Last summer, veteran Washington Post columnist George Will argued that victimhood in America, thanks to the efforts of progressives, had become a “coveted status that confers privilege.” The column was highly controversial, and generated significant outrage.
But in an age where figures like Rachel Dolezal — and now, possibly, Shaun King — seek to adopt marginalised identities as their own, was Will right all along?
At first glance, there appears little reason for white people like Dolezal to seek status as African-Americans. Why would they abandon their privilege? African-Americans suffer from greater levels of poverty, lack of educational opportunities, and are considerably more likely than whites to be the victims of violence.
However, even as the majority of black America suffers, a small minority of “community leaders,” activists, and organisations have benefited from their misfortune. People have a habit of throwing money at problems instead of coming up with genuine solutions, and vast quantities of cash flow through charities and activist groups who promise to help marginalised groups.
The NAACP, where Rachel Dolezal was employed, received more than $26 million in contributions in 2012. Shaun King, meanwhile, was able to raise more than $540,000 for victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2011 — approximately $340,000 of which remains unaccounted for, according to black activist Ilio Durandis. He also raised $60,000 for Tamir Rice’s family, though the Washington Post isn’t sure where the money went.
King reportedly failed to pay promised bail money of $10,000 to a woman who tore down the Confederate Flag, money he promised in a series of tweets that were later deleted when it was pointed out to King that inciting crime is itself a crime, according to The Blaze.
Beyond financial incentives, victimhood can confer an aura of moral infallibility. The point was best made in The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed, an essay by the English philosopher Bertrand Russell, who observed that society had a habit of describing oppressed groups in more virtuous terms than groups perceived to be privileged.
“The soft bigotry of lowered expectations” has also been used, notably by the last Bush administration, to describe the damaging effect of low standards imposed on underprivileged groups.
All of this adds up to an environment in which a small minority of clever progressive activists are able to profit from the disadvantage of millions. There may be no incentive to be a real victim, but there’s certainly an incentive to pose as one. Meanwhile, the genuinely disadvantaged continue to suffer.
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