Columnist J.M. Sorrell: Perpetrators as victims

  • The front line of the March for Women’s Lives on April 25, 2004. The center includes Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Sen. Barbara Boxer. On the far right is Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Submitted photo

  • The second line of the March for Women’s Lives on April 25, 2004. From right to left are Camryn Manheim, Sharon Gless, Tyne Daly and Amy Brenneman. Submitted photo

  • J.M. Sorrell with singer Carole King at the March for Women’s Lives on April 25, 2004. Submitted photo

Published: 3/2/2021 3:31:23 PM

In recent years, perpetrators of bigoted behavior and action have flipped the narrative to characterize themselves as victims. It seems perplexing on the surface.

How is it that the white person who does not believe racism is a problem is a victim of the cancel culture? Why does the person who works to erode LGBT rights call himself a victim of political correctness when called out?

In this upside-down world, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ Green New Deal, which is not law, is blamed for utility failures in the unregulated oil and natural gas rich state of Texas during a devastating winter storm!

Feminism, not patriarchal oppression, is blamed for failing women.

What do these situations have in common? They are examples of using deflection as a strategy to not address the real problem at hand. In a strange way, these reactions are a sign that evolution is taking place. It used to be acceptable for white people to be racist, for men to be sexist, for everyone to be homophobic and for people to not question big business and its negative impact on everyday people.

If people had legitimate responses to critical observation, they would voice it. Instead, they cry victim. When people expressed genuine concern about the destructive actions of Trump during his years in the White House, his supporters called us “haters.”

The original meaning of canceling and politically correct have been lost through semantic bleaching. Their overuse renders them neutered over time. Calling out perpetrators of bigotry is not victimizing them. It is not wrong to question people who help to sustain injustices.

Two Gazette columnists recently wrote about calling out versus calling in. In my experience, when I have called out racism or homophobia, I have not sought an upper hand or gained power in the situation; in fact, I have been ostracized for it. It seems the columnists are referring to how the discourse takes place rather than stopping it from taking place.

When I was coming of age as a lesbian feminist, I was more doctrinaire in expression. It was part of being young and differentiating from the lies or unjust biases that I was taught to embrace. In a sense, calling out within one’s adopted social justice movement is a rite of passage. Learning how to do it and stay in relationship is maturity. One can be compassionate and artful in expression or reactive and abrupt.

I see critical discourse among feminists as progress rather than unproductive in-fighting. For years, the feminist movement was seen as heterosexual, white and middle to upper class. Women had to insist on expansive practices to include women of color, lesbians and poor and working-class women as legitimate leaders and activists in the feminist movement. This brings me to my third topic.

The original title of the April 25, 2004 march in DC was “March for Choice” as a march for reproductive freedom. When the organizers asked feminist of color organizations to co-sponsor the march, a long overdue discussion ensued about reproductive issues that extend beyond abortion rights. Concerns of environmental racism affecting fertility, forced sterilizations, and mortality rates for black and brown mothers and babies at birth constitute reproductive justice issues that were not on the radar of most white feminists.

The title of the march was changed to “March for Women’s Lives” as a result of the discourse, and it was a pivotal moment of awakening and expansion in national feminist politics. It was the largest march in DC history then, as over 1.5 million participants gathered on that day.

As I was making my way to the starting point for the march, a woman joined me, asked where I was from, and we spoke about the energy of the day. After a few minutes, my friend, Stephanie, whispered in my ear that I was walking and talking with Carole King. My jaw dropped for a moment, and then I collected myself and continued talking to King.

She told me she was nervous because she was asked to sing something a cappella on the stage, and she asked me what she should sing. I responded, “I Feel the Earth Move to reflect today.” King asked us to stay with her as she was ushered into the VIP area. We marched alongside Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, Madeleine Albright, Whoopi Goldberg, Ashley Judd, Tyne Daly, Sharon Gless and other luminary activists.

When I later heard King on stage, I soaked up the moment. I played my vinyl record hundreds of times, and, pinch me, Carole King sang my favorite song when I urged her on that auspicious day of solidarity.

Happy 50th anniversary to the classic Tapestry album!

J.M. Sorrell is a social justice activist and a health care advocate. Singer/songwriters Carole King, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, very early Elton John and Joan Armatrading carried her through the turbulent teen years.

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