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Empathy and Public Opinion

This is an interesting blog post I located on wordpress.com. The blog is titled: Brotha Wolf---Howling for Justice! Brotha Wolf is an anti-racist blogger who writes about common felt attitudes regarding race. Brotha Wolf states that his main focus is to write about “reality, truth, opinions, and overall thought-provoking issues” that intend to “give reason in an era of lies and madness”. Brotha Wolf blogs about stimulating and often provocative topics for debate or discussion. His style is informal, interesting, and accessible. In this regard, Brotha Wolf represents a way in which the average citizen can express his or her thoughts and be heard in a public forum, as well as invite others to participate in the conversation.

In a recent blog, White People Screwed the World…Again, And We Must Empathize With Them???, Brotha Wolf articulates a particular position with regard to some of the current viewpoints coming out post presidential election regarding the so-called conservative Whites and liberal Whites. In general, so-called conservative viewpoints include the ideas of personal responsibility, free markets, individual liberty, limited government, strong national defense, and traditional American values. Conservatives emphasize the focus on individual empowerment to solve problems. The conservative viewpoint is in stark contrast to the liberal viewpoint, which believes that government action is necessary to create equal opportunity and equality for all citizens. Liberals stand by the notion of government participation to alleviate social ills, protect civil liberties, and ensure human rights. Liberals emphasize the requirement of government involvement to solve problems. In this particular blog, Brotha Wolf indicates that both White conservatives as well as White liberals viewpoints are equally exasperating. He writes, “As if conservative White folks aren’t aggravating enough, here comes liberal Whites and their pleas for thinking of the White working class”. Brotha wolf features two articles that highlight his viewpoints.

The first Article was written by Kali Holloway, a free lance writer of color. Holloway is a senior writer and associate editor of media and culture at the progressive news magazine, AlterNet. She writes about contemporary sociopolitical issues and her work has been featured in various publications including Salon, TIME, The Guardian, Yahoo! News, The National Memo, and Raw Story. Kali Holloway of Alternet via Raw Story, discusses the notion that people should feel empathy for the White working class in spite of the fact that this group of American society cares nothing about the plight of Black and other non-White Americans. The article offers a clear critique of and opposition to the suggested position of empathy for the White working class that is seemingly nothing more than a smoke screen hiding the concern for the perceived losses of the system of White supremacy. The suggestion that Whites deserve empathy highlights the Whiteness as normative narrative and further supports White racial cohesiveness (Carr, 2016; Hamilton, 2011; Walters, 2003; Wise, 2011). Bonilla-Silva, Goar and Embrick (2006), argue:

This racial solidarity, or sense of 'whiteness,' in turn adds to whites' perceptions that their lifestyle is the correct and 'normal' way of doing things. As a result of this conditioning, whites' radicalized attitudes and prejudice toward blacks are continuously recycled and legitimated. (p. 247)

"Correct and normal" can be interpreted as as Whiteness normal and that Whites should never have their social position challenged or changed. In other words, White supremacy should remain firmly in place and when it is challenged, empathy should be afforded to Whites because of the perceived loss of their social position.

Elizabeth Daley, author of the article featured in the blog for the Advocate, writes that she does not want people to blame Trump's presidential victory on the White women’s vote. Daley suggests that the White women who voted for Trump voted in such a manner due to “internalized misogyny” as opposed to a vote for White supremacy. The article suggests that White women have traditionally abandoned women of color for allegiance to White men in their quest for political, economic, and social power and that this behavior is nothing more than evidence of their allegiance to White supremacy. Daley is very clever in her attempt to shield White women from their role in the recent presidential election. Her position seems to imply that White women are simultaneously victims of White male hegemony and of their own self-loathing, but with an implicit racist twist. However, White women have traditionally used their own subjugation by White men to avoid taking any responsibility for White supremacy (Davis, 1983; Hine & Thompson, 1998; hooks, 1981; Hull, Scott and Smith, 1982). Historically, White women have adhered to the notion of respectability or what is understood as white middle class values that were intimately associated with racial status (Hart, 1994). Davy (1997) illuminates how Whiteness, womanhood, and class are linked:

My point is that when the unmarked category of white is saturated

with bourgeois middle classless, it too produces something else, that is,

an ideal of whiteness or an epitome of whiteness, whose dynamics

bestow privilege on all white people and justify white supremacy.

Played out in the politics of respectability, whiteness becomes the

dynamic underpinning a process of socialization that feeds privilege

to all whites. (p. 217)

The point here is that all members of the White population, whether liberals, whether conservatives, or whether victims of sexism, expect the maintenance of White supremacy. Asking for empathy due to perceived social losses or focusing on an intergroup conflict is merely a diversion from the real issue. The real issue is the maintenance of the system of White supremacy.

Brotha Wolf goes on to argue that White people expect empathy from non-Whites even after all of the atrocities they have visited on non-White people all over the world. Halloway quotes Audre Lourde to convey the point: “Oppressors always expect the oppressed to extend to them the understanding so lacking in themselves.” Brotha Wolf is not a supporter of empathy for White people. His point of view is clear:

“FUCK THAT! We’re tired of always being the better person.

Throughout history, the White race plundered, enslaved, raped and

polluted the world to build their global empire of White supremacy,

displaced, dehumanized and destroyed people and their
lands to this day in order to keep it going and punished
them for having the balls to fight back."
As an African American psychotherapist who treats many White people who express White racial bias or White supremacist views in the therapeutic dyad, and a person who is an avid reader and follower of public political discourse, especially in the current political milieu, I wonder about my ability to exercise empathy for my White patients following exposure to the cacophony of public political discourse that critiques and disparages the ideology and behaviors exhibited by White people regarding White supremacist views. While I may agree with many of the opinions expressed in Brotha Wolf’s blog, I wonder if I can separate my political, cultural, racial, and social views from my efforts to provide adequate treatment and to be empathic. The ability to empathize is not an easy endeavor because most of us are self-centered. That is, each of us is most concerned with our own feelings, thoughts, ideas, goals, and beliefs. We tend to seek empathy from others for ourselves, generally speaking.

References

Bonilla-Silva, E., Goar, C., and Embrick, G. D. (2006). When Whites Flock Together: The Social Psychology of White Habitus. Critical Sociology, 32(2-3), 230-253.

This paper discusses the phenomenon of a process of socialization referred to as "white habitus" and how it informs relationships between Blacks and Whites.

Carr, R. P. (2016). Whiteness and White Priviliege: Problematizing Race and Racism in a "Color-Blind" World, and in Education. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 7(1), 51-74.

This article discusses the context of White Privilege and Whiteness and its relationship to social justice through education.

Davis, A. (1983). Women, Race & Class. Vintage Books. New York.

This book examines the ways in which race, class, and gender informed inequality as viewed from the lens of the White middle class feminist movement for suffrage.

Davy, K. (1997). Outing Whiteness: A Feminist/Lesbian Project.

Whiteness: A Critical Reader. Edited by Mike Hill. New York University Press. New York.

This article critiques Whiteness from the perspective of a White woman who identifies as a feminist and lesbian.

Hamilton, C. (2011). Affirmative Reaction: New Formations of White Masculinity. Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina.

This books highlights some of the frustrations of the American White male as exemplified in movies, music, comics, and television.

Hart, L. (1994). Fatal Women: Lesbian Sexuality and the Mark of Aggression. Routledge. London.

This book explores women and sexuality through various discourses such as politics, race, and class.

Hine, D. C. and Thompson, K. (1998). A Shining Thread of Hope. Broadway Books. New York.

This book documents the lived experiences and courage of Black women throughout the history of this country.

hooks, b. (1981). Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. South End Press. Boston, MA.

This book explores the historical impact of sexism and racism on Black womanhood.

Hull, T. G., Scott, P. B., and Smith, B. (1982). All of the Women are White, All of the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave: Blacks Women's Studies. The Feminist Press. New York.

This book is an insightful, comprehensive, and timely collection of critical essays on race and gender by black feminist writers.

Walters, W. R. (2003). White Nationalism/Black Interests: Conservative Policy and the Black Community. Wayne State University Press. Detroit, Michigan.

This book discusses the emergence of White nationalism and its impact on Blacks and other non-Whites.

Wise, T. (2011). White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son. Soft Skull Press. Berkley, California.

This book discusses racism and White privilege.

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