Doing social justice without being (or creating) a victim

By Andrew Bennett

     This week, I’ve been thinking about issues involving “victim mentality” and social justice.

     Often times, social justice issues involve a wronged party. However, what one does not want to do is to fall into victim mentality. Sometimes, there can be a fine line between pointing out a social injustice and falling prey to a victim mentality. Victim mentality is rarely a sign of a mentally strong person (Morin, 18 November, 2013, found at http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication-13-things-mentally-strong-people-dont.html). Although Morin does not talk specifically about falling into victim mentality, I started thinking about how her post might relate to social justice issues. Some of the things Morin suggests include not dwelling on the past, not feeling sorry for oneself, not waste time on things that one cannot control, and avoid entitlement mentality. This would tend to fall under the “non-victim mentality” box. Perhaps her suggestion that mentally strong people are flexible and can adapt to many different kinds of situations can also be considered to fall outside “victim mentality”. On the other hand,  Morin does encourage “change” (under the same idea as flexibility), not worrying about pleasing everyone, and taking calculated risks as being signs of mentally strong people. This suggests that mentally strong people stick up for themselves and work toward social change when it is needed.

            What can be done to tackle social justice issues? Certainly being willing to be “open” to communicating about ways of thinking and other educational output are important. Peer allies could also add support. Sometimes, however, power structures may be such that not much cultural change can be made from a bottom-up perspective, but from a top-down perspective. Individuals who are marginalized must impact must realize that they can either a) negotiate their identity with the status quo, a sort of “lean in” approach (Sandberg, 2013), although not necessarily so, or b) find someplace in life where their knowledge and skills are valued.

          If these individuals do “negotiate” their identity, they should try to do so in a way that is empowered. That is, these individuals should be aware of their limits and, to the best of their ability, try to do good work. If these individuals find that they need to take an opt-out option, they should empower themselves to make the decision that is right for them.

            It is important that people be able to advocate for themselves or others, but they must do so in a way that shows “mental strength” if they wish for success. If one is in a population that is impacted by these outdated standards, one is probably best off trying to work with those that represent the status quo in a pragmatic manner (realizing that perhaps one may not be able to change everything at once or even, individually, very much at all) or move to something that one may be better suited. This may not always be “fair”, but it is pragmatic.

            While pragmatic approaches are unappealing, oftentimes, to idealists, dealing with a problem in a pragmatic fashion is much better than dealing with it in a “victim mentality” way. Speaking to power is important, but falling into a disempowered approach often does no good other than to put “complaints” out there. On the other hand, pragmatic approaches that confront justice in an empowered way, that seek to make society / process / organization better may have more impact, if not at first, than in the long run.

            Representing oneself or being an ally in a “mentally strong” way is also superior because it provides an alternative to the present reality. Having a vision of how a problem can be addressed does a lot more than merely identifying a problem. If a problem is merely identified, it will not necessarily change. It is more of a complaint. An identified problem with a solution, on the other hand, may give one more power to address the issue because one is actually solving a problem, meaning that one has something to offer besides just a complaint.

            Even though there are many areas calling out for justice, it is important to not represent oneself (or others) as being merely a victim of injustice. This usually just consigns oneself to “victim mentality” status. Rather, it is more empowering to have a solution at hand so that the society / organization / process can be improved.

           

*** Last week’s blog incorrectly referred to the Society for Disability Studies in reference to an article written by Corbett O’Toole. This blog strides for accuracy, integrity, and the pursuit of truth. In this instance, there was inference made when none existed. In fact, O’Toole referred to disability studies conferences in general. Apologies for the mistake.***

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