenager and is a former candidate for the Legislature. He’s an owner-partner of a Portland-based content production company and lives with his family, dogs and garden in Cornish.