There’s a very real kind of logic to the type of agitation we’re seeing in the riots in cities across the United States right now, and I see constant reminders that many of my fellow white Americans haven’t had the opportunity to learn to understand it. Many lack the capacity to feel empathy for the experience of their fellow Americans, and that is something that holds us back as a culture and a society.
Looking at it through the lens of media sources intended to fuel culture wars will not help us understand it. Their message right now is “look at these people and how savagely they respond when they have a grievance”. Stop sharing that stuff. It is bullshit and meant to distract you from feeling empathy for the millions of Americans who are victims of a persistent and far more egregious crime. It is intended to enable you to set aside any feelings of obligation to act–to do anything to address the continued subjugation, exclusion, oppression, and murder of people of color on the streets of our “civilized” nation.
We can empathize with rioters without condoning their actions, which we know cause further harm to innocent people. I think that rather than focusing on ‘what morally inferior people these are’ we should be asking why so many people feel like this is the legitimate or logical way to express their rage, their fear, or their grief.
The rioters don’t represent any collective community except for people who are frustrated, angry, and don’t feel like they have a better way of being heard. Perhaps they don’t feel like they were ever members of this social order to start with, so are less inclined to respect its rules intended to keep the privileged members feel safe while a black man is publicly executed in broad daylight, while arbiters of the system intended to make people feel safe perpetrate and condone it.
There is a logic to rioting when you look at it through the lens of a particular experience.
I highly recommend that all white Americans spend a little time reading Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. It helped me learn some empathy for the black experience in America, and it made me less often resort to reflexively feeling superior when I saw angry, frustrated, frightened people lashing out at a system and society that has consistently done them wrong. I used to view these things through an un-empathetic lens, but I learned a little bit, and I’m still learning today. https://newjimcrow.com/
We don’t have to be distracted by outrage over the destruction of property. Let’s get our priorities in order, chew that gum while still walking forward, and start having this conversation. Here is a national security threat for you: Too many white people don’t understand how to empathize with the black experience in America.
Lack of empathy is a wall between us and it so often makes the white response to injustice against people of color no more than a smoke-screen. So much of the response to the riots right now comes across as “How about you black people get yourselves together and then we can talk about white America taking its knee off your neck.”
I am sad and angry to see white people I care about fall into these cognitive traps. We can be allies. We can be supporters. We can be brothers and sisters.
Stop talking so much. Start listening. Let’s start having this conversation.