Being a unique victim

I feel our collective inability to understand and cooperate with each other comes from, at least in part, the belief that each of us is some kind of victim and that the injustice acted upon us is somehow unique to other injustices — the feeling that by not being me, no one else can relate to my pain.

There are plenty of examples. If you accept Peter Novick’s assertion in The Holocaust in American Life, American Jews have been able to politicize the Holocaust, implying (either subtly or overtly) that their suffering has been unique within the human experience. American blacks have also politicized their centuries of injustice, characterizing their history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, their struggle to gain the most basic civil rights, and simple racial discrimination, as somehow unique. Women have also been unique victims who have suffered second-class status and the denial of basic civil rights, whether at the voting booth, the workplace or in the womb. The list can go on and on (the poor, the “whatever”-challenged, other racial minorities, homosexuals, etc).

I am not denying the injustice suffered by any of these groups. Who could? Anyone with the slightest understanding of history has to acknowledge past wrongs and understand their impact on current situations.

Through our effort to correct historical wrongs, however, we seem to have created a new and unlikely victim for our times: the white man. He appears to have lost power at home, in the university admission process, the job market, the workplace, and in his genitals. Men (particularly white men) have had their dominance attacked so furiously (though not necessarily successfully), that many need a pill to even get it up now.

My personal interpretation of this turn of events is this: white men grew too comfortable having all of the power, are now having to share some of that power and do not like it one bit. Now, despite the tongue-in-cheek spirit of my writing, I cannot totally fail to acknowledge their feelings. I believe that victimization comes from the inside-out — you are only a victim if you feel like one. White men all over this country have come to feel like victims — and who can blame them when you look at it from their point of view? Do I really feel sorry for them? Okay, no, not really, but I think I can see where they’re coming from.

Too much of this politicized victimization has little to do with justice or equality in my mind. Instead, I believe we are motivated by self-preservation and the desire for dominance. The reality is more nuanced than this, of course, but I believe these to be the key components.

If we want to promote fairness, we need to be willing to understand others from their point of view — to learn that our experience is a shared one, in which we all suffer or thrive together. In doing so, we will be able to conduct a more productive dialogue in which, instead of improving our lives at the expense others, we can learn to appreciate and exchange our values. We will be able to embrace the fundamental values of others as our own, because, deep inside, they were ours all along.

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