Maybe I should give up the blogging game and just re-direct everyone’s attention to what other, better writers are doing. Ta-Nehisi Coates, a brilliant writer on matters racial and historical gives us a different grasp on the same story as last night’s ridiculousness. In this piece, which is definitely worth reading in its entirety, he implores us to employ what he calls a “muscular empathy”:
This basic extension of empathy is one of the great barriers in understanding race in this country. I do not mean a soft, flattering, hand-holding empathy. I mean a muscular empathy rooted in curiosity. If you really want to understand slaves, slave masters, poor black kids, poor white kids, rich people of colors, whoever, it is essential that you first come to grips with the disturbing facts of your own mediocrity. The first rule is this–You are not extraordinary. It’s all fine and good to declare that you would have freed your slaves. But it’s much more interesting to assume that you wouldn’t and then ask “Why?”
A few years ago there was a murder on a Greyhound bus. A severely deranged man took a knife to the throat of one of his fellow passengers and severed the man’s head. The rest of the passengers fled and trapped the assailant inside the bus until police could arrive.
I cannot count the number of people who declared themselves to be the reincarnation of John Rambo, and the many ways in which they would have stepped in and stopped the murder rather than fleeing the grisly scene. To all of them I replied “unless you are specifically trained to run TOWARD someone with a knife, you would have done exactly what everyone else on that bus did – tried to save yourself.” The trick is not to simply assert that we are better people, and therefore racism is beneath us – it’s to train ourselves to run toward problems rather than away from them. It’s to reprogram the way we think about not only ourselves, but the situations that produced us.
It’s to build our empathy muscles.
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Wow. It’s almost a pity that the piece in the Atlantic begins by quoting Gene Marks’ dumb little ramble. Although that’s an example of what Coates’ is talking about, the message of this piece is much bigger and more important than that.
I was raised in a racist culture (a backward area in the US south) and picked up far too much racism in the process. I only gradually rid myself of this poison and no doubt still carry some of it unconsciously.
Sexism: basically the same.
Religious dumbassedness: the same.
Various other prejudices and moral blindspots: ditto.
Am I better than those who still hold such views tenaciously? Not by much (if any). I was just lucky enough to find better ways to think and act, and to find better people to emulate. If I were exceptional, I would have never picked up the mental poisons to begin with.
Only tangential to your point, but your bus metaphor doesn’t hold- in that situation, the BEST thing to do is to trap the murderer inside the bus. If you take on a guy with a knife, no matter how good you are, you’re gonna get cut.
Nuh-UH! ‘Cause I’m, like, Bruce Lee or something. I’d go all “WHATAAAAA!” on his ass and dragon-kick him in the face.
Yeah. Once someone drives a knife through someone else’s neck you ain’t saving them. It may have been cowardly but getting out and trapping the attacker inside is probably what kept the kill count low.
Wow, that shit is worth exploring. I’ll have to build into my mind that sort of questioning as laid out here and in Coates’ writing.
No, I don’t think you should give up blogging, your perspective and ideas are valuable. But do keep point us to other good stuff. I, for one, rely on linkage from writers whom I already respect, at least for an initial introduction, and frequently because I can hardly keep up with everything out there. So, thanks.
Naw don’t worry. I have no intention of ceasing to blog. I’ve been writing since I was a child – I see no reason to stop now.