(tw: abuse, of course; victim blaming)
Let me spin you a scenario.
Person A has authority over Person B. In theory, Person A is supposed to take care of and protect Person B, and only use the power zie has over Person B in Person B’s best interest; in practice, Person A abuses hir authority. Zie places unreasonable restrictions on Person B, invades Person B’s privacy far and beyond what hir authority would normally allow, verbally berates Person B and makes Person B feel inferior, and demands immediate, unquestioning obedience and deference from Person B. If Person B gives any pushback at all, asks questions, tries to claim that Person A doesn’t have the right to do these things, or even just doesn’t react quickly enough or in exactly the right way that Person A wants, Person A hurts Person B physically. If Person B does anything wrong, even if it’s a minor wrongdoing that normally would merit a mild punishment followed by forgiveness, Person A flies off the handle, punishes Person B – often physically – in extremely disproportionate ways. Sometimes, if Person A is having a bad day, zie will look for any excuse – or just make one up – to take it out on Person B.
Not always, of course. Sometimes Person A is having a good day, and then Person A treats Person B with basic respect and courtesy. Which is nice, but Person B can’t relax when this happens. Person B knows that this good mood could end at any time, and Person A could lash out again – and knows that there isn’t anything Person B can do to predict or prevent this.
Person B is afraid. Zie feels helpless, like there is no recourse – sometimes Person B tries to go to other authority figures, to show them what Person A is doing, but they always give the same response: what did you do to provoke it? “Why did you talk back? You know zie hates it when you do that. You shouldn’t make hir so angry” – which ignores the fact that people should be allowed to talk to authority figures or question their rules without fearing violent reprisal. “Well, why didn’t you just give hir what zie asked for? Then zie wouldn’t have gotten so angry and hurt you!” Ignoring that Person A demanded something zie had no right to, and that Person B shouldn’t have to give in to bullying demands in order to keep from getting hurt. “Ok, but be honest, you did break a rule.” Even when that’s true, small errors and small wrongdoings merit small punishments. The fact that someone does something wrong doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly okay to do anything you want to them, and Person A’s punishments are undeservedly harsh and often unpredictable, fueled more by uncontrolled rage than any sense of justice or teaching.
Responses like this put the burden on Person B to manage Person A’s cruel and unpredictable moods and reactions. Person A is given no responsibility for hir own actions – instead, zie is treated like a force of nature rather than a human being. Like something that can’t be expected to exercise any self-control, and so everyone around hir must watch their step or else they might provoke hir. Person A, by virtue of hir authority and power, can do whatever zie likes with no accountability nor repercussions, and all Person B can do is try to stay out of hir way, and brace for the inevitable attacks.
And god help Person B if zie ever tries to actually stand up for hirself and to fight back against such treatment. Punishment for such rebellion will be swift and brutal, and zie knows perfectly well that other authority figures who should be stopping this treatment will instead say that zie deserved it for being disrespectful.
Now. Pop quiz. Did I just describe a child living with one parent who is abusive and another parent who’s an enabler… or did I just describe the relationship between black people, the police, and the media/society?
And if we as a society can recognize how toxic and harmful and cruel the first version is, why can’t we see it in regard to the second?