Friday, November 28, 2014

A Failure of Empathy

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard something about the issues in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. The story seems to have brought out a really racist edge in some people, which in my opinion stems from a total lack of empathy, or being able to put yourself in the place of someone else. I am not justifying the looters, who are just opportunistic thugs, but if you can’t understand the anger of the black community then try to imagine you are a person with no power. Everywhere you go, you have to prove yourself to be worthy of the same consideration as other people who have the power and don’t have to prove themselves. So, for example, you could be walking down the street and a person in power could stop you and demand to know what you are doing, and he could even shoot you and get away with it because you are assumed to be an aggressor. Say this happens all the time, wouldn’t you be angry at the group that has the power and assumes the worst about you? Then it becomes a vicious cycle, because people who feel like the game is rigged against them stop playing by the rules, and then the people who rigged the game say, “See? I told you they were no good!”

The most vivid experience I had of being an oppressor was when I was twelve and was playing Monopoly with a friend who was not very good at math. I kept giving her less money and myself more money than the rules dictated, and she couldn’t figure out why I was doing so much better than she was. Of course she lost interest in the game, and there was some part of me (I guess my conscience) that said, “Psst! You are being a tremendous jerk!” so we stopped playing Monopoly and went on to do something else. But imagine if it had been something more than a game, and she couldn’t have said, “I’m going to go home if we keep playing this stupid game!” What if she hadn’t had a way to get out of my clutches, and I hadn’t cared about how evil I was being? What I am trying to say is that we who are in power in this country (whites but especially wealthy whites) have to take a look at how we are running the system and ask ourselves if we are really being fair. Of course the playing field looks even to someone who is white, male, above average in height and intelligence, and good-looking to boot. They don’t even see how much further ahead they have started than the rest of us, and I would say that in this country being black is the biggest disadvantage you can have. That is just not fair. When the game really is played with the same rules applied to everyone, then you can say people who refuse to play by the rules are worthy of disdain. But you cannot expect people to abide by the rules when they can see perfectly well that those rules are applied differently to them than to other people. 

Famous Hat

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