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The Black Community & Our Relationship with the Word "Victim."

Updated: Aug 21, 2022

In the Black community, a stigma comes along when anyone attempts to push the notion that we are victims. The conditioned understanding is that those who accept that description place themselves in a perpetual state of victimhood. The societal definition of victimhood is a debilitated mentality that seeks sympathy to gain absolution from self-responsibility and accountability. There is a resistant group to labeling those of the Black community as victims because it’s said that label will give us an excuse not to do better, not strive for more, and not become victors.


I call bullshit, however, on this entire reverse psychology nonsense that attempts to shame the Black community into ignoring our generational traumas.


Let me begin by laying a basic understanding of the word victim; the definition is a person harmed, injured, or killed due to a crime, accident, or other event or action. Now with knowing the history of the Black community in this country, I find it hard to believe that we cannot label ourselves victims in this country. We’ve been harmed by chattel slavery with no redress from the government other than changing the term and scaling it down to criminalizing blackness. The Black Codes have harmed us with no redress from the country. Jim Crow has harmed us with no redress from the country beyond conceding to legal battles which civilized the nation. We’ve been harmed by segregation with unequal funding, retaliatory community annihilation, and deadly resistance to the Civil Rights Movement. We’ve been harmed by farmland stealing and discrimination. We’ve been harmed by unequal employment and unequal pay practices. The Daughters of the Confederacy have harmed us. We’ve been harmed by the introduction of crack into our communities. We’ve been harmed by redlining. Political playhouses have harmed us. The Crime Bill has harmed us. High taxes and poor housing conditions have harmed us. We’ve been harmed by gentrification. We’ve been injured and killed through all eras by the paddy rollers and police brutality. In every sense of the word, the Black community is a victim.


There should be no problem in understanding this, but our conditioned state leads us to ignore our generational traumas. Our conditioning convinces us to move on and suck it up. We are accustomed to surviving. We are hardened to see no inequality. We are trained to see no unjustified treatment. We are persuaded to see progress made. Regardless of our individual and collective experiences, our conditioning normalizes our struggle as “progress made.” Our conditioning attempts to neutralize the fact that we are still victims.


The cognitive dissonance paints a collective understanding that we were victims when we were concurred and weak. However, we’ve now made progress, so we are no longer victims and no longer vulnerable. Unfortunately, with this “no longer a victim” thinking, one tends to believe that this proves we are stronger, more determined, wiser, or even simply better than the ones who came before us and allowed those dehumanizing things to occur as well those who sit and languish in their "lowliness" by blaming "the man" instead of "doing something about it."


Now despite there being nothing in the definition which references “weakness,” the perception of someone who is a victim often encourages judgment of weakness. It doesn’t matter that this is victim-blaming or that this judgment goes the route of absolving the perpetrator and, in a sense justifying the actions because the victim’s weakness allowed the harm to happen. Our conditioning forces us to swallow a societal status of freed slaves and victors against Jim Crow to uphold the myth of a post-racial society. This post-racial myth allows the pretense that those of the Black community are not victims.


Often I hear, “I’m not a victim. Nothing is keeping me from doing what I want in this country. No system’s going to keep me from my dreams. White people aren’t holding me back.” However, being a victim has nothing to do with how you reset, press on, or survive. Being a victim identifies that you have been harmed or have an injury that needs to be redressed. Ignoring the step of identifying harm and injury that needs redress, however, is what leads to the “victim mentality” that so many condemn.


In psychology, the scientific personality term analyzed here is TIV – Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood. Psychology further describes this as having four main dimensions: (1) constantly seeking recognition for one’s victimhood, (2) moral elitism, (3) lack of empathy for the pain and suffering of others, and (4) frequently ruminating about past victimization. This study was conducted with a sample group of Jewish Israelis, but this is still the research presented to us which explains “playing the victim.”


As we understand the dimensions and frame them with the stigma in the Black community, we could potentially take my earlier list of “generational traumas” as seeking recognition for the Black community’s “injuries.” Fine. I wholeheartedly admit that I want acknowledgment and redress for those generational traumas.


Moral elitism is explained as one painting oneself as a saint and the outsider/outgroup as evil. I will concede to this point that I have painted the Black community as the victim and the “system” as evil.


As for the lack of empathy for the pain and suffering of others, I can’t give any ground because it is always the Black community leading coalition attempts and/or assimilating for the dominant society’s appeasement and simultaneously judging ourselves more harshly. Some even say it’s to Black women’s detriment that we take up everyone else’s fight. However, some psychologists say this also deals with feeling entitled to behave aggressively, selfishly, and indifferently because of being wronged. They’ve termed the “Oppression Olympics” as “egoism of victimhood” and concluded that collective groups of self-identified victims engage in ongoing conflict with those deemed as their adversaries. These groups collectively feel less guilt for the harm they cause to their adversaries, all because they have been wronged and are entitled to “bad and destructive” behavior. In this sense, I see a clear description of how Black men behave towards Black women in the "gender war" that has developed.


Finally, we can again attribute my bringing up “generational traumas” to ruminating about past victimization. In doing so, it is said this makes it harder to forgive and instead encourages feelings of retribution. I will say I’m not to the point of revenge, but redress is my requirement before true “forgiveness” can ever be asked for.


With all of this psychological explanation of the “victim mentality,” I don’t see how we can skip over PTSS—Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome altogether. (The following is quoted from Dr. Joy DeGruy’s site joydegruy.com)



WHAT IS P.T.S.S.?

P.T.S.S. is a theory that explains the etiology of many of the adaptive survival behaviors in African American communities throughout the United States and the Diaspora. It is a condition that exists as a consequence of multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery. A form of slavery which was predicated on the belief that African Americans were inherently/genetically inferior to whites. This was then followed by institutionalized racism which continues to perpetuate injury.


Thus, resulting in M.A.P.:


· M: Multigenerational trauma together with continued oppression;

· A: Absence of opportunity to heal or access the benefits available in the society; leads to

· P: Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.


Under such circumstances these are some of the predictable patterns of behavior that tend to occur:


KEY PATTERNS OF BEHAVIOR REFLECTIVE OF P.T.S.S.


Vacant Esteem

Insufficient development of what Dr. DeGruy refers to as primary esteem, along with feelings of hopelessness, depression, and a general self-destructive outlook.

Marked Propensity for Anger and Violence

Extreme feelings of suspicion perceived negative motivations of others. Violence against self, property and others, including the members of one’s own group, i.e. friends, relatives, or acquaintances.

Racist Socialization and (internalized racism)

Learned Helplessness, literacy deprivation, distorted self-concept, antipathy or aversion for the following:

· The members of one’s own identified cultural/ethnic group,

· The mores and customs associated with one’s own identified cultural/ethnic heritage,

· The physical characteristics of one’s own identified cultural/ethnic group.


When we compare PTSS to TIV and factor in a society that has normalized the Black community fighting for humanization with no era of healing and redress, how are we supposed to pretend we don’t need acknowledgment of the perpetual injuries and harm which needs redress? Why do we leave it at self-accountability, community accountability, and cultural accountability as if what needs to be corrected would not be an issue had we not been and continue to be victimized by the “system.” We’ve been set down a path conditioned by destruction. Still, instead of analyzing the harm inflicted so we can create a proper redress, we condemn our collective inability to heal trauma we don’t even understand.


The idea to “Do for Self” is also often thrown in the ring when differing opinions on this topic are debated. “Believing you’re a victim will train you not to look at yourself for growth, not to look to yourself to fix the problem, and trains you to believe it is someone else’s responsibility to make you whole again. We need to become self-reliant. Why do we need a handout? Why do we need the government to fix our issues?”


ANSWER: Because we are citizens of this country and our existence here is what sustains this country. Because it was this country that harmed us. Because we are not all individually equipped to heal ourselves. Because the larger collective of the Black community has been conditioned to live with a constant survival mindset versus a building mindset. And as for “building,” whatever we build will still be part of this country and must receive the government’s approval because no nation has ever been built “by itself” when it lacked control over resources.


We currently do not have the resources to build a school system; however, we can build schools that this country’s academic board must accredit. We currently lack the resources needed to build a significant food infrastructure as Black farmers have been drastically losing their farmland since the 1920s and still face heavy discrimination. We are currently behind in the market of creating jobs for the community. A healthy chunk of the community works in the service industry, in fast food and retail stores, where most of our economic spending is wasted. Of course, we have the whole “Black-owned” sector, but most Black-owned businesses are not franchising and employing millions in the community. We do have Black people outside of the service industry, but for “Do for Self” to collectively be a viable option, the majority can’t rely on a job market outside of the community to survive.


Suppose those wealthy Black people don’t reach back to buy the block to prevent gentrification, fund daycares, fund clinics and hospitals, fund business startups, etc. In that case, the Black community has the right to rely on the country to pass policies that redress the harm inflicted on Black farmers, on rejected Black real estate developers, on hindered, potential Black homeowners, on victimized Black landowners, on underfunded educational facility victims, and the list goes on. We deserve to become politically literate and strategize to have resources funneled into our communities.


We are victims. We deserve redress. We deserve for this country to provide free mental health care to the Black community. We deserve more work like that of Psychologist Dr. Joy DeGruy, which analyzes our generational traumas, which have morphed into cultural norms. We deserve mental health studies that will allow us to break these conditioned mentalities. We deserve for the government to grant full scholarships to Black people who choose to do this work.


We deserve for the government to redress the Black families who’ve lost their farmland to white farmers, as well as the Gullah-Geechee people who’ve lost their land due to real estate predators finding a 28th removed cousin to sign over land so they can build resorts.


We deserve the government to rectify the miseducation the Daughters of the Confederacy cemented into the educational system. We deserve an educational system that doesn’t foster a societal norm of Black inferiority, dehumanization, and ideals of the white man’s burden.


We deserve these things and so much more, including monetary reparations.


We are citizens of this country. Our issues are deserving of this government’s attention. Immigrants get this government’s attention and policies and reforms. The Japanese got this government’s attention, apology, and reparations. The working class got this government’s attention and, in 1940, were finally rewarded with the legalization of limiting the workweek to 40 hours. Before then, the workweek was whatever the employer decided with no OT pay. The working class also got this government to legalize a minimum wage in 1938. Again, employers were doing what they wanted. Over and over, this country has issued policies and redress to its citizens. However, when it comes to the Black community, we are shamed into believing we want a handout, we're unable or unwilling to do it ourselves, and we're not being emotionally statable, mentally strong, or pridefully conscious enough to overcome undiagnosed PTSS.


We are victims, and this country owes us redress. Government intervention should not be internalized as a handout but instead seen as demanding/receiving owed payment. We have been and are still victims regardless of “handouts.” From the education system to housing practices, to lending practices, to taxing rates, to policing, to judicial punishments and predatory plea deals, to dominant society micro-aggression, to entertainment character assassinations, to “the talk” for Black men, to code-switching, to normalizing Black struggle and death, none of this will change just because people want to hide away from the stigma of being a victim.


The concept being relied upon is victims need help and handouts. Victims can’t build. Victims have a defeatist attitude, and that mindset keeps you from even attempting. Granted, this is true about a “defeatist mindset,” but it’s also true about broken and unaware people.


Realistically speaking, we aren’t going to magically start building “infrastructure” in our communities, especially not without the government. There is nowhere in this country to build infrastructure without permits, licenses, fee payments, etc. So, the concept of separating from the government and politics is out of the question. Suppose we don’t find a working political strategy. In that case, politicians and their donors will continue to bulldoze over the “little people” who need help but are too prideful and politically illiterate to demand it. We won’t get contracts and funding, which we deserve, but most likely won’t get without playing politics. We won’t be able to build schools or affect the curriculum in the current educational system. We won’t be able to open farmers’ markets free from the discrimination the Black farmers have faced since the 1920s. TECO and Duke will not let us freely push our way into setting up an electrical grid for Black communities nationwide. Real estate will not transfer freely to our control on a large scale. A broken collective of people who avoid politics will not dictate housing policies. The job market will not boom with a couple of million BOBs that only employ 6-10 people at max. The approximate number of employees of Black-owned businesses is only 920,000. There is too much to build for us to “do it ourselves.”


Now I am not living in some fantasy where I believe “the system” will lay out the carpet for us to get redress. However, knowing we are perpetual victims by understanding this country’s legacy and continued means of operation allows me to identify where redress is needed. It allows me to understand the moves I must take.

  1. Suppose funding and an incitive for mental health studies and workers is not going to come. In that case, a push we need to start is conditioning the people to not be so defensive to therapy and encouraging the younger generation to become psychologists and therapists over entertainers and athletes. We must nurture a passion and normalcy for healing.

  2. Suppose the government decides to stall protection for the farmland and inherited land of Black people. In that case, we need to build awareness and perhaps start funds to purchase the lands that are in question to protect the families living there for generations. We must keep developers from displacing Black families from their Gullah acres. We must fund pots to economically back the Black farmers we still have. We must also nurture respect and the necessity for farming.

  3. Suppose the school board continues to refuse to offer a full and beneficial education. In that case, we first understand we may have a skewed understanding of history ourselves, which allows us to ignore it or disrespect it, like boiling the Civil Rights Movement down to proximity to whiteness, specifically white women. The Civil Rights Movement was more than the six CRM leaders you can rattle off the top of your head. Robert F. Williams fought for indoor plumbing, mail home delivery, and fair employment pay and opportunity. Rudy Shields, Ella Baker, Jo Ann Robinson, and Septima Poinsette Clarke are also people we should know, but I digress. We must begin to emphasize the importance of knowing our history; otherwise, what is the issue with what the school board teaches? We must nurture a passion for ourselves and our history and understand and correct our conditioning from our whitewashed history.


I haven't even scratched the surface in this quick, miniature analysis. I simply hinted at healing, the importance of having land and a food source, and knowing your history and self to have a foundation to build upon.


My common theme here, though, is nurturing. Nurturing because we are victims, victims of harm, injury, and continued conditioning.


It is true; we perpetuate the conditioning that leads too many into “victimhood.” Many of us are led into the state of feeling forever burdened and needing relief, needing someone to relieve the pressure. Howbeit, it must be said that condemnation and shaming tactics will not make the people stronger nor make them see and analyze the conditioning more clearly. Hostile and shaming enlightenment will not produce a “victor mentality” en masse. It may work for Black women attempting to stand upright in a crooked room, credit to Melissa V. Harris-Perry. Nonetheless, this often leads to cognitive dissonance.


It is common for many to suppress trauma, ignoring the harm this decision causes, all to give the illusion of being in the prestigious club of those who are "strong enough to overcome." If that means believing Black people just need to learn how to heal without identifying what needs to be healed from beyond innate wrongness, so be it. If that means completely ignoring the harm done to Black people and condemning us until we do better, so be it. The harms are normalized as Black life, so we're socialized to "just get over it." The cognitive dissonance desensitizes people to the harm delivered to Black people and leaves the way open to condemn behavioral reactions and patterns resulting from the harm.


Those willing to "enlighten" others by setting themselves up as an authority able to speak on and to the community must recognize that acknowledging that this conditioning was placed on us because we are victims does not equate to us being weaklings. Throughout world history, power has ebbed and flowed from differing people and regions. We are not inherently weak just because we are in an era of decline. Every ancient kingdom, despite its glory, eventually fell. (I am not calling our community a kingdom. I'm pointing out that if even kingdoms worldwide eventually became concerned, we shouldn't be shaming Black people as if we are genetically inferior for being concerned.) However, ignoring the mental blocks that we must destroy or looking at them in a defensive, half-ass manner will make us believe we can “build” in a country that has already established itself as a global superpower in this era of world history. It will set us up for failure as we won’t know where to start or sustain when we have pockets of success.


Being afraid to label ourselves victims forces us to pretend we aren’t actively being harmed. Some people may take the label too far, but it’s because we don’t know how to heal. It’s not because “we aren’t victims.” Admitting we’re victims can lead us to identify wounds we need to heal once we prioritize healing and mental health. Condemning acknowledging that we’re victims will force us to pretend our issues are self-inflicted and stem from nothing other than our inherent weakness, “low IQ,” and wrongness.


Admitting we’re victims doesn’t absolve us from responsivity. It allows us to say we need healing in a society that conditions us to do better despite the harm and injury. It identifies issues where we can demand political redress. It gives us the freedom to hold this country accountable for the generations of injustices. And in doing so, it’s not asking for a handout to people too weak to build for themselves. It’s a demand of Pay What You Owe to the people you messed over. As soon as we realize that and we get over the stigma of government assistance, waiting for a political promise will turn into economic bankruptcies. (The Civil Rights Movement wasn’t a success because of picket signs, but there’s a reason you haven’t learned that.)


To close out, I fully understand the cynicism the community at large has towards politicians and this government doing anything for our benefit. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that we are victims. I also understand societal conditioning of the term victim equating to powerlessness, but that’s merely because of the word relationship. You’re only powerless when you ignore the injuries that make you weaker because you don’t want to appear soft. We’re being taken down from the inside out because we know we need fixin’, but we refuse to go to the root. So much has harmed us, and it shows up in how we treat each other and what we expect from our own country. If we could begin to admit our harm, we could begin to take responsibility for where we need redress. We could learn what is required to heal the wounds instead of soaking up blood and condemning the community for bleeding too much.




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