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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