News 2008



- If you cannot earn respect, earn fear. It will keep you safe. -

Rosemary Ekosso

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 it.

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 victims.

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 epithets.

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)