Past Imperfect: Wallowing in Ancient Grievances Serves The Oppressors
Updated: Apr 19, 2022
Keep your eyes on the p̶r̶i̶z̶e̶ past!
General Thomas F. Drayton’s slaves, 1862. Public domain photo by Henry P. Moore, Wikimedia Commons
My mother spoke a lot about her ‘dialogue class’ at the church where they listed topic ideas and picked one to debate. They never picked Mom’s: Integrate the schools by first integrating the neighborhoods.
I guess it was a tough sell for Christians living in the formerly Confederate state of Florida in the early 1970s.
Forced school integration had come to Orlando, less than twenty years after Brown v. Board of Education and Little Rock, with the force of several court decisions and a lawsuit by the NAACP. While others debated busing black kids to white schools and vice versa, Mom argued the only way to fight racial prejudice was for people to live together in the same neighborhoods.
After living in ultra-diverse Toronto for fifteen years, it’s obvious Mom had the right idea, never in doubt; Americans self-segregate as much as they redline.
It’s important to remember and learn from history, but humans too often wallow, picking at ancient injustices like scabs and not allowing them to heal.
It feeds the victimhood mentality which serves all our masters far too well by taking our eyes off the prize — a better future.
A tale of two victimhood cultures
I’ve been party to victimhood cultures preoccupied with past grievances.
I’ve been a Pagan for thirty years. Wicca is a religion inspired by pre-Christian polytheistic traditions, with modern twists like a respect for life, the earth, the interconnection of all, and its unique value prop: Putting spiritual power in the hands of women.
I learned about it from my new Pagan boyfriend after I moved to New England. I read books in his personal library and attended a few circles. I was drawn but resisted, put off by intense young people who I suspected were just exploring identities, and who seemed preoccupied with victimhood, going on about European witchcraft persecutions and what they did to women.
Point taken, as I was already familiar with the horrific history, one I revisited after I broke down and ‘came out of the broom closet’. I grew tired of the constant emphasis, the notion that women were perpetual victims of men, and the undercurrent that fundamentalist Christians would bring back the ‘Burning Times’ if we weren’t very, very vigilant.
We burn the a witch at an SCA event in 1993 at a Spanish Inquisition party. Photo from my archives.
Paganism was a sub-group within a larger victim culture to which I also belonged, feminism and its obsession with ‘the patriarchy’.
Patriarchy is real, more entrenched in some places than others, but it’s pretty weak in North America, even back in the ’90s. I came to identify less with feminism as a result of its growing debilitating message of relentless victimhood. Where’s the empowerment?
I’m white, so I don’t have personal experience with POC victim mentality, but it’s a third distraction keeping the eyes of the oppressed focused on a past we can’t change, with inattention to the present and future we can.
2 Past, 2 Curious About ‘Reparations’
Focusing on ancient injustices keeps one crazy and triggered. Especially those already addressed, and when everyone’s ancestors are guilty of the same crimes with which they charge others.
The U.S. banned slavery over 150 years ago; which is more than can be said for parts of Africa today. Yes, there’s an ugly legacy of systemic racism here, as there will be wherever systemic slavery occurred, which is to say, everywhere. Black Lives Matter focuses on the here and now, the problems facing black people today: Police brutality, poverty, lack of educational opportunities.
Some ‘anti-racists’ would rather do nothing. Easier to share posts and memes about ‘slave reparations’. Because, George Floyd.
Debating the idea diverts necessary attention from real problems. Who gets reparations?
How do people prove they’re descended from American slave-owned ancestors? (Not all African-Americans are.) What if they’re mixed race? How ‘black’ do you have to be? What if their black ancestors owned slaves? (See: Africa) What if you look white but had slave-owning ancestors? Do you get X dollars? How much is enough? What’s the result? Does that fix everything and end the racism conversation?
The most critical question: Who will pay for it, and how will you convince American taxpayers, none of whom ever owned slaves, to give free handouts to blacks, in accordance with the stereotypes, none of whom have ever been enslaved?
I rolled my eyes when Pander Bear Elizabeth Warren said it was time to have a national conversation about reparations.
I heard, “I’m torpedoing my chances for sitting in the White House.”
Was she trying to get Donald Trump re-elected?
Why are you marching if you’re not voting?
It’s no secret I have little use for victimhood mentality. I recognize we’re all victimized, sometimes specifically and sometimes by The System.
Victimizing someone takes their power. Identifying with victimhood and refusing to take it back allows the victimizer to keep it.
It’s why I no longer identify as a feminist, even though I’m non-feminist in name only. Rip off my ‘egalitarian’ label and you’ll find a feminist underneath.
But I don’t like to label myself as such. I don’t want to be seen as misandrist and victimized. I don’t identify with weakness.
I don’t care anymore about The Burning Times.
Or medieval tortures devised for women.
Or how women were designated as property in the Bible and forced to marry their rapist.
Or Scarlet A’s.
Or that American democracy wasn’t granted to women until 1920.
I care about these things if they’re happening today.
What I most care about is people claiming to be against injustice but can’t be arsed to vote.
“My vote doesn’t count.”
“The system is stacked against us.”
“The corporations control everything.”
“Putin decides who becomes President.”
“My fave didn’t get the candidacy so screw the one who got it.”
“They’re all a bunch of crooks.”
“They both suck.”
If you can’t be arsed to vote, I can’t be arsed to care. Voting is the fundamental Number One thing you can do to change the system, and if you don’t like the system, VOTE, GODDAMMIT! If the system is stacked against you, the corporations have outsized control of the process, foreign hostiles are allowed to hack our elections, and all the candidates suck, it’s BECAUSE YOU DON’T VOTE!
Barack Obama noted voting among young people is ‘usually pitifully low’. It raises the question how useful they are putting their lives on the line in the streets if they don’t back it up with something concrete.
Obama notes you can’t just vote at the federal level; who’s in charge at the state and municipal levels are just as critical.
Consider this: About 70% of the states with the highest increases in COVID-19 death projections are Republican-governed. One notable exception is Ohio, whose Republican governor acted with precaution early, winning the confidence of both Republican and Democratic voters for keeping infection rates lower than in your typical Republican-governed state. Now he’s under pressure from his party to resist crackdowns and to require masks.
In the end, it call comes down to YOU.
Don’t forget school boards and “…The elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system [who] work at the state and local levels,” as Obama wrote.
Do your part to keep religious fundamentalists away from the education system and lip service-paying officials who forget about reform when the elections and protests are over.
Voting to change the here and now and most importantly, the future is the single most important thing any American can do to directly impact their own life. It doesn’t mean you always get who or what you want and you never get a ‘perfect’ candidate but you send a message even when your candidate loses. Donald Trump knows part of why he has so little respect is because he lost the popular vote and squeaked by on a constitutional technicality.
The GOP knows it, too, and they now face a Morton’s Fork: Support Trump and potentially lose up to the entire Congress along with the White House, or not support him and watch him destroy their own chances by ruining them with his idiot supporters.
But, if enough voters wallow in the past and argue for things they’re never going to get, like slave reparations, or scare each other with horror stories of the return of witch-burning and The Handmaid’s Tale, or tell themselves this has never been a worse time to be an American woman, they’ll perhaps stay at home licking their wounds and perpetuate the system they say they hate.
The masters would approve. Crisis averted.
This originally appeared on Medium in July 2020.