Thursday, February 16, 2006

Blaming the Victim

In this on-going dialogue that BrownFemiPower and I have been having, one post mentioned how some people react(ed) to the news that I have cancer. Most people have been kind but I've had more than a few engage in the not-so-friendly game I call "Blame the Victim". I'm sure that anyone who belongs to a historically marginalized group is familiar with it but I'll sum it up for those who might not be so experienced with it.

"Blame the Victim" basically asserts that if something really bad happens to you, it must be the result of something you did or something you failed to do that should and could have been done. This morning I heard a version of "Blame the Victim" on C-SPAN where a caller said that those who perished in the floods of Hurricane Katrina were at fault for their own deaths because they shouldn't have depended on the government to take get them out of harm's way. Of course, this obviously brilliant caller was not a resident in the hurricane-affected areas that he spoke about.

This stance seems quite popular among those who gravitate towards certain political affiliations and I think many of us have grown used to hearing it expressed by both political leaders and followers. Unfortunately, the victim-blaming mentality is not confined to a few issues where (wo)men of goodwill can disagree.

One woman who is of my mother's age-group told me that I probably got cancer from taking the medicine I was given for Lupus instead of just the herbs that she had suggested. Another person told me that letting myself get so stressed out in the past caused my cancer. I just don't understand how someone can possibly think it's appropriate to tell someone something like that.

I recognize that some diseases are acquired from engaging in irresponsible behavior but I still don't see it as proper to go around telling people that you think they caused their own illness. Isn't that just begging the Fates to teach you what the universe is capable of doing to judgmental people? If we're all honest with ourselves, we can't deny that everyone on this planet has done something that could have led to them getting some horrible disease. I don't believe in taking a fatalistic approach to one's health but sometimes who gets cancer, HIV, Mononucleosis, etc. is just the luck of the draw.

Back when I worked at a pharmacy, I saw this truth in action. I was a college student so, I got to know quite a few folks who would go out during events like The Bayou Classic and engage in one-night-stands and come away from it all fairly unscathed. I'd also go to work during that time of the year and see people come in with prescriptions to treat what we called "STD Cocktails". The "cocktails" were the cases where the person engaged in the same sort of one-night-stand activity as the unscathed folks but instead they came away from it all with three or four sexually transmittable diseases. Many diseases are simply not respecters of how often or infrequently one engages in certain activities. Throughout my life, I've tried to keep all of these things in mind whenever I'm tempted to look down on someone because of where they are in life. Any one of those situations could wind up being something I face one day and I'd sure hope that others would have sympathy for me instead of disdain.


Steve said...

No one can blame you for getting cancer, and I wish you a speedy recovery.

I would suggest, however, a different spin to your situation. People want to "blame the victim" because they NEED to believe that such events are preventable. Its not that cancer just happens a person has to do something to get it. Thus, there is little or no danger of these individuals getting it themselves. The same might be said of Katrina or other disasters - people blame the victim, because they'd like to think in their position they would not suffer the same fate because humans have agency over their own destiny.

I think its different for marginalized communities because they recognize better than others (white males *ahem*) that many things in life are simply beyond our individual control.

Anyways, those are my two sense. Again, I wish you a speedy recovery.

Safiya said...

I never fails to amze me what some people think is an acceptable thing to say. It's one thing to THINK something but another thing entirely to say it to another person.

I hate the over-emphasis on the "power of positive thought", so if you have an illness, you're not allowed to be sad at all, ever, because then you're not trying hard enough.

I think these attitudes are, like Steve said, a way of marginalising a reality which is uncomfortable for a lot of people.

Anyway, I will pray you have a speedy recovery and continue to think and feel whatever you like, and blog about it here!