Tag Archives: victim blaming

Passing the Buck to God

In the weeks since the Newtown massacre, opinions about the role of God in what happened have dotted both traditional and social media.  Some people have proclaimed that tragedies like this occur because we’ve removed God from our schools and other public arenas.

Hmmm.

What exactly is that supposed to mean?  Is this a reference to the ban on prayer and Bible reading in public schools?

Lots of folks believe that God is an all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful being.  That means God is still around when prayer is not.  You can’t remove God.

Many believe that God is also a merciful and benevolent being.  That means God is not the type to seek revenge because prayers went unsaid.

I realize what people probably mean is that we would be better behaved if we paid homage to God in every aspect of our lives.

Really?

I guess we’re supposed to conveniently forget that people have used their version of God to justify the most horrendous behavior throughout human history—while some of the kindest souls on Earth do not believe in God.  People have free will, and they can decide to do terrible or wonderful things whether or not they pray to God.

When people say that the problem is that we’ve taken God out of the equation, isn’t it just another way of saying that they think we should all believe exactly what they believe religiously?  For example, proponents of public school prayer may embrace the Lord’s Prayer, but what about Elohai Neshamah, a Jewish morning prayer?  Or Dhuhr Salah, the Islamic noon prayer?  Or a Hindu mantra?  Or a Buddhist prayer?  Or how about a truly American prayer, an Ojibwa prayer?

It’s pretty clear that the school prayer proponents don’t want just any God; they want Christianity in our public schools.  Christians have a long history of imposing their religion on others in a variety of thoughtless, cruel, and violent ways.  This is a past we can do without repeating.

Whether it’s God or a gun, each of us decides whether we will use what’s before us for good or evil.  We decide whether we’ll profit off the sale of assault weapons to civilians, or super-realistic killing-spree video games to young men, or other forms of violence as entertainment.  We decide whether we will accept, condone, or promote violence through our silence, our wallets, our victim-blaming, our refusal to hold offenders accountable for their actions, our denial, and our lack of self-awareness.  Yes, that’s right—our violence is not about God or Allah or Yahweh; it’s about us.

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A More Conscious Kindness

The Newtown massacre has captivated the nation’s sympathy, more so than other violent incidents in recent history.  Two weeks after the murder of 20 children and seven women, media coverage continues.  People are still talking about the changes they want to see.  A super strain of compassion is driving us to commit random acts of kindness, and to drown Newtown with so many gifts that they have been forced to nicely beg us to stop.

Rarely does an act of violence galvanize the nation the way that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has.  Why is that?  What exactly about the Newtown murders makes us behave with such caring and conviction?

On 12/23/12, Huffington Post published The Unbearable Whiteness of Suicide-by-Mass-Murder, an article by Michael Kimmel and Cliff Leek.  The authors explain how our response to violence is shaped by race.  When the shooter is white, we’re quicker to attribute his behavior to him having a mental illness.  When the shooter is not white, we’re more likely to assume his behavior is the result of the culture within which he lives.  Either way, we divest ourselves of responsibility for the shooter, regardless of his race.

However, we allow our view of the gunman to also cast a shadow on our view of the victims.  Victims who are murdered by a sick individual are likely to garner more of our sympathy than victims who are murdered because we believe they are members of a violent culture (unlike ours, of course).

There were 16 mass shootings in the United States in 2012.  Sandy Hook was the deadliest, followed by the Aurora movie theater shooting in Colorado in July.  Any guesses on the third deadliest massacre this year?  I’ll give you a hint.  In August, an Army veteran walked into a suburban place of worship and opened fire upon the families, killing six people.  Do you remember?  That shooting took place inside a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

On 12/25/12, Alternative Radio rebroadcast a talk by Deepa Kumar, author of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire.  Kumar shares how our concept of Muslims as violent extremists has manifested in both blatant and subtle acts of racism against Muslims and anyone we perceive as being Muslim.  In one example, she mentions how little attention the mass shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek received in comparison to other mass shootings.

On 12/26/12, KPFA conducted an interview with Beth Richie, author of Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation.  Richie explains how black women are both victimized and then criminalized, while white, middle-class women are more likely to be seen as innocent victims who are taken up as national causes.  She notes that the mainstream movement argues for innocent victims instead of looking at the ways that race and class position some women to be more vulnerable to violence.  Richie shares that even when black women are murdered, the media tends to tell a story of the women’s wrongdoing, criminal records, and so forth, instead of telling the story of their victimization.

Twenty children were killed in Newtown.  Over 530 youth, mostly African-Americans and Latinos, have been shot to death in Chicago since 2008.

Our compassion and support for the Newtown families are appropriate responses.  Isn’t it time we spread our caring and kindness around?

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Countless Victims

Depending upon which news account of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting we read or hear, we are told about different numbers of victims.  Some reports emphasize the 20 children.  Many accounts also include the six school personnel for a total of 26 victims.  A small number of stories reference the 26 people murdered at the school, plus the mother killed by her son, the gunman.  Hardly any news reports include the gunman in the death toll.

The Newtown gunman shot his mother.  This woman is no less a victim of homicide because her son is the man who shot her.  This woman is no less a victim of homicide because she owned the gun that was used to kill her.  A young man made the decisions to develop and carry out a plan to massacre children and women and then to kill himself.  He, alone, committed these heinous acts.

As it turns out, we’re a judgmental bunch when it comes to victims.  We tend to believe that a person must possess the innocence of a newborn and the purity of a saint to be considered a true victim.  We look closely for perceived mistakes and flaws to disqualify people from receiving full victim status and the full warmth of our support.  Very few people emerge from this scrutiny without being blamed in one way or another for what happened to them.

The older the victims, the less likely we will see them as innocent, but some of us will actually find ways to blame children for harms committed against them.  We often take into consideration whether victims are somewhere we feel is appropriate and at a time we deem appropriate, and then we assign some degree of responsibility to the victims for their victimization.  If we think that the victims were engaged in less than upstanding behavior at the time, or ever, we tend to feel they deserved whatever happened.  We like to believe that victims had control over the violence committed against them because we like to believe that we are smart, strong, and good enough to avoid being victimized.

We especially like to blame victims who have been harmed by someone they know.  We are quick to hone in on the victims’ behavior and to neglect a thorough examination of the perpetrators’ behavior.  The victim must have incited the perpetrator to do what he did.  The victim must have known the perpetrator wasn’t stable, but failed to take action.  Why did the victim stay?  We fool ourselves into thinking that we would never allow ourselves to be in such a position . . . until we are.

Our victim-blaming ways offer us a fleeting sense of security while ironically decreasing our actual level of safety.  Victims of some crimes are too vulnerable to deal with society’s misplaced scrutiny that they don’t ever come forward.  We need to hold offenders accountable instead of making victim-blaming excuses for their behavior.  Perpetrators commit crimes because they can and, too frequently, without facing many consequences.  We should expect violent offenders, not their victims, to answer to us as citizens.

The reality is that each of us will find ourselves in circumstances where we do not have the power, where we are at the mercy of others’ decisions and actions.  Whether we are crossing a busy street, buying lunch at a restaurant, or sending our children to school, we make numerous decisions each day that essentially entrust others with our health and safety.  Sometimes strangers do very bad things, but most often it’s the men whom we love and should be able to trust who hurt us.  And then society is quick to kick us when we’re down.

Nobody deserves to be murdered or sexually assaulted or beaten or bullied.  Thinking anything else is just another way of condoning violence.

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