Competitive victimhood as a lens to reconciliation: An analysis of the black lives matter and blue lives matter movements

Date01 September 2019
Published date01 September 2019
Competitive victimhood as a lens to reconciliation:
An analysis of the black lives matter and blue lives
matter movements
Johanna Solomon
| Adam Martin
School of Peace and Conflict Studies, Kent
State University, Kent, Ohio
Department of History and Political
Science, Graceland University,
Lamoni, Iowa
Johanna Solomon, Kent State University,
School of Peace and Conflict Studies, PO
Box 5190, Kent, OH 44242-0001.
Literature on intergroup conflict and identity is well
established; this literature includes work on competitive
victimhoodthe process by which groups attempt to
establish that they have suffered more than opposing
groups (Noor et al., Personality and Social Psychology
Review, 2012, 16(4), 351374) to restore feelings of moral
identity, or cache often for use in a political context
(Sullivan et al., Journal of Personality and Social Psychol-
ogy, 2012, 102(4), 778). Within prior work on competitive
victimhood, models of reconciliation based on the particu-
lar needs and identities established within the competitive
victimhood dynamic have also been posited (SimanTov-
Nachlieli et al., European Journal of Social Psychology,
2015, 45(2), 139145; Shnabel et al., Journal of Experi-
mental Social Psychology, 2013, 49(5), 867877). While
competitive victimhood theory has been applied in prior
work to several cross-national settings, there exist other
important areas of intergroup tension that have not been
explored. We propose that the concept of competitive vic-
timhood can be fruitfully used to understand movement-
countermovement dynamics, including those related to
conflictual race relations in the United States. Specifically,
this article will examine the dynamic between the move-
ments Black Lives Matterand Blue Lives Matteras a
salient paired research case of a movement and counter-
movement for investigating identity and victimhood.
In our present article, we map the discourse of the Black
Received: 26 July 2018 Revised: 3 June 2019 Accepted: 9 June 2019
DOI: 10.1002/crq.21262
Conflict Resolution Quarterly. 2019;37:731. © 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 7
and Blue Lives Matter movements as illustrations of col-
lective victimhood (Schori-Eyal et al., Journal of Applied
Social Psychology, 2014, 44(12), 778794) and competi-
tive victimhood (Noor et al., Personality and Social Psy-
chology Review, 2012, 16(4), 351374). We find that
while both movements demonstrate competitive victim-
hood, they are also qualitatively different. Due to differ-
ences in threat, power, and history of those the movements
advocate for, each movement demonstrates different needs
(Burton, Conflict: Human needs theory, Springer, 1990).
We posit that the identity dynamics of competitive victim-
hood within social movements specifically lead to impor-
tant and different identity needs for agency and morality
(Shnabel & Noor, in Restoring civil societies: The psychol-
ogy of intervention and engagement following crisis
(pp. 192207), Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, England,
2012). We examine what these differences would mean in
these particular movements, as well as for potential ave-
nues of community building based on addressing these
needs. In all cases, we aim to show that what has largely
been considered a criminal justice phenomenon in the
United States is fundamentally political, with roots and
possible solutions in intergroup identity dynamics that can
be fruitfully explored within political psychology.
Violent conflicts often feature two or more antagonists in an intergroup relationship of competitive
victimhood (Sullivan, Landau, Branscombe, & Rothschild, 2012). In this dynamics, political or social
groups identify as having suffered more than another group. Groups displaying this identity display
particular behavioral patterns, including attempting to publicly establish that they have suffered
more, and qualitatively differently, than opposing groups (Noor, Shnabel, Halabi, & Nadler, 2012).
This behavior can support feelings of moral identity for minority or lesser powered groups, or it
can restore feelings of moral identity for those with greater social status, especially in the context of
having done harm (Sullivan et al., 2012). Several studies establish that those accused of doing harm
to others will in turn identify themselves as the real victims. For example, Phillips and Lowery
(2015) found that when men are accused of violence against women, or when white Americans are
accused of racism, the accused in each case may portray themselves as the greater victims.
While this dynamic has been established experimentally, it is chiefly applied to violent conflicts
at the state level, such as Israel/Palestine (Shnabel, Halabi, & Noor, 2013), Northern Ireland (Cohrs,
McNeill & Vollhardt, 2015), Chile (Noor, Brown, Halabi, & Prentice, 2008), Kosovo (Andrighetto,

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