Saturday, February 05, 2005

Legacy of Oppressed People

I first saw this on Michael Moore's site; an essay by Mel Giles. This comes close to articulating that initial nagging feeling I had regarding Bob's response to the Dobson flap;

Watch Dan Rather apologize for not getting his facts straight, humiliated before the eyes of America, voluntarily undermining his credibility and career of over thirty years. Observe Donna Brazille squirm as she is ridiculed by Bay Buchanan, and pronounced irrelevant and nearly non-existent. Listen as Donna and Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer take to the airwaves saying that they have to go back to the drawing board and learn form their mistakes and try to be better, more likable, more appealing, have a stronger message, speak to morality. Watch them awkwardly quote the bible, trying to speak the 'new' language of America. Surf the blogs, and read the comments of dismayed, discombobulated, confused individuals trying to figure out what they did wrong. Hear the cacophony of voices, crying out, "Why did they beat me?"

And then ask anyone who has ever worked in a domestic violence shelter if they have heard this before.

They will tell you: Every single day. The answer is quite simple. They beat us because they are abusers. We can call it hate. We can call it fear. We can say it is unfair. But we are looped into the cycle of violence, and we need to start calling the dominating side what they are: abusive. And we need to recognize that they will keep hitting us and beating us as long as we keep sticking around and asking ourselves what we are doing to deserve the beating...
Some may suggest that we use the "vicitimization" explanation too often in today's society. That may be true. But that doesn't mean there are not instances when it is an apporpriate definition of the situation. This reminds me of the article by Giles Fraser from last June; Book Club Bullies. Bullies may be too light of a term, if you are the target of such behavior. I think "abusers" is more appropriate.

If this premise is correct, it requires a slightly different response from the norm, it would seem to me. What is this difference? Here is Giles' description;

... How to break free? Again, the answer is quite simple: First, you must admit you are a victim. Then, you must declare the state of affairs unacceptable. Next, you must promise to protect yourself and everyone around you that is being victimized. You don't do this by responding to their demands, or becoming more like them, or engaging in logical conversation, or trying to persuade them that you are right. You also don't do this by going catatonic and resigned, by closing up your ears and eyes and covering your head and submitting to the blows, figuring that its over faster and hurts less if you don't resist and fight back.

Instead, you walk away. You find other folks like yourself, 57 million of them, who are hurting, broken, and beating themselves up. You tell them what you've learned, and that you aren't going to take it anymore. You stand tall, with 57 million people at your side and behind you, and you look right into the eyes of the abuser and you tell him to go to hell. Then you walk out the door, taking the kids and the gays and minorities with you, and you start a new life. The new life is hard. But it's better than the abuse.
Does this rule out some future reconciliation? No. But before any real reconciliation can happen, we have to stop the abusive behavior, which may require walking away. Otherwise, any future interaction will rise out of the past abuse, and we will continue to be victims; reacting to the violence instead of being proactive in seeking solutions.

So, where is the path forward? Again from Giles;

We have a mandate to be as radical and liberal and steadfast as we need to be. The progressive beliefs and social justice we stand for, our core, must not be altered. We are 57 million strong. We are building from the bottom up. We are meeting, on the net, in church basements, at work, in small groups, and right now, we are crying. Because we are trying to break free and we don't know how...
I want to highlight one particular statement, which is quite different from the conventional wisdom that is offered regarding confrontation; " must promise to protect yourself and everyone around you that is being victimized. You don't do this by responding to their demands, or becoming more like them, or engaging in logical conversation, or trying to persuade them that you are right..." This is the critical difference when dealing with an abuser.

If you think this is extreme, try for a moment to imagine yourself as an Iraqi civilian, a prisoner at Gitmo, a gay or lesbian Christian, or a person living in poverty. If you can't imagine that, I suggest you go out and listen to some of their stories. I think Mel Giles has come very close to hitting the mark.


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