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Is White America Capable of Empathy?

Updated on January 18, 2014

I hate celebrity trials. I loathe the wall-to-wall Nancy Grace-style coverage, and universal tunnel-vision that emerges in the media. The sudden explosion of folks with law degrees in the break-room and on facebook. The misplaced pop-culture passion & investment which suddenly evaporates post-verdict...

Personally, I try to avoid the darned things - just tell me the verdict and salient points, skip the gory details.

The case of Trayvon Martin was in the news long before the arrest and trial of George Zimmerman. The six weeks that passed between the time of Martin's death and Zimmerman's arrest was the onus of the coverage (or lack thereof). After all, young black men die in the streets at a far-too-alarming rate for the death of a single, (previously) anonymous teen to turn many heads. The only reason that any of us have ever even heard of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is based solely upon the (in)actions of our law-enforcement system.

Post-verdict, the same can be said of our justice and legislative systems.

Emmett Till
Emmett Till | Source
Dred Scott
Dred Scott | Source
Kenneth Chamberlain
Kenneth Chamberlain | Source

For the people lifting their voices in righteous indignation, and those too resigned to the inevitability with bowed heads - this is about far more than just Trayvon Martin, (George Zimmerman), Tracy Martin, & Sabrina Fulton. This is about more than Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Alan Blueford, Kenneth Chamberlain, Patrick Dorismond, Chavis Carter, Ramarley Graham, Ervin Jefferson, Johnny Gammage, Kimani Gray, Yusef Hawkins, Charles Hill, Eleanor Bumpurs, Kenneth Harding, James Byrd Jr, Timothy Stansbury Jr., Danroy Henry, Kendrec McDade, Latasha Harlins. Sherrise Iverson, Marissa Alexander, Troy Davis, Bobby Hutton, Fred Hampton, Medgar Evers, Emmett Till...

This is about a society and nation that has perpetually and institutionally failed the black community.

Just consider the US Constitution; "other persons" = 3/5! We fought a Civil War over the the right of whites to own blacks as pets and personal property! Dred Scott. Plessy. Jim Crow, whites only, segregation, KKK, lynchings, burning crosses, fire hoses, church bombings. James Crow Esquire III, Drug War, mandatory minimums, three strikes, stop & frisk, racial profiling, school-choice, predatory lending, suppressive voter laws...

Gains have been made to be sure, and have been paid for with blood, sweat and tears - Brown v Board, Loving v Virginia, 13th, 14th, & 15th Amendments to the US Constitution, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act (ahem)...

Yes, the VRA, and our Supreme Court's recent gutting of Section 5 therein - the highest court in the land veritably declaring the extinction of racism in American society.

In America... where birthers, "food stamp president", and the "urban vote" with their "gifts" - have replaced the jezebel, the welfare queen, the strapping young buck, Willie Horton - 51% of whites and only 9% of blacks approve of the verdict.

Oscar Grant action
Oscar Grant action | Source
1. Life expectancy
2. US population
3. Prison population
4. Death row population
5. Executed since 1976
6. NYC population
7. Stopped & Frisked
8. 2009-2010 Doctorate's
9. 2009-2010 Associate's
10. College professors
11. Unemployment rate
12. Household income
13. Household wealth
14. Home ownership
15. Home value
16. Businesses owned
17. 500+ employee businesses
18. Fortune 500 CEOs
19. US Senators
20. US Presidents

(1) (2) (3) (4) (5 ) (6,7) (8,9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16,17) (18) (19)

Medgar Evers statue
Medgar Evers statue | Source
NC Moral Mondays
NC Moral Mondays | Source

The plight of black America is a long story involving hundreds of years of mistreatment. What the Zimmerman verdict shows, is the inability of many anglo-Americans to experience a little thing we call empathy. You don't have to be black experience at least a small fraction of the affects - just go to a restaurant or retail store with a few black friends, and notice the decreased level of customer service. Anecdotal evidence to be sure, but the numbers above paint a pretty clear picture.

There may be an insidious vein out there, that simply believes blacks are mentally inferior or particularly violent and sexualized. Those people likely wouldn't have made it this far into the conversation...

Poverty. Whites have a 300+ year head start in accumulation of wealth. Most wealth is passed down in the form of real estate, and blacks weren't able to own property for much of our history. Property values are (ridiculously) diminished by the mere presence of blacks, who happen to have resources to live there. It takes a job to afford a house of course, and blacks are disproportionally unemployed. It's tough to get a job without an education of course, and blacks earn far fewer degrees in US colleges with few minority faculty. A white felon is still as likely as a black man to be hired - good-ole boy at work, and in the course of lean times nativism is ramped up to new levels.

Jailing. We've allowed the privatization of prisons, which in turn contribute to think tanks and politicians who author and pass legislation which ensures that the beds in prisons will be filled, and that resources for inmates will be seemingly nonexistent. We've shunned rehabilitation in favor of isolation and institutionalism. We've cut access to education in prisons, we shame inmates. Recidivism simply means repeat customers to the prison industrial complex.

We've utilized the War on Drugs as a tool to propagate the mass-incarceration of black men, who use and sell drugs at commensurate rates to whites. Blacks are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, representing 37% arrested for overall drug use, and 59% in state prisons for drug offenses (which shows the racial disparity in sentencing). In 1980, 40,000 Americans were locked up for drug offenses, compared to 500,000 in 2012.

We're Number 1! In caging our own people. The US represents 5% of the world's populations, yet 25% of the incarcerated. And we get people in the system as soon as possible, thus our school to prison pipeline -
"Nationwide, African-Americans represent 15% of the population, 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons."

Black on black crime. Every ethnicity (but Native Americans) are victims of crimes committed by their own race at a far higher rate than the rate of interracial perpetrators. This is not at all unique to the black community . Straw-man.

We seed fear in, and of blacks in general. Indeed, some of this may be ingrained in the subconscious - but we are not born with inherent animus toward particular people, we (at least some) are conditioned to be that way. In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, every conservative media outlet was predicting mass race-riots across the country - profiling the entire black community the same way Zimmerman had done to Trayvon Martin that fateful night in February.

So this goes out to all of the ignoracists who don't see themselves as prejudiced, who may have black friends at work and might hold the door open for elderly black folk - the height of white privilege is to be ignorant of the institutional inequity inherent in America, to conveniently forget about hundreds of years oppression and suppression that persists today with thinly-veiled and seemingly-innocuous policy and practice.

Edmund Pettus Bridge - Bloody Sunday
Edmund Pettus Bridge - Bloody Sunday | Source


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    • Timothy Hampton profile image

      Timothy Hampton 3 years ago from Greater Atlanta Area

      Fair enough...

      Thanks for writing this. It's great work.

    • Justin Earick profile image

      Justin Earick 3 years ago from Tacoma, WA

      I'm not arguing the point. I know of the Crusades. I know that American wealth was built by committing genocide against the Natives and bringing in slave labor to work the stolen land. That white Christians firebombed entire cities before the bombs were dropped in Japan. That we invade Middle Eastern countries seemingly at will. I'm the one who wrote this thing, remember? I'm on your side. But pushing me to go further doesn't help your cause. I'm fine with it, but a lot of people who would otherwise have your back might think twice when you go that route.

    • Timothy Hampton profile image

      Timothy Hampton 3 years ago from Greater Atlanta Area

      If you study the history of American racial culture, these answers become much more clear. Considering the war machines whites have built over the years...the question of who is "more inherently violent" is academic. How come white folks don't consider war violent? Killing tens of thousands is not violence? Developing better and better ways to kill is not "inherently violent" in your opinion? When blacks's with weapons that whites created. Come on, Sir. Whites have fine-tuned the art and science of killing other people. They are they best in the world at killing. Thats why whites occupy the highest strata in world society. Because they are the best killers.

    • Justin Earick profile image

      Justin Earick 3 years ago from Tacoma, WA

      We can all see the numbers which show blacks are imprisoned and unemployed at far higher rates. So the question is - are black folks inherently more violent and less hard-working than whites, or is it a system which suppresses their efforts?

      Btw, I've moved over to , where I've written about Mike Brown (twice), and am working on a Tamir Rice piece.

    • Timothy Hampton profile image

      Timothy Hampton 3 years ago from Greater Atlanta Area

      I'm sorry, just one more little thing about "...a culture of violence among African Americans."

      What color classification would one assign to the group who has, for the last 1000 years, been the true innovators of better and better and better ways to kill other people?

      What color classification would one assign to the group who is continually engulfed in a race - with other members of the same group - to maintain the most efficient and powerful killing machines, fighting forces, and weapons of mass destruction? Chemical weapons? Nuclear weapons?

      I'm pretty sure it would be "white" on both accounts.

      White supremacy is a blight on all who carry it in their hearts and minds. (I include so-called whites, blacks, and any other group that has embraced white supremacy in that statement.) White supremacy blinds people to all manner of logic and reasoning. It makes them discount the truth and harsh reality. And allows them embrace arguments based on vanity...or self-hatred. As is the case with so many so-called blacks who have embraced the ideal of "white" as supreme. And "black" as default.

      We should concentrate all the time, money, and energy we spend on war, death, destruction and fighting amongst ourselves, on irradiating the myths of racial hierarchy and white supremacy.

    • profile image

      Timothy Hampton 3 years ago

      I think this last comment illustrates the entire point of this article.

      When one considers herself elite, supreme, superior in every way, there can be no empathy with any person that is not considered elite, supreme, or superior in every way.

      In addition, most so-called whites will never be able to empathize with the so-called blacks in this country. Why? Because they think they have statistics and charts and graphs to illustrate that they are right.

      They ignore the history of the country in their arguments. Not taking into consideration the years of tyranny and oppression, injustice and degradation, marginalization and vilification that so many so-called white people spent so long, enjoying so much. They absolve themselves of their culpability by pointing to ignominious studies, junk science, a biased criminal justice system, a biased educational system, what their grand parents told them, and things that they heard from some guy at work.

      There is no logic to hatred. And how many so-called minorities have so-called white folks killed, world-wide, over the last 10 years? 100 years? 1000 years. Who prosecuted all the wars that have killed tens of thousands of people during those same spans? So who really carries and maintains a true culture of violence.

      Come on man!!!!

    • profile image

      ianharwood 3 years ago

      Here is a breakdown of the 2011 FBI homicide statistics:

      As you can easily interpret from it, black Americans (12% of the population of the USA) commit more than twice as many inter-racial murders than white Americans (83% of the population of the USA).

      There were 448 black-on-white murders and 193 white-on-black murders (see table 6).

      Murder is the ultimate hate crime. This statistic alone debunks your entire article and suggests to anyone with a capacity for logic that there is a culture of violence among African Americans.

      It's reasonable to conclude that the culture of violence among black Americans is the main reason why they have not thrived as well as other minorities, such as Jewish Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans.

      And before you claim it's because of black people being a minority, you should consider South Africa. White people make up about 10% of the population of South Africa.

      Since 1994 (when the ANC took over the government), 70,000 white South Africans have been murdered and the murder rate for white South Africans is 4x higher than that of black South Africans.

      Surely the Apartheid was much worse, right? Wrong. The Apartheid only killed 7,518 people during its 60 years of existence.

      The question is why do people like you ignore all conventional evidence and assume that white people treat black people so badly? The statistics emphatically debunk that claim, which makes it hard to understand why left-leaning whites desire so strongly to demonize themselves.

      I have empathy for white-on-black murder victims, but I also have empathy for black-on-white murder victims who are significantly more common. You should too.

    • profile image

      bdo 4 years ago

      Black skin would make pee wee herman look like a tough sumbitch.

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 4 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      I agree with you, it is sad.

    • Justin Earick profile image

      Justin Earick 4 years ago from Tacoma, WA

      It's even worse than that - many white folk actually believe that reverse-racism is more prevalent than actual racism. Others say that the only racists are those who bother to notice racism in the world.

      It's sad, really.

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 4 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Yet at the same time they deny it, some even say racism is gone. I am not lying about this. There are white people that tell you there is no racism. One of them was in my George Zimmerman hub.

      Seems to me, they are blind.

    • Justin Earick profile image

      Justin Earick 4 years ago from Tacoma, WA

      Sadly, black plight seems beyond white comprehension...