Siding with the Underdog

Reading Trouillot and listening to today’s lecture brought me back to a time in my life where I had significantly less homework and significantly higher marks: high school. Ah, how I remember it! Like it was just last year I was roaming the halls and getting away with procrastination. Oh, wait! It was…

Anyways, Silencing the Past reminded me of something my good old History 12 professor said at the very beginning of the very first class of the semester before we started to learn about World War I and whatnot. He said: “History, my friends, is written by winners. What I’m about to teach you is quite possibly a lie.”

After having read Trouillot, this notion makes much more sense to me than it did before. Especially as it applies to the larger scale, such as with countries and revolutions and wars involving many people. But, I still don’t know if I would completely agree with the idea. Perhaps this is true of the way things were in the past – and I use the term “past” carefully in relation to this text – when people valued the glory and fame that came along with being the winner and looked up only to those at “the top of the food chain”. Going back to high school again, we learned about Beowulf in English 12 , and how he was so well respected and revered exactly because he never lost to anyone… ever…

However, I do believe that there is a certain romanticism in being the underdog which would make people interested in hearing the loser’s story as well. Let me take an example from daily life, and yes, I do mean almost daily. My brothers often fight with each other over little things like who’s going to do the dishes or who is smarter or faster for their age. Other times, though, they fight over bigger things, and it does occasionally get physical. Whenever these bigger fights happen, it is always the older one who “wins”. Always. But it’s also always the older one who gets ranted at by my parents and blamed for letting things get out of hand.

As the victim, my parents (and me too, I’ll admit) tend to hear my youngest brother out and give his story precedence over the older one’s. Because he is younger and weaker, his suffering seems more valid than the other’s, and the so-called history is written by the loser whom we are inclined to feel sorry for. Obviously, this is extremely annoying, and I’ve had it happen to me about a million times as well when it was myself vs. either one of my brothers. Ask any older sibling. This seriously happens every single time. And parents always listen to the younger kid.

I wonder if it is like this in real life sometimes as well? If we don’t sometimes pay closer attention to the loser’s story simply because they are the loser? I think that as we have become more open to different people and different cultures, we are also more open to feeling empathy for individuals of another heritage, language, and race, and are more likely to inquire into what their side of the story is too. I wonder if a modern individual could go back in time and “rewrite” history, would they bring back something entirely different than what has been thought of before? I think so.

Maybe not entirely different, but certainly less one-sided. Or maybe even more so, but in the opposite direction.

1 Thought.

  1. Interesting points here! I was the youngest, so I don’t have the same perspective–I was probably the one who got listened to and just thought it was “normal.” I think your point makes sense also with history, at least in this time and place. We do want to hear what the “underdogs” experienced, because it has been silenced in the past, and because it’s different than what has often been taken as the only true story. I just don’t know if that has been the case throughout much of (Western) history or not (and I don’t know anything about other historical traditions, so that’s why I restrict it to Western). I have the sense that the viewpoints of those who were oppressed several centuries ago in Europe or the Americas were not taken very seriously back then, even though they weren’t the victors. I think that including such voices has started really being more prevalent in the 20th century, in part through emancipation and anti-oppression movements regarding race, gender, class, religion and more. But this isn’t my area of expertise!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Spam prevention powered by Akismet