We need to talk about white America’s ‘victim mentality’

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Are white people OK? 

On Thursday, a New York jury found former President Donald Trump guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree as part of a coverup to hide payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. 

“This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who was corrupt,” said the convicted felon who once believed in law and order. “Everybody knows what happened here. You have a Soros-backed DA and the whole thing; we didn’t do anything wrong. I’m a very innocent man — it’s OK,” he said, adding, “I’m fighting for our country, I’m fighting for our Constitution. Our whole country is being rigged right now.”

After hearing about the verdict, Lice Twitter was inundated with a flood of white tears not seen since innocent sightseers took an unauthorized tour of the Capitol Building on Jan 6, 2021. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted a picture of an upside-down flag, considered a symbol of distress among election deniers. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan blamed the judge, prosecutors and everyone except Trump. And those were the mild reactions

The consternation over Trump’s conviction has little to do with politics or justice. It’s about affirmative action pilots, imaginary DEI medical school programs and Supreme Court justices’ wives. (To be fair, had I known that an upside down flag was a Caucasian distress signal, I would have done something). As Black Americans preoccupy themselves with legitimate, well-documented, peer-reviewed issues like wealth inequality, unequal school funding, sentencing disparities, Black maternal mortality, police brutality and Drake’s ghostwriters’, our Caucasian countrymen have rejected the rule of law.

It’s called the “victim mentality.” 

Coined by conservatives to silence anyone who contradicts the American myth of “rugged individualism,” the term is a gaslighting tool most frequently applied to … well, victims.

While every white person in America benefitted from slavery, Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, redlining, school segregation and voter suppression laws, the social, political and economic gains provided by institutional white supremacy came at a cost. The theft of Black labor and intellectual property was instrumental in creating the American economy, but race-based servitude was not a victimless crime. The country could afford to build a white middle class after the Great Depression because the New Deal excluded Black taxpayers. Homes in white neighborhoods are more valuable because Black homeowners were the victims of redlining, racial covenants and segregation. But, as the reactions to Trump’s conviction show, while Black people are accused of crying wolf, we are always outclassed by our hueless rivals.  

Perhaps no one exemplifies this more than the man who was victimized by Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt,” the 2016 popular vote, inauguration photos, audio recordings, the “fake news” media, vote counters and that pesky Constitution of the United States. Sadly, Trump isn’t a trailblazer in this field. When it comes to competing in the oppression Olympics, whiteness always wins gold.

No one plays the victim like white people.

As soon as the English colonies published a list of grievances in the Declaration of Independence, the esteemed Founding Fathers began weaponizing their victim mentality. James Madison wrote the Second Amendment, in part, to assuage the helpless slave owners who worried that armed Black soldiers would put the “property of the people of Virginia in jeopardy, and their peace and tranquillity.” Ida B. Wells exposed the “thread-bare lie” about rapacious Black men because white women had a habit of “playing the victim.” After the “War of Northern Aggression,” victim-minded majority-Black states like Mississippi and South Carolina passed Black Codes restricting education, apprenticeship and property ownership to protect the economic interests of those who lost their human property. White victimhood is why massacres in Atlanta, Camilla, Ga., Charleston, S.C., Rosewood, Fla., New Orleans, Opelousas, La., Meridian, Miss., Wilmington, N.C., and countless other acts of white terrorism are called “race riots.” It’s why Democrats and Lilly White Republicans both branded pro-Democracy African Americans as “radical.” It’s why confederate states, segregationists and most white Americans believed laws enforcing racial equality were an affront to white people.

When will white people get rid of this victim mentality? 

Despite being overrepresented in the Fortune 500, the federal legislature, state legislatures, the federal judiciary, governorships, homeownership, business ownership and people who don’t bathe daily, in 2017, 55% of white people agreed that “discrimination against white people exists in the U.S.” In March, 52% of white respondents told Pew Research they were the targets of discrimination, which is partly why Trump promises protections for white victims of reverse racism if he is granted another term as Caucasian-in-chief.

If you’re one of those people who don’t believe in stuff like math, science or facts, the current political and social landscape reflects the victimhood that permeates white American culture. Donald Trump’s entire legal defense is predicated on the premise that he is a victim of a weaponized Justice Department that’s trying to assassinate him. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sen. Matt Gaetz have convinced their fellow Republicans that the Jan. 6 insurrectionists were victims of the war on white people. Stop the Stealers still believe they were victimized by zombie voters, undocumented immigrants and 2,000 mules even though every single court of justice, election board, law enforcement agency or independent researcher says otherwise. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ STOP WOKE Act unsuccessfully tried to protect his fellow bootstrappers from becoming victims of imaginary critical race theory. Supreme Court justices, U.S. representatives and presidential candidates have been victimized by trans athletes, “Democratic plants,” Black voters, people who say the word “gay,” women who want to control their bodies, Mexican caravans, Sharia law, pronouns, history, science, math, English and education in general

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This mentality is more than just a feeling; it is a foundational element of America’s anti-Blackness. Legislatures created slave codes to prevent Africans from reading, writing and gathering in groups to protect white people — not just slave owners — from becoming casualties of slave revolts. The Fugitive Slave Clause made every American a constitutionally bound slave-catcher because the founders imagined themselves as victims of Africans’ desire to be free. White people kill more cops, and according to a 2016 report by the Center for Policing Equity, the rate of police killings has no correlation to crime. But because of systemic white victimhood, police officers can shoot unarmed Black people and claim they are the ones who feared for their lives. This victim mentality explains why Kyle Rittenhouse and George Zimmerman became victims of the people they killed. It’s why states restricted access to voting after the 2021 election with no evidence of widespread voter fraud. It’s why colleges must have race-neutral admissions policies — except for loopholes created for mostly white legacies, children of donors and students who are hand-selected by administrators. 

It’s not just prominent political figures and powerful institutions. Regular-degular white people are flocking to join the Church of Jesus Cries and Latter-Day Victimhood. Moms for Liberty is just a small part of the confederacy of Karens who are trying to stop Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “1619 Project” from making white children uncomfortable. Despite the data showing the positive economic impact of migrant workers, affirmative action and DEI, Great Replacement theorists believe their beloved country is being attacked by “illegal aliens,” “diversity hires” and wokeness. Then again, the anti-vaxxers and anti-masker victims of COVID mandates were overwhelmingly white

The woe-is-me mindset is an American tradition. They lament over uneducated Black people and overly educated Black people. They are worried about protest violence and nonviolent protest. They are “free speech absolutists” but feel persecuted when their critics speak freely. Whether it is the “radical leftist agenda” indoctrinating their children, “jack-booted thugs” coming to take their guns or the “woke mob” targeting them with “cancel culture,” they are incapable of imagining themselves as anything other than an injured party whose “freedoms” must be protected.

Dealing with the constant flood of white tears is not just annoying. Aside from the inherent hypocrisy, the persecution complex embedded in Caucasian culture is the biggest impediment to racial progress and true equality. If those people could just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and focus on education, their kids wouldn’t need white affirmative action to get into college. Instead of opposing reparations, banning Black history and whining about how their ancestors didn’t own slaves, they should focus on their own families’ values. America would be a lot safer if they focused on gun ownership and violence in the white community

When will the leaders of the white community speak out?

To be fair, it’s possible that they are better at playing the proverbial “race card.” Whiteness is a more defining factor of the GOP than religion, income, age, sexual orientation, gender, education or even political ideology (Eight out of 10 Republicans are white; only seven in 10 consider themselves “conservative”). But because talking about race is “divisive,” political analysts discuss “blue-collar voters” who suffer from “economic anxiety — even though Black Americans are the least economically secure demographic and are three times more likely to hold temporary blue-collar jobs. Instead of calling a spade a spade, political pundits and prominent politicians renege on their duties and pretend whiteness doesn’t trump everything.

This is the real “race-baiting.”

And it’s not just conservative white people who excel in this competition. Playing the victim is a bipartisan sport. Year in and year out, a majority of white women vote for GOP candidates and then act surprised when their reproductive rights are dismantled by the people they voted for. The Democratic Party chases white moderate voters but blames the party’s election losses on low Black turnout. White progressives capitulate to white grievances at the expense of Black lives by pushing anti-Black policing policies they know don’t work. White liberal parents want equal education, just not in their children’s schools

While I would never gaslight my fellow Caucasian Americans by victim-blaming, the idea that white people are oppressed is laughable. Every conceivable metric places them firmly atop America’s political, economic and social hierarchy. Despite their bellyaching, they are the ones who demand government handouts. They are the ones who reject law and order. They are the ones who benefit from this “unfair” system because they are the ones who created it. Black Americans must fight for change even though, in the entire history of America, there’s never been a nanosecond where we had equal access to education, criminal justice and voting rights. But if there’s the slightest possibility that white people might be negatively affected by the system they built, they rebel, resist, revolt, reconstruct, redeem, secede, storm, scheme, steal, join militias, torch churches, and kill. And kill. And kill. And kill. And kill

No, white people are not OK.

Of course, it’s possible that Donald Trump’s complaints and all the other Caucasian concerns are well-founded. But, instead of blaming everyone else, they should take responsibility for their actions and respect the rule of law. What else do they expect when their children worship thugs like Donald Trump, Kyle Rittenhouse and Lauren Boebert? If they want to be treated fairly, why don’t they just comply? Maybe it’s their culture. Or the media. Or the lack of fathers in the home (According to actual data, Black fathers “shared responsibilities more frequently and displayed more effective co-parenting than Hispanic and white fathers.”) You can even hear their victimhood in their music. I (half) blame Drake.

And yes, some people are actually victims. Just as elections, court decisions and economic policies affect generations of citizens, the consequences of the atrocities, discrimination and violence don’t end when the perpetrator pulls out its bloody knife. The pain of America’s historical crimes reverberates for generations. As they say: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Even if that is true, I still have one follow-up question:

How would white people know what equality feels like?

Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His NY Times bestseller  Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America is available in bookstores everywhere.

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