Opinion Piece

Marelise van der Merwe: The Other News Round-Up: The Victim Checklist

Each week, Daily Maverick brings you a round-up of the week’s odder happenings in South Africa and further afield. This week: victim or pity party?

This week's most peculiar tempest in a teapot: Jacaranda FM advertiser Eric Barnard pulled their R100,000 per month advertising contract with the radio station after breakfast show co-host Tumi Morake commented that white people could be compared to bullies. “It’s like a child whose bicycle was forcefully taken away from him,” she said. “Then you say to the bully ‘no, no, no, share the bike together, don’t be like that’.”

Manager Marius Barnard had “had enough” of Morake’s political views and ended a 25-year relationship with the station, saying the station should not get involved with politics (eh?), that the ads did not get any returns anyway, and adding as a parting shot: “Black people should stop saying we [white people] are to blame for their problems.” Since then, a Facebook group has called for the boycotting of the station. (“Pages liked by this page”: Steve Hofmeyr.)

Because using white capital to strong-arm a black journalist into silence doesn’t prove her point at all.

Anyway. If Barnard is telling the truth about not getting any returns from Jacaranda, then this looks remarkably like a bullying tactic. If it’s not true, then it’s surely cutting off one’s nose to spite your face. But that, I suppose, is Barnard’s problem. He’s got to figure it out.

As for Morake and her co-host Tim Bester, they’re stuck with the fallout on their side, too.

And here we sit: surreal tableau of the week - a white person crying racism, saying black people cry racism too often. It’s a fairly common problem, this: disagreement over who exactly is the victim in a given scenario.

Particularly in situations of social justice, many seem to struggle with the concept that they might not be a victim, just an asshole. But if you’re ever confused, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a handy checklist to help you figure it out in times of trouble.

Are you attempting to maintain the status quo or change it?

This is very important. Now, before you decide you’re in the clear, we need to be very certain of what “status quo” means. Recent moves towards greater equality do not count. Things you have had to start getting used to do not count. Those things count as changes to the status quo that you are resisting. Got it?

So if you’re a homophobe resisting the “status quo” of gay marriage becoming acceptable – minus one point in your victim column. If you’re a man resisting the “status quo” of increasing numbers of female CEOs – minus another point. Actually, make that minus two points for failure to Google. If you’re a white person resisting the “status quo” of people of colour being in the same competition pool for employment, minus one more point. Minus three points if you’re still claiming that “whites don’t get jobs” or think unequal distribution of wealth doesn’t exist. It’s a thing. Look it up.

How often do you say or think ‘It’s not fair’?

For every time you use this phrase in a week, one point in the “asshole” column.

Do you frequently accuse those who are widely acknowledged as being disadvantaged of being “whiny”?

Think carefully now. This is a big clue. It’s quite possible that the sound of their whining may just be them turning up the volume so that they can hear each other speak over the sound of your carping.

If hearing testimony of the suffering of others irritates you, it’s quite possible you are behaving like a spoiled only child. Try looking outside of your own wants and needs. It’s a big world out there.

Do you flip the script?

All together now: Being called on a) your privilege or b) your abuse of others does not make you a victim.

If someone points out that you have more than they do (or that you wronged them) and you respond by playing the victim card, congratulations! You just got 20 points in the asshole column.

Do you focus on what you lack rather than what you have?

I met an elderly woman who lived in a freezing metal structure in Wolwerivier. She was sickly and her grandson was in jail. She told me me how grateful she was for her home, the grant she received, and her family. I have met executives who complained more about what they had than that woman. Come on, you know what to do and which column to tick.

Do you play the blame game?

If you do fail in life or don’t have what you want, do you think it’s never your fault? Is it always circumstances, or someone else, or the fact that someone came along and stole your opportunities? Now, we need to be careful with this one, because there are people who genuinely face a lack of opportunity, and it’s not right to minimise their experience. (Which those who want to play the victim card often do!)

But take a look at the statistics. Do a little research. If everyone else in a comparable set of circumstances is doing all right, maybe it’s time for a soul-search.

Another test is to ask yourself if deep down you feel powerless. If you think everything in your life happened to you rather than thinking of yourself as an active agent, maybe there’s a problem. If you’re feeling out of control, it can spark acting out to reassert your control. Like, for example, making a big public noise when it really isn’t necessary. This is something three-year-olds and wannabe-victims do. You know where to put your pencil.

Are you perhaps so angry because you believe you really are superior, perhaps even to an entire group of people?

I’m just going to park that there. Think about it.

Do you fundamentally believe you’re entitled?

Here’s a related point. It’s tied into that innate sense of superiority as well as the blame game. You see, people who think the world owes them something think it is because they are marvellous and that it must be someone else’s fault if they don’t get what they expect.

But it’s also well-nigh impossible to be a downtrodden victim if your sense of superiority is so fundamental and so firmly instilled that you believe you’re entitled to that silver spoon. Pick a side, bud.

People who really have been victimised typically struggle to take up space in this world. Their confidence suffers. Often it’s a real battle to believe they deserve the same as everybody else.

I was at a nursery recently and a well-heeled woman came marching in with a very dead plant. She demanded to see the manager. It turned out she wanted to return the plant because she believed the plant, which she had bought a month earlier, was defective. It was so inconceivable to her that she could have killed the poor plant – which she obviously had – that with great confidence, she actually beat the poor manager into submission. She ended up getting a new plant. Which I don’t doubt also turned out to be “defective” within a few weeks.

I’ll give you one guess which column that behaviour goes into.

Do you believe the upliftment of others places you under attack?

The default setting of people with a victim complex is defensiveness. If you haven’t yet read Jay Naidoo’s excellent column on listening to the stories of feminists, do it now. Naidoo has in part been such a formidable activist over so many decades because of his extraordinary humility.

A defensive setting means you’re not open to learning about others. You’ll dismiss their activism, perhaps, or “forget” the wrongs you condoned or participated in, or tell them to just get over it. (While clinging hard to your own perceived slights.) You’ll rapidly silence all their attempts to speak up, usually by deflecting attention to your own pity party. You’ll know little of their experience, although you claim otherwise.

If your response to the suffering of others is to minimise it, while calling attention back to your own (real or imagined), this is exemplary script-flipping… and first-rate assholery. Fifteen points.

Did you get a high score… and it really annoyed you?

Hey, it’s your cap. I’m not going to tell you how to wear it. DM

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