Stuff White People Say

September 14, 2008

“lack empathy for non-white people”

Filed under: Uncategorized — jwbe @ 9:38 pm

on his blog Macon D posts a thread “lack empathy for non-white people”

I had long thoughts about this topic, empathy in general.
I do not believe that there is something like empathy for one’s own racial group but not for others.
But I believe that there is sympathy, which is confused with empathy. Sympathy with for example whites, based on the assumption that who looks similar will be similar and will be ‘on the same side’.

I also do not believe that somebody white who has no emotion, no human reaction when it comes to the suffering of somebody non-white will have true emotions and human reactions when it comes to the suffering of somebody white.

People who can’t emphasize with non-white people can’t emphasize with anybody. While whites may learn on a cognitive basis that non-white people aren’t considered to be human beings within a white society I think that on a deeper psychological level it is not possible to de-humanize any human being based on skin-color if such person didn’t already de-humanize also whites. The difference is that there are again rules such people can learn, how society expects them to act towards certain people/groups, which enables people to fake empathy when in reality there is no empathy but sympathy.

If somebody can emphasize it will also be body language which is universal for all human beings which connects one human with another human, regardless skin-color, age, state of health etc. Somebody with empathy won’t be able to disconnect himself from the humanity of others.

Both, the Milgram Experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment show, that ordinary people are capable of carrying out extraordinary cruel actions.

Milgram wrote about his findings in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View:

The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims. Authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.

Empathy alone won’t change anything, I think it is more important that people learn to be disobedient.

It is relatively simple to fake an image according social rules without actually being it. People can learn behavior on a superficial way without changing their mindset. Political correctness is just one example.

The Milgram experiment can be expanded that way that ‘society’ (*mainstream*) will be for many people the authority they obey. Even empathetic people will obey as long as they don’t learn the skill of disobedience together with accepting the consequences of being excluded by society.

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7 Comments »

  1. How did I miss this?

    sandykin said…

    I mistakenly posted this under the entry for June 26, but now see that that is written by a guest writer, so I’ll leave it again here.

    The attitudes Macon shares with us from his journal of twenty years ago, to be honest, shock me. I’m not sure how to comment on these genocidal fantasies, or Macon’s present-day insistence that such visions of mass African death were a product of his “white training,” except to say I’m disturbed to think that he is content to leave it at that. I don’t think other critics of this blog have it quite right when they say that Macon’s problem is that he hates himself or his whiteness. I think, rather, that Macon has had to confront in himself some extreme and violent responses to racial others. For that he should be commended, I suppose. But in relocating those fantasies of racial extinction on the plane of more generally-held attitudes amongst “white folks,” he imagine those attitudes as the result of “training” rather than a decision he once formulated himself.

    June 26, 2008 1:41 PM

    Comment by Nquest — September 17, 2008 @ 12:10 am | Reply

  2. nq, i have a better question–how did you also miss this, a comment from the same thread?

    knowgoodwhitepeople said…

    Hmmm.

    I hope I am never so harshly judged for a statement I journaled 20 years ago. A lot of thinking, praying, contemplating, growing, stretching, changing, developing, regretting, rearranging and reassessing happens in twenty years.

    For a teenaged jerk to wonder if the answer to suffering in Africa is to NOT intervene in that suffering is not the same as having genocidal fantasies. And, plenty of teenaged “jerks” (Macon’s word) grow up to be wonderful human beings.

    Conversely, plenty of racist white people would donate to feed starving black children — having empathy for them doesn’t necessarily mean you want or believe in true equity for them.

    I try to listen to the voice people use when they write, and though I don’t agree with everything Macon has written, to me his “voice” is sincere and his goal seems to be to offer a place where exploration, enlightenment and healing can take place.

    Thanks for your blog, Macon. I’m glad that teenager grew up to become you.

    Comment by macon d — September 17, 2008 @ 2:34 pm | Reply

  3. Macon, this is your problem:
    “he imagine those attitudes as the result of “training” rather than a decision he once formulated himself.”

    And this is the reason why your “untraining” doesn’t work. This is the reason why you have to censor those who look behind your surface.

    Comment by jwbe — September 17, 2008 @ 8:48 pm | Reply

  4. Macon, there is nothing “better” about your question when it’s obvious you can’t and won’t deal with what I found particularly revealing or compelling, actually. KnowGoodWhitePeople’s comments served to validate Sandykin’s when s/he said:

    “…plenty of racist white people would donate to feed starving black children — having empathy for them doesn’t necessarily mean you want or believe in true equity for them.”

    Also, I would agree with KnowGoodWhitePeople’s comments about judging thoughts from decades ago. The thing that seems clear to me, though, is that you obviously have some issues you need to resolve, some racial ideas (those that have you making wild assumptions, left and right) you have to reconcile and the fact that other people notice that, people you aren’t so inclined to censor… Well, that verifies how obvious it is and your long term issues explain quite a bit, to me.

    Comment by nquest2xl — September 17, 2008 @ 11:27 pm | Reply

  5. While whites may learn on a cognitive basis that non-white people aren’t considered to be human beings within a white society I think that on a deeper psychological level it is not possible to de-humanize any human being based on skin-color if such person didn’t already de-humanize also whites.

    I guess having a racist outlook is just one form of dehumanization. One can also dehumanize gays and lesbians, transgender people, people with disabilities, women, non-Americans, poor people, etc.

    Comment by Restructure! — September 18, 2008 @ 1:05 am | Reply

  6. … but it’s not like human beings don’t know what EMPATHY is. I won’t mention the studies that showed how there are more generous welfare regimes in states that have the largest percentages of Whites — i.e. anti-welfare sentiments increase in direct proportion to the amount of non-whites in American states or the degree of homogeneity in European countries.

    All we need to show to illustrate just how White Americans, e.g., know what EMPATHY is… is to highlight the kind of paranoia floating around out there in response to Obama’s presidential campaign. You have all these not-so-submerged fears that Obama will have Rev. Wright in his cabinet and will promptly bully Reparations through the Congress and make White people pay. Such projected fears demonstrate just how guilty (and delusional) some White people are especially given the very things Obama has stated for years in terms of his opposition to Reparations, etc.

    Comment by nquest2xl — September 18, 2008 @ 1:31 am | Reply

  7. I guess having a racist outlook is just one form of dehumanization. One can also dehumanize gays and lesbians, transgender people, people with disabilities, women, non-Americans, poor people, etc.

    what I was trying to say is that I think that such people don’t have a true (emotional) connection with other people in general.
    Empathy is an emotion and emotions cannot be controlled or regulated entirely

    Comment by jwbe — September 18, 2008 @ 10:22 am | Reply


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