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I am a person that seeks to understand different perspectives. I often place myself in settings where I feel like an “other” and I have to re-learn the cultural/social parameters of a particular space in order to better understand experiences from a different lens. Sometimes, this is even a journey within the Black community.

Over the years, I have had many opportunities to explore the notion that Black people are not a monolith. Across the board, we express from different places on political opinion, social experience, education, and even theology. I’ve taken the time to listen and participate in fascinating discussions about different points of view and I’m sure I’ve been “canceled” by a few people as well.

The Props

Along this journey, I discovered voices like Larry Elder and Thomas Sowell. They more formally introduced a term to me, one I’d heard in fragments from different influences throughout my life: victim mentality.

I’d often heard variations of “You can’t blame all your problems on the white man” from family members, Black bosses, and older voices in my predominately Black church. Sowell and Elder, however, were using this term as part of a case to say racism doesn’t exist in our society. I had never heard the influences I grew up around say that.

Elder and Sowell explained that many in the Black community had not achieved the level of progress they complain about because they don’t work hard. They said Blacks tend to adopt a victim mindset when things don’t go well for them and start blaming their problems with society on imagined notions of white oppression. Elder and Sowell often pointed to the Civil Rights era as the turning point in American history that disallowed Blacks to have any more excuses. They repeatedly state that Blacks are now on equal footing, have the same access to all that American society has to offer, and there is no statistical proof for racism.

I can’t tell you how much I disagree with their conclusions. I heard Elder and Sowell out, and I do believe they could have valuable contributions on other topics, but I find their stance on racism to be the highest form of cognitive dissonance. It is almost comparable to living in a complete fantasy world. Much of my disappointment lies in the fact that these are both brilliant, highly-educated Black men. Instead of applying their intellectual wealth to substantive social equality efforts, they are too often propped up by conservative white platforms as the model Blacks who “get it right.”

The Facts

Another major critique I have with this presentation of victim mentality is that it dismisses true Black victimhood. It doesn’t take long to research disparities in education quality, prison term convictions, economic advantage, and police violence to discover that racism is still having a profound impact on our country. The more you take the time to look, you will find that the subtleties of systemic injustice toward Black people are not so subtle at all.

Consider this example of an average Black woman who lives in a poor community. She may live in a rental property. She may be a single parent of multiple children. She may receive welfare assistance. She also may be in poor overall health. In the minds of the Larry Elders of the world, she is criminalized and rejected as a non-contributing member of society. She is the scourge of our economy, the shameful product of laziness and immoral choices.

hat we must realize is that this situation is not simply a series of individual choices by a person.

First, we shouldn’t ignore the reasons the community is poor. This neighborhood at one time may have been economically healthy. Either suddenly or over time, a sequence of industry change, limited economic opportunity, and city planning may have decimated this neighborhood. The community in which I live has this story.

What was once a proud, working-class neighborhood was abandoned by its residents, businesses, and local government. The developing suburbs were offering living opportunities for certain kinds of families based on particular demographics (income and race). The practice of redlining had a swift effect on this community, causing a mass exodus of middle-class families. The businesses followed, closing down and relocating based on the industrial and economic change of the times. With the evaporation of jobs in the immediate proximity, families started to struggle. Finally, city planning decisions were made to develop an interstate that provided easier access through the state. This interstate development would need to run directly through the neighborhood, effectively demolishing hundreds of homes and splitting the community in half.

The Black woman profiled earlier may have only been one or two generations removed from these events. The effect is still felt for many who lived through them, and the same story could be shared in different cities or states across the country. It is difficult for any one person to overcome these circumstances.

Gospel of Grace

The concept of victimhood is treated irresponsibly when presented incompletely. Systemic injustice makes victims of groups of people, irrespective of an individual’s effort to overcome their problems. In short, if you’re going to address a “victim” mentality, at least acknowledge the complete profile of the victim.

In the case of the conservative’s victimhood commentary, the victim mentality is pigeonholed into a person who simply doesn’t want to work hard to change their outcome. What often comes alongside this presentation is a disregard of the “victim’s” human dignity. The critiques are often articulated with language that questions a person’s worth based on their socioeconomic profile. Whether or not they respond appropriately to their crisis is used as a measurement of whether or not we should care about them.

This is the antithesis of the gospel picture of grace, where the sinner-person most destitute and unable to pull themselves out of their circumstances is shown a rich kindness. The rescue we receive in Christ isn’t contingent on our “appropriate response” to our poverty or any kind of Darwinistic philosophy pointing to our ability to save ourselves or die. God is good and he alone determines to save those who need saving—whether the person acknowledges it or not. We should consider the grace we receive before we conclude someone else is not worthy of human dignity.

I would call those who maintain the views of Black victimhood from influencers like Larry Elder, Thomas Sowell, and more recently Candace Owens to take an honest look at the circumstances of the “victims.” There is often a story of systemic oppression that brings shape to the current circumstances and even mindsets of Black people working to achieve a better life in this society. There is no cause to disregard their stories, nor to look down on the outcomes of their lives.

Many times, quick judgments are aided by a lack of proximity to the individuals navigating these difficult circumstances. The truest form of laziness is a decision to avoid learning and refusing to contextualize in order to feed truncated conclusions. Do the work, read the history. Prayerfully you’ll find that the conclusion to be humbling, and the work of compassion better equips you for interacting with Black victimhood.

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