PHOTOGRAPH: JOSHUA BERSON
Did I hear correctly? Did I hear with all the assurance of a middle aged, white, able-bodied middle/upper class, heterosexual man say there are no victims in this world? Did he just say there is absolutely no difference between being a victim to an open fridge door and being a victim to one’s family murdered in the street? Did he just say if I send my children to school without a body guard and they get killed whose fault is that? Did he just use the example of, “Whose fault is it if I put my head purposely onto the road while a vehicle drives by and the vehicle smashes into me? Did he just say the nine year old child who watched her father suicide himself realized that she was not a victim after this same Man asked her “who chose your parents?” And did he just say when she realized she chose her parents that for the rest of her life she was no longer a victim? Really, for the rest of her life? Did this middle aged, white, able-bodied middle/upper class heterosexual man just say all this without contextualizing his opinion? Did he just universalize his opinion into truth?
Does this mean then George Floyd would be alive today if he didn’t put his neck under the knee of the policeman that murdered him or Breonna Taylor chose the police man who shot her dead while she was asleep; or Trayvon Martin’s parents should have sent him to the store with a body guard to protect him from the security guard who shot him dead; or Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Sahki Peters, Draya McCarty, Bree Black; the five transgender women found dead in the past month purposely chose their deaths?
I believe we white-bodied folks have the potential to do great harm in our non-contextual truth stating, in our self-assuredness, in our arrogance mixed up with our kindness and intentional good works. I believe we progressive white bodied folks become dangerous speaking our white subjective truths while in leadership positions of predominately white-bodied spaces potentially absolving responsibility of the racist systems we and our ancestors have benefited and thrived from.
These are real stories: slavery, genocide of indigenous people, mass incarceration of black and brown bodies, biased laws and policing practices; racist media representations; cultural erasures, attacks, and mockery; untold and perverted accounts of history (just to name a few). These violent racist systems are ours to take responsibility, ours to dismantle; ours, white bodied folks who’ve benefited and continue to benefit. By universalizing the belief that there are no victims is irresponsible and does not align with taking radical responsibility!
Ruth King (African American Buddhist teacher, writer, activist) states there is a distinction between ultimate and relative reality. As I understand in ultimate reality there are no stories, there are no victims, we are all One, we all come from one mind, one love, one human race AND in relative reality this is NOT so we belong to stories, real stories, in real bodies with real social constructs that create real divides, real forms of violence.
Yes we may all have agency as human beings to create possibilities, to create change and new stories BUT access to that agency and those possibilities are not on equal ground and this is due to a story, a real story of violent racist/patriarchal/imperialist systems and structures many of us have benefitted and many more are victims to.
And, yes there are folks who have found their agency and changed their lives despite these violent systems and there are many more who have not. I believe by stating with such certainty and without context that ‘we hold the power to be empowered beings or helpless victims’ is another form of violence as it shames individuals into believing they are the cause. Victim shaming is real. Victim shaming is a form of violence.
I believe by stating there is absolutely no difference between the victim of a left open fridge door and a victim of someone’s family murdered in the street is the hallmark of white superiority, the opposite of taking radical responsibility. I believe we white-bodied folks need to actively step into our responsibility and own (and transform) those aspects of our identities (whiteness) that cause harm. I write this blog in the spirit of taking radical responsibility.