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HomeNewsArchivesGovernor's Message About Victimization Echoes King's 'I Have A Dream' Speech

Governor's Message About Victimization Echoes King's 'I Have A Dream' Speech

Every so often, a political leader gives a speech that delivers a powerful and important message. Frequently, the importance of these speeches escapes people at the time they are given. Governor DeJongh’s Emancipation Day Message may end up falling into this category. It would be a pity. Holiday speeches are typically a mix of misleading platitudes and boilerplate. The Governor’s speech was not one of these. It should be read from beginning to end, but especially the end, by all Virgin Islanders, as well as people elsewhere.
In his last paragraph, Governor DeJongh states, “In moving forward, there are at least two choices we can offer our young people. One is to point to our bloody, bitter history, drenched as it is in injustice and exploitation and encourage them to behave like victims. The other is to point to our bloody, bitter history…, as evidence of the strength of our triumphant spirit and how far it has already brought us. We must choose not to be victims….” The Governor went on to describe the dynamic, multi-racial world in which we live and the opportunities for justice and progress that it presents.
In 1995, I sat in a discussion group with Ambassador Warren Zimmerman, the last United States envoy to the now destroyed Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia, a nation of more than twenty million people, was shattered by the ambitions and cynicism of the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosovic and his followers. But it was also destroyed by the Serbian people’s sense of victimization. In the midst of the discussion, Ambassador Zimmerman made an observation that clicked in my brain and has stayed with me ever since. He said that, “Once a people have defined themselves as victims, all constraints on their behavior are removed.”
We see evidence of this terrible truth in many troubled parts of the world. Palestinians, uprooted from their own land and subject to a brutal forty year occupation, use their victim status to justify sending children to blow themselves up so that they can kill the enemy’s children. Their adversaries, the Israelis, use historic victimization to justify the same occupation. Similar patterns exist elsewhere in the world.
In the United States, some African-Americans define themselves as victims, employing America’s terrible history of racial oppression as a one-stop shopping center to explain all of the ills affecting them. For many young people, bereft of any historic understanding, victimhood has been internalized even as it is increasingly disconnected from their individual experience. While Serbs can catalogue in great detail their historic grievances going back ten centuries, these young people are pretty much limited to references to “slavery” and may have once seen Roots on television.
In response to the Governor’s remarks, some people will say, “But it’s true, the reality is that we are victims.” They will be right! And therein lies the great challenge: how do people who have been repeatedly victimized not define themselves as victims and go down the path that leads to material and moral ruin?
Many white people in our country like to believe that racial oppression is ancient history. This belief is their ticket to innocence. But it is not true. Racial injustice continues, both actively and as a legacy of our terrible history. And, as we know from Douglas Blackman’s stunning new book, "Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of African Americans from The Civil War to World War II," horrible crimes were committed within the lifetimes of many people who are still living and breathing.
This sad reality is exactly why the Governor’s message is so important. While we live with the legacy of the past, we are also living in the present. While injustice persists, there is opportunity and hope. In this respect, our country has changed for the better. It is impossible to imagine a Barack Obama candidacy forty years ago. However, once a group defines itself by its victimhood, those opportunities disappear and hope evaporates. At some point, the group – and its leaders – develop an investment in hopelessness and in the evil imaging of the others, whether these others are Croat, Jew, Palestinian, Tutsi, outsiders or white people in general.
Victimhood is the first of the paths described by Governor DeJongh, a path that is obsessed with the past and with grievance. It is largely indifferent to what is seen as a bleak and unchangeable future. Understanding history is critical, but, as the historian Tony Judt has observed, in our times, we increasingly remember the past by celebrating some great victory and famous person or “increasingly (as) opportunities for the acknowledgement and recollection of selective suffering.” In this way, remembrance of the past is used to reinforce a sense of victimization.
Victimhood is also the easy and comfortable way, the way in which someone else is always responsible for my failures, I have no responsibility, and hatred of others becomes a virtue rather than a sin because of what they have done to us.
The Governor’s Message echoes Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington some 45 years ago. One difference is that, for the Virgin Islands, the Governor’s second path, the right path, isn’t a dream. It is a necessity if the Territory is to succeed in a future that is likely to be shaped by powerful and challenging economic, environmental and social forces.
Governor DeJongh comes from a business background. Another very successful businessman once said, “If you could get all of the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.” Imagine a Virgin Islands in which everyone, Black, White, Crucian, St. Johnian and St. Thomian was rowing in the same direction. That possibility and the hope that it represents was the Governor’s powerful message. It should be posted in every building in the Territory.

Editor's note: Frank Schneiger is the president of Human Services Management Institute, a management consulting firm that focuses on organizational change. Much of his current work is in the area of problems of execution and implementing rapid changes as responses to operational problems.
We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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Every so often, a political leader gives a speech that delivers a powerful and important message. Frequently, the importance of these speeches escapes people at the time they are given. Governor DeJongh’s Emancipation Day Message may end up falling into this category. It would be a pity. Holiday speeches are typically a mix of misleading platitudes and boilerplate. The Governor’s speech was not one of these. It should be read from beginning to end, but especially the end, by all Virgin Islanders, as well as people elsewhere.
In his last paragraph, Governor DeJongh states, “In moving forward, there are at least two choices we can offer our young people. One is to point to our bloody, bitter history, drenched as it is in injustice and exploitation and encourage them to behave like victims. The other is to point to our bloody, bitter history…, as evidence of the strength of our triumphant spirit and how far it has already brought us. We must choose not to be victims….” The Governor went on to describe the dynamic, multi-racial world in which we live and the opportunities for justice and progress that it presents.
In 1995, I sat in a discussion group with Ambassador Warren Zimmerman, the last United States envoy to the now destroyed Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia, a nation of more than twenty million people, was shattered by the ambitions and cynicism of the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosovic and his followers. But it was also destroyed by the Serbian people’s sense of victimization. In the midst of the discussion, Ambassador Zimmerman made an observation that clicked in my brain and has stayed with me ever since. He said that, “Once a people have defined themselves as victims, all constraints on their behavior are removed.”
We see evidence of this terrible truth in many troubled parts of the world. Palestinians, uprooted from their own land and subject to a brutal forty year occupation, use their victim status to justify sending children to blow themselves up so that they can kill the enemy’s children. Their adversaries, the Israelis, use historic victimization to justify the same occupation. Similar patterns exist elsewhere in the world.
In the United States, some African-Americans define themselves as victims, employing America’s terrible history of racial oppression as a one-stop shopping center to explain all of the ills affecting them. For many young people, bereft of any historic understanding, victimhood has been internalized even as it is increasingly disconnected from their individual experience. While Serbs can catalogue in great detail their historic grievances going back ten centuries, these young people are pretty much limited to references to “slavery” and may have once seen Roots on television.
In response to the Governor’s remarks, some people will say, “But it’s true, the reality is that we are victims.” They will be right! And therein lies the great challenge: how do people who have been repeatedly victimized not define themselves as victims and go down the path that leads to material and moral ruin?
Many white people in our country like to believe that racial oppression is ancient history. This belief is their ticket to innocence. But it is not true. Racial injustice continues, both actively and as a legacy of our terrible history. And, as we know from Douglas Blackman’s stunning new book, "Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of African Americans from The Civil War to World War II," horrible crimes were committed within the lifetimes of many people who are still living and breathing.
This sad reality is exactly why the Governor’s message is so important. While we live with the legacy of the past, we are also living in the present. While injustice persists, there is opportunity and hope. In this respect, our country has changed for the better. It is impossible to imagine a Barack Obama candidacy forty years ago. However, once a group defines itself by its victimhood, those opportunities disappear and hope evaporates. At some point, the group – and its leaders – develop an investment in hopelessness and in the evil imaging of the others, whether these others are Croat, Jew, Palestinian, Tutsi, outsiders or white people in general.
Victimhood is the first of the paths described by Governor DeJongh, a path that is obsessed with the past and with grievance. It is largely indifferent to what is seen as a bleak and unchangeable future. Understanding history is critical, but, as the historian Tony Judt has observed, in our times, we increasingly remember the past by celebrating some great victory and famous person or “increasingly (as) opportunities for the acknowledgement and recollection of selective suffering.” In this way, remembrance of the past is used to reinforce a sense of victimization.
Victimhood is also the easy and comfortable way, the way in which someone else is always responsible for my failures, I have no responsibility, and hatred of others becomes a virtue rather than a sin because of what they have done to us.
The Governor’s Message echoes Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington some 45 years ago. One difference is that, for the Virgin Islands, the Governor’s second path, the right path, isn’t a dream. It is a necessity if the Territory is to succeed in a future that is likely to be shaped by powerful and challenging economic, environmental and social forces.
Governor DeJongh comes from a business background. Another very successful businessman once said, “If you could get all of the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.” Imagine a Virgin Islands in which everyone, Black, White, Crucian, St. Johnian and St. Thomian was rowing in the same direction. That possibility and the hope that it represents was the Governor’s powerful message. It should be posted in every building in the Territory.

Editor's note: Frank Schneiger is the president of Human Services Management Institute, a management consulting firm that focuses on organizational change. Much of his current work is in the area of problems of execution and implementing rapid changes as responses to operational problems.
We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.