AFRICANS AND VICTIMHOOD
- If you cannot earn respect, earn fear. It will keep you safe.
06. March 2008
There is a kind of woman who relishes describing the physical and
other wounds her partner or spouse has inflicted on her. “He beat
me so badly, I had to have six stitches in my cheek”, she says,
buying things for her man's dinner. However atrocious the
treatment she receives, she goes back.
I think many of the women who stay in abusive relationships enjoy
They like being victims.
But they are not the only ones. Have you not met the kind of
African who likes to detail the things that are wrong with our
continent, how we have been raped and plundered over centuries,
the sort of African who has all the details (real and imagined) of
what the White man did and did not do, and who enjoys the telling?
Have you not met them?
They also like being victims.
I had a conversation with a friend the other day, and I was at
pains to explain to him just what it is that I meant. I’d like to
make the point here.
The problem is not that I disagree with people who wish the
history of our suffering to be remembered. The problem is the
purpose for which it is remembered. Does one talk of the slave
trade or the brutality of the Belgians in the Congo only to wallow
in a sense of being hard done by?
Do we want pity, or do we want justice?
Pity can tug at people’s heartstrings and cause them to feel
ashamed. But eventually, their instinct for self-preservation
kicks in, and they become inured to your pleas. Who likes the
relative who comes begging for money, citing a leg injury he had 5
years ago? Who does not find a friend’s oft-repeated misfortune
trying after a while? I cannot count the number of times I have
felt like saying to someone: yes yes yes yes! I know you have had
a tough time. NOW GET OUT!
Moreover, if you continually cast yourself as a victim, you will
be identified solely as such after a while. There are some people
who enjoy tormenting others. They are called bullies. Bullies love
We must also remember that people tend to feel contempt for the
people they exploit or lie to. It is partly because it is
difficult to respect someone whom you are able to cheat. But it is
also because one can sometimes only justify maltreating people if
one can somehow think that the people deserve it. That is why
exploited or marginalised people are often described as dirty,
lazy, criminal, uncivilised, stupid and all those other beautiful
This may be the blinkered view of one who has no real experience
of acute suffering, but I think a lack of dignity in adversity
does not help our case. It causes us to lose credibility.
I am not saying that noble abnegation and a quite acceptance of
suffering are the right attitude. I do not aspire to sainthood,
especially on behalf of other people. But we need to get out of
this whining routine.
Things were done to us, true. We should remember them so that 1),
we can recognise and fight them if any attempt is made to repeat
them, 2) we will know why we are the world’s unwashed armpit, and
3) we can assess honestly where we went wrong. Yes, we did do
wrong. Though we did not invite the evils, and our own faults do
not necessarily justify the evils being committed, our inability
to counter these evils is also based on failures on our part. Did
our chiefs not sell rivals and prisoners of war into slavery? Did
we ourselves not own slaves? Do we not treat our women in much the
same way as more powerful nations treat us?
We should catalogue our exploitation, but we should not enjoy our
suffering. We should stop whining and act. To use the battered
woman analogy again, instead of enjoying the attention you get by
telling your entourage how badly your husband beat you last week,
fight him with what you have. Tell him that you will attack him in
his sleep when he is defenceless. Or remind him that you do the
cooking, and that the food of enemies can be tampered with.
If you cannot earn respect, earn fear. It will keep you safe.
Rosemary Ekosso is a Cameroonian translator and court
interpreter. She lives and works in the Netherlands. (orig.
published 20. Oct. 2006)