Can Empathy Cross the Barrier of Race?
I refuse to engage in pseudo-news. The he said, she said of the haves ought not to be entertained by the have-nots. Still, there is one particular philosophical folly I have seen repeated throughout this current news cycle. Which is, a member of one race cannot place themselves, psychologically, in the shoes of another. There are, we are told, experiences that do not, and can not cross the barrier of race. What most concerns me about this, is the way in which it is swallowed without question. Because, I believe what makes the human race beautiful (yes, there are times when even I find our species so) is our ability to empathise with those of differing experiences. For example, the quote at the head of these remarks was written by a 16th century playwright. Do you think because he and I share a similar skin-tone, that we have more in common in our lived experience than, say, myself and a person of a different
race who was born in England in the early 90’s? Clearly not. Still, I can understand his words just fine; and more than that, actually. I can feel them. And it is precisely because I can feel them – or rather, that they engage with the emotional sector of my psyche – that I can understand, and learn from them. Let us try another analogy.
Imagine, for a moment, that somebody had just placed a sharp knife under your fingernail, and pulled it. (Did you grimace? I did too.) Ah, but you have never had a person do such a thing! Therefore, isn’t it silly to try and imagine you know such pains, or how they might feel? (They are personal.) Well, in one sense, yes. But in another sense, this is the very foundation of what the word humanity means. Morality is based, fundamentally on this principle.
That, no matter our division, if I see and can hear your pain, I can understand it. Without this presupposition in place, I lose the grounds to compassionately speak on the plight of many political movements I may support. We lose thousands of years of poetry, prose and art. Moreover, if there are lines which draw boundaries between what you and I can imagine, what we can purport to empathise with, basically, with who we are fundamentally as people, then we lose each other.