The Martyrdom Complex

“It is time to warn the people that racism and hatred is still alive in America” – NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous

My father was born in 1941, just a shade ahead of the baby boomers. I was born in 1974, when he was 32 – not terribly late in life, but late enough that many of my friends were themselves the children of baby boomers. The boomers saw a tremendous rise in divorce and broken homes. I’d love to say that it was all of that rejecting of authority and responsibility that went along with the 60s – but the reasons why aren’t all that relevant for this post. The divorce rate began rising when the boomers started to marry.

When I got to college, this manifested itself in a peculiar way. I knew lots of people from broken homes. It wasn’t just broken homes that were on the rise though. There was a great deal of talk at the time about “dysfunctional families”. Perhaps your parents were still married, but the family was somehow dysfunctional. With all of these family issues running through the background of the college set, there were quite a few conversations held about the bad relationships with parents and the emotional issues it was causing amongst us all. (Perhaps some of it was put-on; well-to-do college kids who needed to feel like a victim to “fit in” – the point remains that the mood and conversations were there.)

At some point, I just had to punt on the whole thing. I couldn’t play the game. I had a great family, and great relationships my parents. My father, who I’ve always idolized, came to ever ball game I ever played – even when I wasn’t playing (I started all 26 basketball games my senior year at Newton-Conover High School … I hardly played a lick my junior year.) Heck, he even came to cross-country meets. Can you imagine anything more boring than hanging out in the stadium while all the contestants were off running somewhere out of sight? But he was there. Track meets, JV basketball games an hour away, he was at every last one of them.

(Side note: a preacher friend of mine once pointed out how much we learn about God, and are able to relate to God as “Father” based on our relationships with our own fathers. Very true.)

I’m sure a great many of my college friends actually came from families with issues. I’m equally sure that another great many just needed something to poor-mouth about in order to fit in. Angst was everywhere (these were the days of Kurt Cobain, after all).

Martyrdom is woven into the American narrative. We gravitate toward it. We’re not sure how to react when things are too good. If  we can’t lay at least one “victim card” on the table, then we don’t know what to do. I suppose we believe that being an utter non-victim would place a requirement for greatness on us that we’re not ready to fulfill.

It’s not just over-privileged college kids, mind you. I have a number of Christian friends who have fallen into the trap. In our parlance we talk about “persecution” – but this is America, and the closest thing any of us have seen to persecution is being made fun of for our beliefs. Hey, if that’s the worst that happens, I’ll be just fine. (If people whose opinions matter not one lick to me want to mock me, well, I suppose I’ll just have to find a way to live with it.) Of course to this I say (i) there are Christians in this world who do face persecution and (ii) let us praise God for our freedom and blessings in this country. It’s OK to be blessed.

I’m guessing Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP is grappling with the same issues today. (Side note: seriously, the guy’s name is “Ben Jealous” – I’m not making this up.)

In an attempt to regain some relevance as a political organization, the NAACP picked a fight recently with the Tea Party. (That’s right, the NAACP is trying to regain some relevance – meaning I hold them to be irrelevant now as a political organization. Why? To have political relevance in this sense you need someone to court your vote. But Republicans won’t court a lost cause and Democrats won’t court a sure thing … irrelevance is the only option left.) As a political move this is almost sure to backfire. The Tea Party is hardly a racist organization. Even non-Tea-Partiers understand this and are a bit taken aback by the constant harangue of “everybody is a racist if they have different political views than we do.” But political gamesmanship isn’t really my interest here.

My interest is more the martyrdom complex that the NAACP is facing. Consider the statement “racism and hatred is still alive in America.” Now this may be too clinical a point, but the notion of racism or hatred being dead seems a bit odd. Is it alive and well? Let me put it to you like this. Name for me a country in which racism and hatred are less well than they are in America.

Most countries have a “native” population of a given race and are extremely wary of outsiders. This is far less true in America, a nation of immigrants. Africa is awash in anti-white hatred dating back to the colonial days. More recently, they’ve also dealt with a bit of african-arab strife. In Europe things aren’t grand either. In Holland, the anti-Islam political party is growing in power and status. When employment is difficult in France, it is always the Africans and Arabs who get the boot first, in favor of white Frenchmen. Racial and religious conflict on the Indian subcontinent goes without saying. The Chinese have been pretty good about clamping down on information leaks, but reports of riots between mildly different racial groups (and religious groups) have been getting out. The Australians have tried to tamp down anti-islamic rhetoric (read anti-arab) by making certain speech offenses illegal. This has given significant rise to resentment amongst white Australians (resentment amongst aboriginal Australians was already there.)

Where in the world could Ben Jealous go that he would be more accepted, more respected, more free to pursue his dreams and ambitions than right here? Is America a utopia? Not at all. But Ben and the NAACP are grasping at straws to rail against some supposed massive racist undercurrent in America. It just ain’t there. The younger generations have moved on with life in the “post-racial” world. The older generations find themselves uncomfortable with freedom and acceptance (which they didn’t have as youths) and need to gin up a victimhood status to feel alright. At some point though, it’s got to break and fade away. Perhaps this latest foray is the beginning of the crack-up.

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