Two ideas

You can keep someone in a state of captivity without exerting actual physical control at all times—I mean, through emotional means and not by keeping them constantly confined—in one of two ways. There might be more than two, but I know about only two. I can’t tell you about the others.

They are based on assumptions people carry with them into captivity from their primary cultures. In Western, white society—or probably middle-class Western society of any ethnicity—there is a strong assumption that society is fair and people will be treated equally. Of course, this is not true, but it’s been passed down for generations and people believe it.

It is easier to work with this assumption than against it. And so many people who are victimized within that context are taught that there is something wrong with them. Society is fair, and they are being punished for something they have done or because of something they are.

If you want to victimize someone who assumes a just world, you need to convince them that they have no worth and deserve poor treatment.

But people from other backgrounds don’t have this assumption. They don’t assume society is fair or that people are going to be treated equally. There is no need to convince them that they deserve poor treatment. You only need to intensify their perception that the world is unjust.

In American society, certain groups are not treated equally for categorical reasons: it is not personal. The prejudice is directed against a category of people who belong to certain categories. So all you need to do to subjugate people who don’t have an assumption of a just world is to intensity this perception of inequity and to convince them they belong to the groups who are systematically and routinely treated unequally.

If they are from a minority race, play upon the real prejudice within society against that race. If they are immigrants, make sure they are also undocumented—because prejudice against undocumented immigrants is very real. If they are non-English speakers, make sure to restrict their access to English language resources or chip away at their confidence in being able to learn it—because prejudice against non-English speakers in American society is also very real.

I was trafficked within settings where both forms of control were used, but not by the same people. My father wanted me to believe that the abuse was person: I was victimized because there was something wrong with me. He assumed I had an assumption that society was fair, and he needed only to convince me of the fairness of my victimization.

But Yuri didn’t do this. The girls did not believe society was fair. They believed they were victimized for reasons had nothing to do with themselves or their human worth. Their victimization was not their fault: it was the fault of an unjust society. And Yuri played upon the unjustness of society to keep them enslaved.

So I have both of these things in my head, but not really in the same place. They are contradictory and they are held separately in my mind. And the second one sort of falls apart. I am from a privileged class in society. I went to school. I am not an immigrant. I am not from a race that faces discrimination. I can maintain that view only if I forget who I really am. At the same time, I identify with the girls who held that view. They took care of me. I feel a great deal of attachment and loyalty for them, and for seven or eight years, I spent a lot of time in the world they lived in. It is very natural for me to hold the views they did.

As an adult, I went to therapy, and the first kind of mechanism of victimization was assumed. People who wanted to give me validation articulated it as something I felt, because the first view is the dominant discourse. It is the discourse of people who can assume that the world is fair, and that people are generally just in their dealings. It is the discourse of people who enjoy relative privilege and power in society, even when they are being victimized. Their power must be stripped away for personal reasons. It cannot be removed for categorical reasons. Some of me can relate to that. I was, after all, a middle-class, white, suburban child and I was raised to believe in a just society.

It is not whatball of me feels. Only a part of me feels the abuse is my fault.

The rest of me feels my victimization has nothing to do with me and that it is in no way my fault. Trafficking, for example, happens because some people are provided more protection than others. Some people can expect to rely on a system of law and order and others are left in a realm of lawlessness and disorder.

It makes some of me feel I cannot be heard. There is no place within this dominant discourse for me to believe that abuse happens for reasons that are largely societal. I am worthy of better treatment than I got, as were the women and girls trafficked with me, but that’s not how life works. You do not get what you deserve all the time.

Our society is unjust, and because of that some people are victimized more than others. Some groups of people are acceptable victims while others are not. I am not supposed to think this. I am supposed to think that it was my fault I was abused and to feel liberated when I cease to think that. Well, I do and I don’t. I also think that some people “count” more than others, that some voices are heard and others aren’t, and that some people are protected and others are left to their fates.

The girls were left to their fates, and they knew that they would be.


2 thoughts on “Two ideas

  1. desilef May 8, 2015 / 8:39 pm

    Reading this resonated with the film I saw last night and given your close connection to India I wonder if you’ve seen it. Water, by an Indian director, Canadian (I think) financing, filmed in Sri Lanka because of violent protests against it in India. Set in India in the ’30’s. Moments really made me think of you and Nata. A 7-year-old child bride is widowed and so is closed in at the house of widows, basically told they must spend the rest of their lives in penance and deprivation. They are able to leave the house, but they go to religious observance and little else. And the young woman widow is forced by the more powerful to prostitute herself to bring in money. So there’s all this religious hypocrisy. The others won’t eat with her, she’s a whore, so she is pollution. But she and the little girl become confidants and friends and every time there was a moment of joy between them in spite of the unjust oppression they live under, I thought of you. The widows in the house don’t like their fate, but they are convinced they deserve it, it’s the way the world works, and they are resigned. The culture tells them they are worthless and have to be kept away.

    • Ashana M May 9, 2015 / 5:09 am

      I did see, but I sort of forgot about the friendship. I recall John Abraham figuring into it as a “rescuer” figure, and that was very distracting to me. It’s a beautiful film.


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