Black People Can Handle It: Empathy and Educational Inequity


A lack of empathy perpetuates racial disparities…. At least, that is what Slate writer, Jason Silverstein, argues. Touching on a plethora of severe identity issues within our “post-racial” society (just kidding, that doesn’t exist), Silverstein demonstrates problematic assumptions on “what it means to be black.” Answers to this question are often infused with essentialist claims about the existence of a monolithic black experience: pain, struggle, disenfranchisement, poverty, racism, etc.. This view is not new, but to what extent do these singular notions of blackness perpetuate racial disparities?

STUDY: People Generally Lack Empathy for Black Pain

A recent study asserts that people generally believe black people feel less pain than whites.

Called the racial empathy gap, it helps to explain the persistence of racial disparities.

In one experiment, researchers showed white participants video clips of needles entering someone’s skin. My measuring their reactions (by how sweaty their hands became), they found that the participants responded more dramatically to whites than blacks.

Healing Our Relationships Take REAL Empathy

Tribal relationships—unions of people that involve romance and creativity—are hard to maintain because of conflicting worldviews. What it means to be a man or womyn in love causes problems for many tribes because their demands and dreams clash without a middle ground. Since I’m raised to be a black male by other black males, my performance as one resembles a group formation. Many of us have not constructed our own look at the world, have not questioned our comfort with not talking about how we feel. Instead, we renew our loyalty to the template of an unhealthy black male. All this goes said to shed light on the complications of love: the group template of any individual prevents a real communication with others.

Have Americans Lost Their Empathy in this Recession?

In today’s economy, it seems that everyone is struggling in some way – students are worried about loan debt, homeowners are worried about the value of their homes and everyone seems to be cutting back on some of the finer things in life. In considering that most everyone has had to make some adjustments in the past 5 years, I wonder about American’s level of empathy with each other. Beyond congressional debates about government assistance programs, it has been my observation that many Americans hold the opinion that they have their own problems to worry about, and not enough time or resources to be concerned about others. One controversial area I witness this in is the relationship between the homeless and those of financial means.