THERE are people who have wronged, and are wrong about the disadvantaged. And those people remain resolutely wrong about the disadvantaged whom they refer to as ‘victims’, partly because many people use the term ‘victim’ in a derogatory sense; they see these ‘victims’ as unable to help themselves; as ‘causing it’ upon themselves; as lazy; as liking handouts from other people; or born that way, and so on.
The disadvantaged, or the downtrodden, may be victims from other people’s eyes, but from their own eyes, they are not victims. They have a story to tell; a story that would rarely conjure up props for handouts. Their story is about struggles in time and space; that is, their stories would take you back to different times in their lives and in different contexts. And invariably for them, it is Man’s inhumanity to Man that generally secures their placement in the house of the disadvantaged. But victims they are not, at least, not from their perspective.
QUOTE: ‘The disadvantaged, or the downtrodden, may be victims from other people’s eyes, but from their own eyes, they are not victims. They have a story to tell; a story that would rarely conjure up props for handouts’
An example may further highlight the disparaging nature of this term ‘victims’. In the U.S., a question could be asked as, why is there underperformance in schools among native American children? Some answers may indicate that the child is genetically inferior, or, perhaps, the child is experiencing cultural deprivation, or that the child lacks a father figure, and so on. And then after a barrage of well orchestrated questions, it is assumed that the problem of underperformance resides in the child or the ‘victim’ himself/herself, and not the school; the child will then be investigated to determine which personal factors to blame for the underperformance in school.
In fact, this native American child is not inherently an underperformer; some group with more power than this child manufactured this label ‘victim’ by creating an underperformer. Providing an explanation to show that this child is inherently inferior to children from other ethnic groups, when this same problem of underperformance could be affixed as a label to anyone irrespective of ethnicity, is bizarre and racial. The total world of the victim, of the disadvantaged, is an imposed creation by some people on others. Nevertheless, the disadvantaged can actively and positively respond to their plight. Let us not kid ourselves, for the downtrodden can resist, and would explain why many of them may not see themselves as ‘victims’.
Lest we forget, Black American history is replete with instances of how a stigmatised, disadvantaged, and exploited group took on the force of the white slave owners, long before there was any civil rights law. And this happened because, notwithstanding the brutalities and dehumanisation of slave conditions, Blacks created choices and made a difference to their condition.
Professor McPherson of Princeton University argued that in spite of the vile conditions of slavery in the U.S., the Black slaves initiated their own cultural institutions to reduce the effect of the dehumanising impact of slavery; they created the Black church and their congregation worshipped separately from their white slave masters, when it was illegal to do so; Black slaves invented the ‘spirituals’, to express their hunger for freedom, which in the post-Civil War era, developed first into blues and then jazz. McPherson captures this form of Black resistance succinctly when he asserted: “Thus although slavery’s impact on Black people could be repressive, the countervailing force of a positive black culture provided an impressive example of survival in the face of adversity” (McPherson,1992). Indeed, it was not a ‘could be’; the conditions were blatantly repressive.
Let me use another example to show that ‘underdogs’ can resist. People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) experience considerable ‘negatives’ from the other people, but they do make active and positive responses to this stigma. Just look at how PLHAs resist globally as follows: the ‘Give Stigma the Index Finger’ project in Swaziland, Ethiopia, and Mozambique; AIDS Discrimination in Asia project administered by PLHAs to develop capacity to resist stigma; Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) enables PLHA to become empowered to affirm their rights; HIV-infected Magid’s activist work in Egypt with Forum to Fight Stigma and Discrimination against People Living with HIV/AIDS, Volunteer Positive, among others. In addition, the availability of anti-retrovirals through prolonging the lives of PLHAs has provided them with some capacity for strategic action and hope to actively and positively respond to HIV/AIDS stigma, and where they do not allow the stigma to predominantly impact their lives
Being disadvantaged is not a new phenomenon, but the numbers of the disadvantaged or the downtrodden are growing, creating greater disaffection and discontent. People may well ask, why is there such predominance of the disadvantaged in the world today? The answer lies in one word, ‘inequality’ or unequal income distribution, the precursor to poverty; persistent inequality produces persistent poverty. Traditionally, inequality and poverty were perceived as separate phenomena, but they really are inextricably linked.
And in looking for solutions to eliminate disadvantage, of some interest here might be Amartya Sen’s new proposal of a paradigm shift from a focus on income and growth to a focus on individual entitlements, capabilities, freedoms, and rights. And Cooper, in his review of Sen’s work on development as freedom, noted that Sen accepts the import of higher output and per capita income, but he saw them as not broad enough to illustrate development.
The Sen proposal advanced the case for basic health and basic education because people will not reach the limits of their capabilities if they become chronically ill or if they are uneducated, or let me add, ‘being disadvantaged’. In wrapping up, let me say that as authorities try to remove the disadvantaged status, they must be mindful that the disadvantaged are aware of their plight and do want to become advantaged.