We must not create a class of victims
Life is hard. Racism is real. There’s no question that those of us who are stereotyped and profiled have a harder time digging our way out of a trench than others who seem to satisfy society’s standard of “acceptable.” At the same time that many want and work toward a world where poverty is not a permanent condition and an underclass is not necessary for an economy to thrive, we also need to be vigilant about not creating a group of perpetual victims.
I fear this is now occurring. People who blame others for every infraction or injustice in their lives, by definition, feel powerless. They have essentially given over the ability to decide and direct key elements of their existence, including the right to define their levels of success and happiness. Think about it: For any of us, from where does the real joy in our lives come — winning the lottery or completing a hard-won task?
As someone who has worked lifelong as a therapist, counselor and group leader of various populations, I have come to believe that each of us has “special needs” — albeit some more obvious than others. There are issues we are born with and others that are developmental deficits — emotional, physical and cognitive needs left unmet as we progress throughout our lives. Most certainly, in every social and economic strata, many of us bear scars of abuse, deep wounds from the slings and arrows of unfair treatment toward us as individuals and those we witness toward the wider public.
These cause pain, shame, resentment and deep sadness. Yet most of us find a way to navigate them and go on. We discover where and how to expand our coping resources. Akey ingredient to going forth in one’s life with integrity and hope is being able to integrate outside help into one’s sense of self to develop the resilience to bounce back from life’s hardships. For those fortunate enough, this may be inculcated by one’s parents; they help their child to feel good enough and connected to others in a positive way and reach out for support when needed. The child then has skills to create these types of relationships elsewhere. For others of us, a sense of self is something we must consciously seek out and formulate through other interactions and experiences.
Recently, I have spent some very rewarding and interesting time with two people, one in his 20s, the other in her 30s. I have known them through my past community counseling practice in Baltimore City. If anyone can claim to be disenfranchised, it is them: They were born African-American into circumstances with absent or inadequate parents, had social and emotional challenges, and were involved with agencies concerned with troubled youth; no silver spoon was ever delivered for them.
Their interaction with me as a counselor was but a stepping stone on their path in life. One went on to obtain a college degree and found a professional job with benefits and opportunities offering real choices for his future. The other has held a steady job for many years, received promotions and, most touching, is raising a lovely daughter with the consistency and discipline that was never shown to her while she was growing up. They refused to be statistics.
Of course, the success of two AfricanAmerican young people does not lessen the burden of those who suffer daily from discrimination. Yet I think it is realistic to expect and respect that each person has the capability to mine resources within oneself for his or her greater good and growth.
Many of us from all backgrounds labor daily to overcome our particular special needs and deficits, be they caused by abuse of any kind, childhood trauma, physical or emotional dysfunction, missed opportunities, death of loved ones, and whatever other hurdles each of us needs to navigate daily. When we continue to define one group as victims and do not acknowledge the struggles many of us wrestle with, then we create a gap that takes our experiences even further apart.
As a white person, I have certainly benefited from some of the perks of white privilege, and I understand the need for Black Lives Matter. I think more people would also accept the concept if the focus were on lives filled with hope, promise and responsibility — rather than victimization.