By Marcus Honesta.
I don’t know about you, but every time I pick up a paper, listen to the radio, or turn on the television, there is somebody being offended over something. It never ceases to amaze. I’m not sure whether the entire world today has become softer, more sensitive, or downright too bloody thin- skinned for its own good.
Believe it or not, I’ve been in a meeting with an advertising agency when a female producer jumped up and proclaimed she was deeply offended when one of the proposed actors for the TV commercial was questioned over his suitability. “I’m deeply offended,” she bellowed. Oh, please!
With the advent and proliferation of un-social media, the keyboard zealots have taken on a force of their own, ever seeking out something to be offended by.
Now you might say I’m being insensitive. You might also say I could do with a touch of “PC” “#METOO” and the “#RESIST” movement medicine to improve my social skills and drag myself kicking and screaming into the 21st century. You may be right. However, I strongly doubt it.
Whilst listening to the wireless in my car recently, I heard a story that astonished me. I couldn’t believe it! Just to prove I wasn’t hearing things, when I returned to my office I went hunting and located the offending piece, but more of this a little later.
Victimhood abounds; it’s everywhere. By victimhood, I mean a tendency to point fingers to avoid self-responsibility and, ultimately, refute our own power. And while there are oppressive social and cultural forces that are hard to deny, we need to get real. We need to take responsibility for choosing to play the victim as an excuse not to claim our full power.
The victim mindset is stagnant and heavy. It keeps us paralysed, small, and inadequate. It makes us believe that we are at the mercy of circumstances beyond our capacity to change. Most of all, it allows us only a small number of possible reactions to life situations. Deceptively, this victim response can look like strength or soldiering through a difficult time—when, in reality, it’s just a coping mechanism to numb our pain. Victimhood robs us of our true power, which is our ability to feel everything and use it as fuel.
Critics of our culture of victimhood are often attacked as abusers themselves, perpetuating a culture of harm and assault. Frequently, the response of that embattled critic is to assert that they are a victim as well. Men criticised as sexist for challenging radical feminism defend themselves as victims of reverse sexism, people criticised as being unsympathetic proclaim their own history of victimisation. In courts, it is common, even de rigeur, for felons to proclaim that their history of victimisation contributed to their harmful, illegal actions. In our culture of victimhood, victims can be excused for victimising others, taking away the rights, freedoms and autonomy of others in service to their victimisation.
Why would people loudly and publicly proclaim themselves as victims? Perhaps a better question, based upon the level of secondary gain, attention, protection and support received by these people, is why wouldn’t they? With all of the attention on the issue, why are we surprised when people are exaggerating or downright lying about victimisation? Of course, when we attach benefits to identification as a victim, we will hear from more victims, both real and exaggerated.
Well, here below is a case of what I believe is victimhood gone mad. I have published it in full, and I urge you to make your own judgement:
PHOENIX RESTAURANT SAYS THAT THIS PHOTO OF COAL MINERS. BUT I SEE OFFENSIVE BLACK FACE
By Rashaad Thomas
Opinion: Who determines what’s offensive? A photo in a downtown Phoenix restaurant raises this key question.
The photo of men covered in soot, drinking at a pub, on the wall in a downtown Phoenix restaurant. (Photo: Rashaad Thomas)
A few weeks ago, I attended a holiday party at a downtown Phoenix restaurant. I walked around to view the photographs on the wall.
Then a photograph caught my attention.
Friends said, “It’s coal miners at a pub after work.” It was a photograph of coal miners with blackened faces. I asked a Latinx and white woman for their opinion. They said it looked like coal miners at a pub after work. Then they stepped back, frowned and said it’s men in blackface.
I asked the waitress to speak with a manager. Instead, I spoke with a white restaurant owner. I explained to him why the photograph was offensive. Evidently, someone else had made a similar comment about the photograph before.
Yet, the photograph remained on the wall. He said he would talk to the other owners and get back to me. While leaving, I asked him [whether] had he spoke[n] with the other owners. He had not spoken with them, but [he] mentioned [that] Google [had] said it’s coal miners after work.
In art, everyone sees something different[.]
Who determines what’s offensive?
For me, the coal miners disappeared and a film honored for its artistic merit, despite being [one of] the most racist propaganda films ever, D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” (1915) surfaces, in which white actors appeared in blackface. The white owner saw coal miners in the photograph. Therefore, it was not offensive.
Fact: The photograph shows coal miners’ faces covered in soot. The context of the photograph is not the issue.
Students have painted their faces black at the Arizona State University Sun Devils’ Blackout football game. During Halloween people are encouraged not to wear blackface. Phoenix Institution of Contemporary Art showcased Bob Carey’s portrait of himself in blackface.
Art can be a trickster. People view artwork once and subsequently see something different.
That photo tells me I’m not welcome[.]
Viewers cannot determine the intention of an artist’s work. Art also exposes society’s blind spots. Blackface is only a glimpse of a larger issue. The larger issue is the lack of representation of marginalized people and their voices in Phoenix.
Frequently, I enter art galleries and I am not represented in the art, which leads to uneducated curation for exhibitions. While shopping I am ignored because it is assumed I [am] unable to purchase anything, or I am followed by a security guard because it is assumed that I am a threat to the store.
Each assumption is based on a stereotype. Blackface caricatures stereotypes of black people.
At the downtown Phoenix restaurant, my concern that the photograph of men in blackface was a threat to me and my face and voice were ignored.
A business’[s] photograph of men with blackened faces culturally says to me, “Whites Only.” It says people like me are not welcome.
The operators of that downtown restaurant can choose to take the photograph down, leave it up or create a title card with an intention statement. No matter their decision, I think the photograph should be taken down—sacrificing one image for the greater good.
Rashaad Thomas is a husband, father, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, poet and essayist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well, there we go, what a sad and tragic life Mr Thomas must live. Or perhaps I’ve just missed something?