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Victim Mentality

By Cally Jetta

The concept of ‘victim mentality’ is a tricky one. It’s an insult many of us Aboriginal mob have heard too many times in discussions about our history and activism.

I have been accused more than once of ‘being stuck in the past’ and having a ‘victim mentality’ by frustrated people who disagree with my posts. I don’t view myself that way at all. If I was confined to the past I wouldn’t be working my arse off for a better future and if I saw myself as a victim, I’d hardly be effective in my role as an educator or activist. How can you empower others if you yourself are weak?

There is a big difference between wanting your history known and your cultural rights restored; and being stuck in the past with a ‘poor me’ mindset. Too often this statement is used to diminish and undermine our peoples’ perspectives and to make us feel unjustified in our endeavours. It is an easy way for the ignorant to brush it off and dismiss any lingering feelings of guilt or shame.

To me a victim mentality is all about a mindset based on self-pity. I learnt many years ago what a useless and dangerous emotion it is, it lead me down the worst path possible before I finally woke up. I make a conscious effort now to never let my self-talk turn to pity.

Before this, I would justify my lack of responsibility, my recklessness, and selfishness by convincing myself I was broken, recovering, grieving, isolated or whatever else worked at the time. It was never my fault and I couldn’t help it. I wasted many opportunities and sabotaged some good relationships with that attitude.

Aboriginal struggle and intergenerational trauma is real and needs to be addressed, but we must not let our grief and oppression define us as people. Our existence, our mindset and our perspective must be bigger and broader than that.

I think often self pity and victimization are expressed as anger. Some people have become so consumed by the politics and the struggle that they can’t see anything else or think outside of that. Everything is black, white, us, them and somewhere along the line compassion for other people and accountability for our own issues can be diminished.

I know it’s not always an easy thing being Aboriginal or any racial minority in fact, but I remind myself that there are people fighting the same struggles as us all over the globe and that there are countless people enduring far worse right now. We need to stay humble and keep our compassion. We need to channel our grief and anger productively so that we can achieve greatness, rather than creating our own barriers to happiness and success.

We are not victims; we are survivors. Survivors remember what they’ve endured and where they’ve come from; while forging onwards with pride, strength and tenacity.


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  1. Ann

    Yes Cally, the first stage is ‘victim’, many get stuck there. Backward-looking people even want you to wallow and remain there permanently, probably because that gives them the chance to play condescending. Next stage is ‘survivor’ – a much better place to be but a bit passive in my view. Then follows another stage which I don’t know what to call but I get the feeling you are there – using your experience to quietly forge the conditions for a new world. Your work isn’t being wasted even if you think things are moving too slowly 🙂

  2. diannaart

    We are trapped in the past if we (everyone – not just those harmed) do not learn from our mistakes.

    For example, the Royal Commission into Child abuse. Many survivor/victims, were finally heard, finally saw (some) justice being done, many years after their trauma.

    Time does not always heal, when wounds are not cleansed. People/humans need to be validated not brushed aside into a too-hard basket by the dominant culture.

    To release people from “victim” requires acknowledgement, understanding and respect – then people can become survivors, people who have been tempered and are all the stronger for being included in an equitable future.

  3. Ken Butler

    Have you ever noticed how clearly and cogently our indigenous treasures are able to express their thoughts.
    Obviously, it is a special gift that they have had for thousands of years.
    Credit where credit is due.

  4. Kyran

    It’s funny how we apply the one principle differently to different groups. The ‘Victim Impact Statement’ is a well established and accepted part of the legal and social process in all manner of crimes. Yet, here we are in 2018, not just denying that due process to our First People, but still (largely) maintaining that there is little ‘crime’ to acknowledge.

    The broad purpose isn’t for a victim to get retribution and, more often than not, doesn’t involve restitution, let alone compensation. It is simply a well worn path accepting that there are stages in the transition from ‘victim’ to ‘survivor’. This will include helplessness, anger, fear, grief, and many other emotions. It is acknowledgement that a crime was committed and, as a result, your life was impacted. It doesn’t erase the crime or its impact, it is merely one step along the way to accepting and acknowledging a wrong was done. The rest of the journey is different for everyone.

    In Victoria, there is a process;
    “You can do this by making a Victim Impact Statement. A Victim Impact Statement can help the judge or magistrate understand how the crime has affected you. It gives you a chance to talk about how you feel, and what has happened to you because of the crime.
    Your Victim Impact Statement is one of the things the judge or magistrate thinks about when they decide what penalty to give the offender.
    A Victim Impact Statement is different to the statement you make to the police, where you tell them exactly what happened at the time of the crime. It’s about explaining how the crime has affected you:

    That our First People have been impacted physically, emotionally, financially and socially is undeniable. We have had literally dozens of RC’s, commissions and enquiries into the crimes of our past and, whilst their findings are often consistent, their recommendations are often ignored.
    The impact not on that list that has also devastated our First People is ‘culturally’.
    When it came time for our PM to acknowledge the impact on the victims of these crimes, there was the usual whitefella todo, politics.

    “Kevin Rudd was advised against making the apology to the stolen generations at the opening of the new parliament after his election in 2007 and was “worried something could go wrong”, according to Jenny Macklin, then minister for Indigenous affairs.”

    “While Rudd went on to deliver the apology at the opening of the new parliament on 13 February 2008 – a gesture which is one of his most significant legacies as prime minister – Macklin said the politics of the apology were always fraught.
    In executing the internal policy work leading up the milestone, Macklin said there “was a concern – which I came up against regularly – that the prevailing politics of the time did not lend itself to generous symbolic gestures to Aboriginal people”.”

    “Macklin – who led the consultations with Indigenous leaders which informed the scope of the apology, and the discussions with other key figures, like the former high court judge and governor general William Deane, the former Liberal Indigenous affairs minister Fred Chaney, and Mark Leibler, then co-chair of Reconciliation Australia – said the strong advice to Labor at the time was if the apology was to be a bipartisan parliamentary gesture, which is ultimately was, compensation could not be part of it.”

    The whitefella is forever concerned at the cost of reparation for historical wrongs and maintains that as a primary consideration. The victims, as history has shown us, are more mindful of at least having a voice, of having the crime recognised for what it is. The similarity with the victims of the most recent RC are inescapable.

    As always, the Australian people have demonstrated they are so far ahead of the politics, our leaders are nothing more than an embarrassment.
    In the recent protests, tens of thousands of Australians marched in acknowledgement that there is a need for change. Many observers wrote of people who had participated in the ‘Australia Day’ march in Melbourne and then stayed for the ‘Invasion Day’ protests. This is not necessarily a ‘conflict of interest’. Is it inconceivable that people can celebrate their present whilst acknowledging their past?

    As for our politicians being out of step, the marriage equality charade should have given them fair warning of how out of step they are. The LGBTI community is not easily defined in numbers for various reasons. The ‘old’ calculations were one in ten. More recent estimates are equally fuzzy, anywhere from 6-8% of the population. Yet the vast majority of Australians had no problem acknowledging a basic, fundamental human right. Equality. Likewise our First People, who are represented as about 3% of our population, get support from tens of thousands of Australians. Even in 1967!

    Turnbull, with his characteristic poor judgement, dismissed Makarrata out of hand. Both the SA and Vic governments have received wide spread support for their negotiation of Treaty, even though they are using different models.

    “We are not victims; we are survivors. Survivors remember what they’ve endured and where they’ve come from; while forging onwards with pride, strength and tenacity.”
    I, for one, am in awe of your pride, your strength and your tenacity, which I can only acknowledge through my respect for your ongoing humanity.
    Thank you Ms Jetta. Take care

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