There are no “perfect” victims.
Every post I’ve seen about Breonna Taylor and other BIPOC victims of institutional violence has included a “wait, but what about the time that…?” comment (or multiple comments). Ask yourselves if you’ve ever been involved, or even adjacent to, something or someone that would fill in that blank. Did you ever go on a date with someone who had a criminal record? Even if you didn’t know about it, would it be something that would be used against you as evidence in the court of public opinion if you, too, were murdered in your home by the police?
Those of us in the mental health field are all too familiar with the mental acrobatics that people who have NOT experienced tragedy use to cognitively distance themselves from something that, in reality, could happen to anyone.* If we tell ourselves that it was because of the rape victim’s drinking, or because the children who were molested had a parent who wasn’t present, or because the domestic violence victim had dropped out of high school, it allows us some comfort that these terrible things won’t happen to us.
The reality is, terrible things happen at a much higher frequency than most people are aware of. And the only people that are to blame are the perpetrators.
Scratch that. Also to blame is the culture that prioritizes some lives over others, treats sexist and violent “jokes” as “locker room talk,” and appoints officials with a documented history of crimes against women.
This is not one of those “it gets better” posts. This is a post that ends with: It gets better when we realize that we’re all in this together, and sometimes, the only thing that separates you from immense tragedy and trauma is a stroke of luck or fate. We are all in the same ocean, but we’re not in the same boat. Some are in rowboats, some are in yachts, and still others are clinging to debris tossed aside by the bigger boats’ occupants.
Philosopher Tim Scanlon wrote What We Owe to Each Other, a complex overview of utilitarian ethics made famous more recently by the excellent television show The Good Place. The answer that I came up with for myself is: Love. We just owe each other love. The principle that has guided this view is influenced by Cornel West, PhD:
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”
* Though, in reality, are significantly more likely to occur if you are already a member of a marginalized group.