My ex-husband had an interesting name for power play. He spoke about being ‘made wrong’.
He was referring to a psychological game that people in highly dysfunctional relationships play. It works like this:
Person A does something wrong. They come to realize it, turn their behavior and attitudes around and apologise to the party they have offended.
Instead of accepting the apology and the change, person B continues to hold the fault over their head. It is constantly brought up in conversation and milked for everything it is worth. The guilt is kept alive by constant reminders and references to the incident. The blame never goes away… it becomes a permanent part of the dialogue between the two… person A is wrong forever. Even worse, person A’s whole being comes to be defined by that single fault… no other part of who they are is ever acknowledged or recognized.
Person A’s guilt feelings leave them highly manipulable while person B smugly wallows in the luke-warm pleasure of their rightness… not because they are actually right… but whatever happens… person A is MORE wrong.
I have started to recognize this game in many of the recent political discussions I’ve had. Based on the historical relationship between whites and blacks I am damned forever. Damned to be a racist, an oppressor, an imperialist and a land thief. Regardless of who I am, how I feel or how I treat the people around me, nothing I do will ever remove the stain from my soul.
I know Africans are angry. I think they have every right to be. And perhaps, because the perpetrators of apartheid pretty much got away with their crime, they are looking for a scapegoat.
But I can say this. I am now sick of the perpetual blame. I’m sick of the assumption that I am a racist merely because I am white. I’m sick of being labelled a thief and I am sick of having the fact that I benefited from apartheid rubbed in my face. These were not things that I did on purpose… they weren’t my personal choice. They were simply… the country that I grew up in.
I have often asked Africans what they expect from me now. What they want me to do in order to make things as right as possible. Frankly, I don’t think there is anything I CAN do… so I understand why there has been no clear answer to this question. What does one do about something that one can no longer reach to fix it… however, ‘making me wrong and keeping me wrong’ is also a little too convenient.
I have been accused of being a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’… assumed to be dishonest, uncaring, greedy and rapacious because of the colour of my skin. I have been made wrong… again and again and again and again.
The thing is… I don’t do dysfunctional relationships terribly well. Not because I’m saner than anyone else. When relationships become too dysfunctional they become hard work.
Constant blaming and shaming have dried me out. My sympathy, my empathy, my shame and my guilt have all been hammered to death. My capacity for caring about race issues has wilted under the burning venom of strangers who hate me for being white. My sense of justice is exhausted and my desire to fight for change worn out.
I'm doing what I've always done in dysfunctional relationships.
I'm walking away.
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