For better or worse, our lives are physical expressions of the narrative we tell ourselves everyday. This narrative is a story about the world the world around us which we adopt and act as a character in. How we see ourselves in light of our past and current circumstances determines the role we play. We’re either the victim, blaming others for our lives, or the victor, taking responsibility for our lives. 

If we’re honest, we all go back and forth between the two. Unfortunately, none of us are immune from the disease of self-pity. I see it in myself and I’m absolutely disgusted by it. Reflecting on the past in order to heal is necessary, but living in the past is a recipe for disaster. I believe these narratives are the most dangerous forces in society, limiting our personal and collective growth.

For example, in October 2017, Dr. Joanna Williams told the Sunday Telegraph“When you teach girls they are victims they believe it. But this is not in keeping with reality and it can become quite debilitating.”

Yet much of our culture is absolutely addicted to the victim narrative. Retelling over and over the pain that was inflicted on us by a particular group can cause irreparable harm. As I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with addressing the pain of the past, but creating a movement around that pain is unhealthy and won’t bring about positive change. This is why, even as a black man, I’m conflicted when it comes to groups like Black Lives Matter. All this approach does is create discord, division and fear along racial, gender, sexual, class, politics and religious lines. If we as people are to heal, we need to let go of the pain of the past no matter how horrific. 

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen thanks Nelson Mandela for meeting with him at Mandela’s home in the village of Qunu, near the town of Umtata, Eastern Cape, South Africa (Feb. 16, 2000) (photo credit: R. D. Ward/U.S. Department of Defense)

Taking one-hundred percent responsibility for our lives, in a strange way, is the path to freedom. I know this sounds harsh, but blaming others for our current pain never leads to healing, and that goes for any group that has experienced oppression, whether visible minorities, women, religious groups, the LGBT community, or the poor. I’m not saying we should blame ourselves for pain inflicted on us by others, but forgive and let go. Forgiveness is the very instrument that frees us from the pain of the past. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s the only antidote to pain. When we forgive, we find the very freedom so many of us are fighting for.

Nelson Mandela learned this very principle in prison. He discovered his greatest opponent wasn’t his oppressors, but the pain that lived inside of him. It wasn’t until he let go of the pain by the act of forgiveness that he found freedom. The prison walls nor his captors could confine him anymore. Imagine that; in prison he found freedom.

There’s a passage in the Bible that speaks to this. Paul is telling slaves that recently became Christians to obey their masters in the same manner as they obeyed Jesus.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.”

To be honest with you, I could never reconcile this passage with my faith. I was absolutely mystified that Paul would encourage new believers to remain as slaves. But Paul, isn’t life about living in freedom, and didn’t Jesus come to save the oppressed from their oppressors?

Well, the answer is yes and no. You see the primary message of Jesus isn’t about social justice, but something much more powerful- freedom from self. Jesus didn’t come to free people from their oppressors, but to free them from their own minds. We think freedom is about rights, but true freedom is about us being renewed in our minds.

This is why we love movies like Braveheart. Remember the line, “They may take our lives, but will never take our freedom!”   

This is essentially what Paul is telling the slaves. Now that your minds have been freed, your lot in life doesn’t determine the state of your mind. Your captors no longer have power over you; even if you remain a slave.  

(Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue by CC)

I believe this is the discourse that’s missing in our culture today. Instead of obsessing about restitution, we need to fight to free people from the self-imposed prison that’s killing them from the inside out. We need to help people heal from the pain of the past.

True emancipation starts in the mind. This is why the victim narrative is so dangerous. It absolves us of responsibility and makes the wrongdoer master over our lives. Social Justice Warrior movements like Black Lives Matter mean well, but unfortunately all they’re doing is perpetuating the very thing they’re fighting against- pain.

“Victim narratives disempower; they remind us that we have no power over our future and no personal responsibility for our lot in life.”

They’re demanding that the entire western social structure to be dismantled in order to make restitution of past sins. This is tantamount to travelling into a time machine and undoing the past.   

They’re demanding justice first, but I argue the best path to justice is forgiveness. This is the only instrument that is powerful enough to quench the thirst for justice.  

Victim narratives disempower and encourage hopelessness; they remind us that we have no power over our future and no personal responsibility for our lot in life. If you keep telling this narrative we’ll continue to abdicate responsibility and wait for the government or an outside force to even out the playing field. Instead of looking externally, we need to look internally; that’s where true change begins.  

We need to start telling a new narrative. A story of hope, action and leadership where we have the power to use our God-given creativity to create our future.

This new narrative isn’t sexy and it might not even feel good or just in the short-term, but the long-term pay off is a freedom that can never be taken away.

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6 Responses

  1. David Lederman

    This is ridiculous and stupid.

    Accusing people of playing the victim is a wonderful way to condescend while not addressing their actual concerns.

    The past does not exist in a vacuum as something separate from the present, and writing about a ‘victim mentality’ seems to imply that it is somehow removed, as if discrimination is some distant, historic idea that people stubbornly hold on to so that they can play the victim. This is simply not so. Societies are complex and complex issues of systematic oppression are not solved by individuals. They are only solved by structural reformation or dissolution.

    Discrimination is structural, built into societies and it needs to be addressed on a large scale. Admonishing people to take “100% personal responsibility” for their lives is only logical if people have 100% control over their lives – and they don’t. Our lives are governed and guided by numerous factors out of our control. Of course, I’m not suggesting nobody take any personal responsibility for anything, but when we’re talking about structural issues, we need structural solutions.

    Stop individualizing discrimination and blaming the (to use your own term) “victim” for issues that are out of their control and affect their lives on a daily basis. Your viewpoints are not new and I can find examples of authors who wrote about this in a more interesting manner from the 19th century.

    You are Booker T. Washington and what we desperately need now is W. E. Du Bois. Next.

    • Joe Mebrahtu

      I appreciate your insight my friend but I’m not trying to individualize the issue, I’m just reminding people that they have the power to let go of the pain. I’m not blind to the systemic oppression. I’m suggesting the fight for freedom must start within.

  2. Reinhard Balogun

    This is an excellent article! I completely agree with what has been said. The victim narrative is getting quite drawn out and old indeed. It is keeping people in bondage and causing them to become prejudiced. It makes people blame everything on their perceived aggressors and stops them from achieving in life.
    I hear the black lives matter movement making statements like, “the system is engineered against black people”. However, I see my fellow Nigerians in the states who do not have the mentality of the African Americans excelling in whatever fields they go into to the same degree as their white counterparts. I do not deny racism- it definitely exists- but it is not as systemic as those with the victim lens try to make it seem.
    You are right, forgiveness is the way forward. If we don’t let stuff go, we will continue to be slaves to our own minds. Excellent article!
    “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, not but ourselves can free our mind” – Bob Marley

    • Jeremy

      While I understand and agree with where the author was going with this article in where it points out a general attitude in society, I do and I don’t. I think Black Lives Matter was the wrong example to use to make this case. Using Black Lives Matter as an example of a victim mentality, is disrespectful to some of the victims this movement represents who are in cemeteries. To some, black lives matter is not about “the pain of the past” in a historical sense, but their son who was unjustly shot recently.

      In general, I will summarize by saying that we have to balance activism, and pointing out the injustices and problems in any society – which does need to happen – with “how can I, personally, make the world a better place”… How can I help the people around me, instead of just blaming people who I have never actually met or had a conversation with. However, if the answer to “how can i make the world a better place”, is always “some other group needs change”, or “we have to be against these people” or “society needs to get rid of people who think this way” than I have to ask, when does the rhetoric get dangerous?

      I tire quickly of the often-white Marxist-leaning (even if they don’t know what “Marxist” means) far-left SJW people who have a hipster fetish for being a revolutionary, who then adopt the similar language of legitimate movements and go on and on about systems of oppression in Canada, “lets have a system wide revolution to bring in the Communist Workers party”.. and its blame blame blame without balance and they walk around with a chip on their shoulder, and their whole world view is activism against injustice in way that makes them personally and emotionally unhealthy. All the while they are in one of the most privileged societies the earth has ever known, walking quicker to pass homeless people on the street while sipping their $7 latte on the way to the latest protest fundraiser. I could use countless examples of many other groups with various degrees of hidden agendas all co-opting or stealing the same rhetoric.. but I won’t.

      We know from history, that when there is a lot of rhetoric that scapegoats a specific group for a societies problems (read “blame”): murder, genocide and gulags are quick to follow. I admit thats a more exaggerated and extreme example, but that’s the general gist of things we gather from looking at the last 100 years of history.

      (btw I hate the term SJW because its a polarizing term that disrespects REAL social justice heroes taking on much dire problems around the globe, but I think people know what I mean when I say that.)

      • Kevin Bourne

        There are definitely times where the protest/activism approach used by Black Lives Matter is necessary, especially in the case of the Philadelphia-Starbucks situation, but I do think as black people we’ve become so used to being the victim. We’re not empowered. For example, in our city I go to a lot of meetings, AGMs, and open houses (that are open to the public) that have to do with the future of our city, and there are usually 1 or 2 black people present. And it’s not just black people; it’s visible minorities in general. In the past we were definitely shut out from being at the table, but more and more people are wanting us at the table but we’re not taking our place; we’re not engaged outside of instances of injustice. Protesting but not being present at City Council meetings and other public consultations is reactive.

        I think instead of waiting on society to see the error of their ways in order to move forward, we just need to take control of our destiny and move on on our own terms. Build from within and figure out how we can help ourselves because the government and society may never do it.

  3. Patrick McCormack

    Black Lives Matter is not about a victim narrative. It is all about addressing current systemic violence against black lives. After reading this I have to question the author’s basic understanding of what Black Lives Matter is.


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