Howard Feldman

Kanye West and the culture of victim blaming

2018-05-10 07:05

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Victim blaming is all the rage. It’s the new black right now and everyone who is anyone is doing it. Just ask Kanye West, who has decided that slavery of African Americans might have been their choice.

We should hardly be surprised. Women have been blamed for their own rape since Adam (or soon after at least) and only last week, Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority blamed the Jews of Europe for the Holocaust. Their “social behaviour” it would seem, was the cause and who could blame Hitler from designing a system that methodically killed them.

Kanye suggested that the slavery of African Americans was something that they could decide on. Men have long held onto the belief that  they are not to be held accountable for their natural uncontrollable desires and the fact that Jews were the money lenders of Europe was what got them into the mess in the first place.

Kanye forgets the horror of the slave trade and how his ancestors were shackled and herded across the ocean. He forgets his own privilege and the fact that whereas he might have attained certain economic freedom, he is still married to Kim Kardashian. Which doesn’t strike me as emancipation at all.

Men forget that they are responsible for their own behaviour no matter how “provoking and tempting” a woman might be. They choose to ignore the fact that they elect what they do and how they treat a woman, and that as much as they claim it’s all becoming confusing in the age of the #MeToo movement, nothing could be further from the truth. They know when they are using their power and physical strength to coerce and abuse.

And Abbas forgot that Jews were forced to perform the functions of money lenders and tax collectors because of a system that denied them access to almost any other trade in Europe. And that even if they were money lenders by choice, it is hardly a reason to try and wipe them off the face of the earth.

The obvious question is, given the fact that most of us are rational beings (Twitter aside), what is it that causes us to blame the victim and not the perpetrator? I recall so clearly the conversations around a dinner table some years ago when car hijackings were so much more a thing.

“What were they driving when hijacked?” someone would inevitably ask.

“A BM 3 series,” might have been the answer. “Ohhh,” would be a response. “No wonder!”

Relief apparent. Everything made sense.

“The 5 series is much safer! No idea why anyone would drive a 3 series!”  

It was clear that whereas the victim of the crime certainly didn’t deserve the experience, they absolutely should have known better than to drive that particular car. And if it wasn’t the car choice that caused the event it might have been the location, or the colour of the vehicle, the time of day, the watch he was wearing or even the fact that the victim had been to a shopping centre.

But what was important to everyone in the room was that there was a sound and logical reason for it. And that nuance and the cause was the very thing that ensured that it couldn’t happen to anyone at the table. It also meant that the victim was somewhat responsible?

Dessert anyone?

Victim blaming does not only occur in the realm of an outsider. Kanye is an example of an African American blaming other African Americans for slavery. Internalised racism is well-known in South Africa and women are not immune to misogynistic behaviour. Rape survivors often feel a tremendous sense of guilt and victims of domestic abuse are sometimes known to blame themselves.

Jews can be anti-Semitic and Christians apologetic for their faith. Whatever the multitude of factors, that the commentator is a member of that group of people should be used as proof of anything.

South Africa is a unique environment in that the victims of racial abuse were not in the minority as is so often the case. The system was designed to subjugate the majority and it did so “successfully”. The result is that following liberation the damage inflicted has significant reach and victims cannot be comfortably argued away.

And whereas the victims of any situation do bear the responsibility of taking steps toward recovery, blaming victims in any way for what befell them, is plain and simply not helpful.

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    kanye west  |  holocaust  |  slavery  |  racism
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