Social Justice And Empathy Deficiency

I am a listener, and a good one at that. I have learned (through trial and error, reading, and lots of practice) the art of hearing the thoughts that hide behind words spoken. I am no mind reader, but I sometimes see shifts in other people’s minds as they try to cover up their true feelings, the key to the coded messages coming out of their mouths. My real desire in any real conversation is to discern what others are feeling, thinking, experiencing… this helps me respond appropriately.

When I talk about race and culture here on this blog, I am almost guaranteed to get someone from somewhere (usually white) who takes my posts extremely personally. Like, I am talking about their mamas personally. And maybe in some cases I am (though I would not know it). I feel the anger and fear pulsating behind the defensive stance they take as they ask me for “statistics” to support my opinion, or in the more hateful cases the jabs about my lack of intelligence or what have you. I do not take any of it personally, because I discern the causes behind the anger and vitriole. What I am saying flies in the face of their experiences as Americans; therefore, I must be lying… Or at least exaggerating some, right? How dare I crap on the American Dream that their forefathers fought wars for (while making no mention that MY forefathers built the dream for free)?

And I empathize with them, because I know how hard it is to have someone sully something that you love so much.

But you know what? The problem with every single one of these encounters (on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Google+) is that there is no empathy in return. These commenters are empathy deficient when it comes to listening to someone else’s perspective. I have yet to meet or speak with one who actually listens; the entire encounter becomes one big session of proving me (or the poster at hand) wrong–even when the statistics are given (as requested) or the stories verified (by a mainstream source) or the issue validated (by people they would normally trust).

And it is this lack of empathy that impedes the evolution of race conversations and politics in America.

My dear white brothers and sisters:

You are not always right just because you experience life differently than we do. In order for us to grow and mature spiritually together, you have to learn to listen to other people’s points of view objectively. It doesn’t have to be mine or some other “inflammatory” black people. Try talking to the lady that you have worked with for 20 ywars that you know nothing about. Or the student who is the only person of color in your Calculus class that you never say anything to. Or the person who rides the bus with you everyday. You would be surprised at how different (or NOT) your perspectives are. The key here, though? You have to stop assuming your experience is the only experience. You have to learn to listen empathically.

7 Comments

  1. Listening is an art that many of us have not mastered as yet. This is something that we all need to work on because we have 2 ears and one mouth. In my mind that means we should listen more than we speak. Great post

  2. Good food for thought applying empathy. But please don’t assume (and I’m not being defensive) that this is the case across the board, with white people. (I should know, look at my picture!). I’m beginning to feel lack of empathy can be applied in many circumstances. I don’t know what it is like to be black, because I’m not. Or Muslim, or wealthy, or impoverished, or gay, or a man. We all address problems from our own unique perspective, our own need. If by only acknowledging that there is a difference in the way we see our world or see one another, we will come a long way. Thanks for your post and thanks for listening 🙂

    1. I definitely do not apply it to all; my friends come from a variety of places. Which is kind of my point. When talking about race, what happens is that no one listens; they try to defend their position.

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