We must not cre­ate a class of vic­tims

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Joyce Wolpert Joyce Wolpert is a li­censed pro­fes­sional coun­selor; her email is jb­dance8@ya­hoo.com.

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.

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