Wednesday, June 25, 2008

lack empathy for non-white people

What you once were isn't
what you wanna be


Ever since high school, I’ve been “keeping a journal.” I describe it that way, instead of “writing a diary,” because I don’t merely record mundane daily details. Instead, I mull over and try to work through some particular details of a day, usually the ones that somehow bother me.

Looking back over old my journal entries always evokes mixed feelings. I now see that at some points in my life I was a real jerk. But it’s also good to see that I’ve changed (though twenty years from now, I’ll probably realize that the current version of me is also a jerk in some ways). I’ve also learned to feel compassion for that younger version of myself; I had a privileged upbringing, but I had to struggle through some personal difficulties.

I also felt hemmed in by a sterile suburban environment, one that I now realize had everything to do with race and class, and especially with how the whiteness of my parents made it much more possible for us to be in that place. Our race made it easier, when I was ten years old, to elevate ourselves in terms of class by moving there.

That sounds like I see myself as lucky, and in material terms I guess I was. But being white did not mean that I was entirely “lucky” in emotional terms. Nor in terms of my human development. Being a middle-class white American male granted me confidence and all sorts of social access, but in other ways, it stunted my growth.

For example:

One day when I was seventeen, I was feeling a bit bothered about “the starving Africans,” who were appearing frequently at the time on television. I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t remember now which country was in crisis. In an effort to sort through my feelings, I wrote the following journal entry. I can see now that what I wrote was mighty white of me:

The starving Africans were on TV again. It seems that we’re supposed to do something about it, send money I guess. But really, will that help? Will it go where it’s supposed to?

A thought occurred to me today about it all: why . . . not . . . just let them . . . die?

Okay, wait. I’m not supposed to think like that. But really, why not just let that happen? What is it in us—or maybe about us?—that stops us from letting that happen? Because, aren’t we also being told constantly that the world has too many people in it? If that’s true, isn’t this starvation in Africa a chance to get rid of some of the too-many people out there?

There’s too many billions of us already, and they say that food is going to get short sooner or later. I’m not supposed to say we should let them die, but a big part of me thinks, “why not? The rest of us would be better off.”

Like I said, I was a jerk back then in some ways that (I hope) I’m not anymore. What I now see about that seventeen-year-old “me” is that he was led by his training into whiteness to see “starving Africans” as less human than himself. So, “just letting them die” seemed to him like an idea worth considering. I seriously doubt that if my family’s television had been filled instead with scenes of white people in crisis somewhere—America, or Ireland, or somewhere in Europe—that such a horrible thought would have come to me.

It’s not that I thought of myself as a “racist” back then—far from it. I was instead what the philosopher Janine Jones labels a “goodwill white.” In George Yancy’s essay collection, What White Looks Like: African-American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question, Jones describes the sort of common white thought that I displayed in my journal entry as an “impairment of understanding.” Jones especially sees this impairment in those white folks who think and behave in ways that end up neglecting or even harming non-white people, but who also deny that race has anything to do with their thoughts and actions.*

In other words, Jones’ “goodwill whites” are the goodhearted, liberal (and even politically conservative) people who claim they don’t see race—that they’re “colorblind.” What Jones explains is how impaired such people are by their white training. Certain human capacities in them are stunted, atrophied, by underdevelopment and underuse.

One thing that makes it easier for goodwill whites to think that their thoughts and actions in regards to non-white people have nothing to do with race is what I wrote about yesterday—the apparent inability of many white people to have and maintain an awareness of their own whiteness (let alone an insightful, informed awareness of it). What Janine Jones helps me understand about my former white self is that my callous disregard for black African suffering was brought about by more than just the common, and usually unconscious, white presumption that non-white people are less than human—less, that is, than white people, who are unconsciously perceived as the real humans.

As Jones writes, such white folks also

seem to find it difficult to believe that they are white. Race is something that others possess. Whites are just “normal.” Whites’ inability to form the belief that they are white skews the nature of the relationships that exist between whites and blacks. It affects their ability to empathize because they are unable to import an ingredient essential to empathy: an appreciation of their own situation. Goodwill whites’ desire not to see themselves as whites may partly explain their desire not to see blacks as blacks . . .

Elsewhere in her essay, Jones distinguishes between “sympathy” and another, higher-order human capacity that’s really the issue here, “empathy.” To empathize means more than simply imagining oneself in another’s shoes. It means understanding to a higher degree what it’s like for someone else to be in those shoes.

So if white people do not feel and understand the significance of their own racial membership, then they can’t really imagine very well what life is like for non-white people, who do know that their own racial membership is important. Thus, because training people into whiteness means in part instilling in them this fundamental (and fundamentally false) sense of their own individuality, versus the more accurate group-bound self-conception that non-white people tend to have, then whiteness renders white people less able to empathize with the difficulties or suffering of non-white people.

As I’ve said before, I find it incredibly sad and amazing that white America in general doesn’t give any credit to African American intellectuals for understanding so much about whiteness, so much that white people themselves don’t understand. On this topic of what I so clearly displayed in racial terms at the age of seventeen—a common white lack of racial empathy—another black observer of white folks has also proven helpful.

In Learning to Be White, theologian and psychologist Thandeka writes, “The first racial victim of the white community is its own child.” For Thandeka, one form this victimization takes is the white community’s denunciation of a young child’s natural feelings of connection, commonality, and empathy for non-white people and their children.** White children are taught, mostly in indirect ways, that “those people” are different from “you,” and thus, that those positive feelings of connection that they have about “those people” are “wrong.” The result, Thandeka writes (echoing in part Lillian Smith’s earlier examination of white psychology), is a split in white consciousness, a split between natural feelings and opposing, socially sanctioned, “correct” feelings. Another result for the white child, then, when it comes to those nevertheless persistent natural feelings, is a feeling of shame about them.

I think shame is one feeling that drove me to write that journal entry about “the starving Africans.” I felt something for them, some pain about their plight. But I’d also learned to feel somewhat ashamed of positive, humane feelings for those whom I’d learned to regard as a non-white, undifferentiated Other. And then (and if Jones and Thandeka are right, I'm really not overthinking all of this), my feelings were further conflicted by a more general moral sense that the shame I felt over my natural feeling of sympathy for other human beings was itself shameful.

So I think that the conflicting emotions brought about by something that I wasn’t even consciously aware of—that is, my own white training—led me to divert my natural feelings of sympathetic concern for human beings in desperate trouble into a seemingly rational discussion of another supposed problem, “overpopulation.” Letting those people die then seemed like a good step toward solving that other, seemingly less confusing and disturbing problem.

I think that Jones and Thandeka are right. From the perspective of the “me” that I am now, that journal entry is symptomatic of my victimization at the hands, as it were, of my suburban American white community. I’d been subtly discouraged from seeing myself as a member of the “white” group, from identifying with that group. So when I was faced with suffering non-white people, even if only on television, I’d been effectively prevented from developing in myself the higher-order capacity to empathize with them.

And so at a broader level, and to the detriment, it seems, of everyone involved--and as we recently saw so clearly in the case of white disregard for non-white victims of Hurricane Katrina--the white community discourages its members from feeling the empathetic connection to non-white people that would drive them to offer help when its needed, and to stop doing so many things that cause the need for help in the first place.

*And just to be clear, neither Jones nor I are denying how “impaired” in this sense other sorts of people can be, including non-white Americans. Being an American or a citizen of another developed nation also distances one from African or other “Third World” suffering, as do wealth and other factors. Being trained as a white American does this in particular ways, and I’m trying to describe those here.

**This is not to say, of course, that the victimization of white children, especially middle-class American ones, is of the same degree or severity as that endured by various sorts of non-white and/or impoverished children.


  1. a question please: Do you think that white people feel empathy with poor white people, 'white trash'?

  2. No. That's because for me, the people who are especially white in the sense I'm talking about here are "middle-class" white people. Whiteness is especially "invisible" for white people who are middle-class, and much less so for people who are lower-class. But this process of one's group membership becoming invisible to oneself, and thus less a part of one's conscious identity, happens in terms of class as well as race for middle-class white people. They are the "normal" people, just "people," a standard against whom others are judged (especially if they're heterosexual and Christian-oriented as well), because they are both "white" and "middle-class."

    So, as a footnote says, this lack of empathy I'm writing about happens in class terms as well. Middle-class people have scorn, and scornful laughter, for lower-class white people. And that's because they've learned all too well the lessons from their overlords about how these two classes are supposedly separate from each other.

  3. Macon,

    I think your "lack empathy for non-white people" post could simply be summarized this way:

    "white schizophrenia"

    - Any of several psychotic disorders common to white people (according to their own racialized constructs) characterized by distortions of reality and disturbances of thought and language and withdrawal from social contact with non-white (and poor white) people.

    And, this disorder, if left unchecked, has the potential to destroy all life on Earth.

  4. Brave post, Macon. I appreciate you sharing something many white people have thought, but would never admit.

    This reminds me of an incident that happened (many moons ago) when I was in college. I was taking a class called "Global Studies" during which we viewed a film on African famine that featured starving brown babies with swollen bellies and mothers with that vacant look starvation leaves on its victims.

    The (white male) teacher's after-film discussion was about why in Africa, which has more arable land than any other continent, any child should ever starve to death.

    A young white woman stood up (she literally stood up) in the middle of the discussion about the role European colonization, political strife, corruption, etc. might play, and declared angrily, "I think we should just sterilize them all. I mean, really. If they can't feed their children, they shouldn't be allowed to have any."

    No one in the class said a word to her.

    It was in that moment that my identity as a human being who believes in the oneness of humanity was truly crystalized for me.

    I had been raised in the Baha'i Faith, whose writings state "The Earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens," and "We are all the leaves of one tree..." I knew (intellectually) I believed those words, but in that moment I really "got" what it meant.

    I was angry at the white girl for what she said, but at the same time I felt sorry for her.

    I turned to her and said, "The only way you can say something like that is that you don't see those women and their babies as having any relationship to you. The only way you could suggest sterilization of Africans is that you see them as less than human.

    Needless to say, the girl got very upset, cried real tears, and made it clear to the class that she was a Christian and wasn't a racist. When a student told her she sounded like a Nazi with a "final solution" she apologized for the sterilization comment and said, "It's just so sad to see all that suffering."

    If one is Christian, wouldn't the Bible's admonition to feed the hungry apply to African famine?

    "Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?' Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.'

    I didn't mean to get all religious, but... geesh.

    She never got the point that only white supremacy could lead one to choose the idea of sterilization over one of cooperation. It never occurred to her that if she shifted her paradigm away from "us vs. them" to "we are the world" she might find her place in the fight for equity and human rights for all people.

    I agree with you that white children are victimized by supremacy in the sense that they are deprived of recognizing their own membership in the entire human race.

    In 1933 Carter G. Woodson wrote in his book Miseducation of the Negro:

    “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about
    his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it.”

    Those words aptly describe the miseducation most white Americans receive regarding their “proper place” in the fight for a racially just world.

  5. 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.

  6. Sandykin -

    Your comment seems to speak to the concept of individuality that whiteness teaches. Instead of seeing that he is recognizing what non-whites have been trying to get whites to see for eons, you're attributing his former lack of empathy to an individual genocidal fantasy. Sadly, it is not individual. Especially when it comes to the continent of Africa, many public comments have been made about not 'wasting' US money on 'those' people. Especially when it came to the topic of AIDS.

  7. Kandee,

    I'll confess that I'm unclear on you mean by "what non-whites have been trying to get whites to see for eons." Of course I agree that more people than just Macon have entertained such atrocious visions of mass death for people of African decent. But this in no way relieves such people of responsibility for their attitudes, and the proof of that is that there are whites who think in very different ways.

    What I'm saying is this: Macon has informed readers of this blog that at one time he fantasized that generations of Africans would be allowed to starve to death. He now renounces these fantasies, but does not appear to believe he actively formulated them. Instead he is gesturing--vaguely--toward "white training" as the real perpetrator.

    I honestly worry that Macon's elaboration of this theme allows him to avoid the kind of serious searching--and responsibility-taking--that will allow him to honestly stop desiring such atrocious things. (I say this even as I'm glad for his honesty.) There are gaping holes in his perspective (I won't even touch the assertion that "white folks" as a category excludes working-class and poor whites!) that to me indicate a house of cards here.

  8. Sandykin, what are you saying about that house of cards? That when it comes crashing down, I'll be revealed as, what? A person who doesn't "take responsibility" for his "genocidal fantasies"?

    Let's get some things straight here. I didn't, and do not now, sit around and fantasize about in a desiring way the deaths of masses of non-white people. As a young person who wasn't even out negotiating the world as an adult yet, and who was still figuring out the world and how it apparently worked, I had unarticulated thoughts and feelings about the starvation I'd been hearing about (only from television and newspapers--certainly no one I knew cared enough about the issue to even talk to anyone else about it, let alone do anything about it). So I wrote down those feelings and thoughts and tried to sort through them. Some of the thoughts were horrible, and what I'm NOW trying to do is figure out where they came from, whether they were really valid, which ones weren't, and so on.

    I don't need to figure out how "to honestly stop desiring such atrocious things" because I never "desired" them, and I don't desire them now.

    To me, that's already taking a lot more responsibility for those horrible thoughts and feelings than the many other people I knew (and now know) who've also had them. And I think I'm taking further responsibility now by writing about the self I was then, and wondering how he'd become so callous in regards to African suffering.

    And to be clear, again, as with the earlier post on another former "me" who traveled to Indonesia, I think I've changed--I don't (and never did) have genocidal fantasies. But I did have trouble, and perhaps still do to a lesser degree, empathizing with darker people in distant lands brought to me via the further distancing mechanism of a television. As with others who suffer from the atrophied empathetic capacities that the post is an effort to examine, other forces in my environment also caused it--as one of the footnotes says, whiteness is just one such force, the one I'm especially trying to deal with here.

    Fortunately, other forces in such a person's life can counteract those that discourage the development of empathy (sometimes religious faith, for instance, as for, apparently, knowgoodwhitepeople above). So to say that some white people do display empathy for distant, suffering non-white people is not to say that being trained as white doesn't contribute to a lack of such empathy. If a white suburban American displays such empathy despite that social position, then something else probably encouraged it, as many forces-for-good could do that.

  9. I wouldn't feel too bad about "the starving Africans," if I were you. I am not white and I had the same mental thought as Macon, except I didn't feel guilty about it. TV commercials can appeal to one's sympathies only so much until one becomes inured to them, because there is a very fine line between pity and contempt. Those of us who used to work in television are inured from jump.

    It is not a real child we see, but a commercial advertising a child. The context/history for that child's suffering is JUST NOT THERE. We are being asked to dehumanize the child by blindly pitying them as suffering little creatures. No parents, no neighbors, no society except for the (usually) white person cradling it in their arms.

    Personally, I find those types of stories and commercials racist in the extreme, because I believe no human being on this planet would consciously consent to being depicted in that way. There is such a thing called pride.

    Of course, the next step is to wonder what the conditions are for such poverty. That's where it might get uncomfortable for a white person, because in Africa, there is a chance the suffering is rooted in European savagery and violence, i.e. colonialism. Hence the guilt, if one cares about such things. The same goes for parts of South America, Asia, pretty much the globe, except now it's the Americans who carry on the tradition. Which brings me to the Middle East.

    If you really want to think about empathy, you have to think about what is happening now in Iraq (and Afghanistan). Just today the Marines charged in the Haditha killings were exonerated/found not guilty/whatever legal term for scott-free you can think of in what was at best a very debatable case and at worst a U.S. cover-up of a bona fide war crime comparable to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. U.S. media coverage of this development is muted, and coupled with the fact that one often hears about the 4000+ U.S. dead (white+others) but not about the countless numbers of innocent Iraqi dead (non-white), one needs to wonder if Arabs are the new Asians (people we can detain, put in concentration camps, nuke, bomb, openly hate, etc).

    All this is for me underscored by the fact that I volunteer at a VA hospital and every once in a while I overhear the racist and anti-muslim talk spewed by (always white) soldiers. As someone who looks like the enemy of wars past, needless to say this makes me nervous, because I know it too well. WMD? Gulf of Tonkin. Guantanamo? Japanese Internment. Haditha? My Lai. Therefore, I can empathize with Iraqis. The question is, can white people? Well, if you were one of the people who asked, "Why do they hate us?" after 9/11, then no, you can't, because you simply haven't put in the work to try to understand the history. The cluelessness of the question is akin to, "Why are black people so angry?"

    Tim Wise, the white guy that preaches it like he feels it, understands and explains this better than I can and I suspect Macon D. already knows about him. It's good that this blog exists, because all this is way too uncomfortable for polite conversation, and it gives white people a chance to deconstruct their whiteness.

  10. By "house of cards," I mean a weak structure, something not built solidly, not the kind of edifice in which one wants to place much faith.

    I'm sorry this has upset you, Macon--honestly, because my sense is that you're aching in some way, that you regret that former self, and for that you have my empathy. But as I say there are blind spots in the way you're trying to deal with having thought such things. Naturally your blog is going to attract some people who nurture the same blind spots: for instance, anonymous' comment about the desirousness of whites getting a chance here to "deconstruct their whiteness." I'm going to guess--though I could be wrong, and so I shouldn't suppose--that anonymous doesn't view other racial categories as fictions to be deconstructed. Too often there's a tendency here, on this blog, to treat whiteness as the supreme form of false consciousness, on a whole different plane from the false consciousness engendered by other forms of racial identification.

    But there's no real reason to think that way. Like Macon I'm white, and I assume my whiteness has warped my perspective of the world in certain ways, just as has my femininity, and just as the racial and gendered status of my black male partner warped HIS perspective in certain ways. So the only explanation I can think of for treating one racial category as closer to genuine consciousness than others (e.g., or stereotypes about each other, the non-white knowledge about and understanding of white people is much greater than the opposite") would be as a kind of pandering. Pandering, to me, always happens when one does not believe they are dealing with others on a plane of equality: we might pander to children, humor them in certain ways, just as we might pander to someone else we did not believe capable of facing complicated truths.

    This attitude--that racial others are not really fundamentally analogous to oneself (even if conditioned by very different cultural pressures) is consistent with the kind of mindset that would just as soon see such racial others die off.

    I'm not trying to upset you here, honestly. As others have said, a valuable thing about this blog is that it is supposed to provide a space for honesty, even when honesty about racial attitudes is uncomfortable. But we shouldn't be willing to endure the discomfort of others, Macon. Even in your response, you are backpedaling, now suddenly downplaying the significance of those words you once wrote down on paper. Al of a sudden, they don't really mean as much as before; they're just the half-considered feelings of a kid who hasn't even negotiated the world yet. So they meant something for you, constituted an indictment, only so long as they indicted some vague entity called "white training." The moment we start to examine how much agency you had in deciding that a generation of people who looked different from you would be better off dead, you shut down--hey, let's not make too much out of these words; saying "maybe we should let them die" isn't like fantasizing that they would die; it's just a kid sorting things out. Macon, did you share these words with us only on the condition that we would then congratulate you for doing so?

  11. Sandykin, what is the "this" that you think has upset me? Certainly not your claims that my whiteness doesn't matter--I'm merely trying to explain why I think it does. I AM upset, though, by how my race (and class and nationality, and probably my gender as well) made me more callous, less empathetic, than I would be otherwise. You seemed interested in engaging here with others on these issues, so I engaged with you on them as well. And when someone accuses me of harboring "genocidal fantasies" when that's not what I wrote, then I'm going to jump in and answer that false charge.

    Some specific points of engagement with your latest comment:

    I do agree that I continue to have "blind spots," and this blog is in part a way of trying to discover some of them, and recover from them. Some of my posts are reports on my recent discoveries of my own whiteness-induced blind spots. I don't agree, though, that what you're pointing out constitute blind spots.

    You wrote,

    Too often there's a tendency here, on this blog, to treat whiteness as the supreme form of false consciousness, on a whole different plane from the false consciousness engendered by other forms of racial identification.

    But in terms of race in America, it is the "supreme" form of false consciousness--we live in a country that is still "white supremacist," so whiteness is "on a whole different plane." To say this is not to deny that non-white people don't have their own forms of false consciousness. As I wrote here, in a post on ongoing white hegemony, "White supremacy is an insidious force; it even creeps into the minds and behaviors of non-white people, instilling in many a self-hatred for their non-white characteristics and a stronger attraction to those members of their group who seem white, both in appearance and action." Whiteness is the form of false consciousness that matters for me, because I'm white, but more importantly, because whites are still in power, and that causes all sorts of injustice.

    Next, you wrote:

    Like Macon I'm white, and I assume my whiteness has warped my perspective of the world in certain ways, just as has my femininity, and just as the racial and gendered status of my black male partner warped HIS perspective in certain ways.

    I'm not denying that being trained into a race can shape and mislead people of all races. What I think you're denying is that for non-white people, blacks especially, having to deal with people who are mostly in power--white people--makes more of them more aware of the realities of race than most white people are. And since so many common white tendencies are unconscious ones that result in actual problems for non-white people, those non-white people tend to know more about those white tendencies then whites themselves do. Can you see what I mean, then, by saying that in this sense (and no, not in all senses--both whites and non-whites do also harbor false stereotypes as well) many non-whites do have a more, as you put it, "genuine consciousness"?

    So, if you still think that's "pandering," I'm curious to know why, and how. To call the crediting of another group of people with more knowledge about some of my own tendencies than I myself have, and to want to learn from such knowledge-holders--to call that "pandering" is very strange to me, because I think it's basically the opposite. (And please don't backpedal by merely saying I'm backpedaling here, because what I'm saying here is what I've been saying all along.)

    I'm not trying to upset you here, honestly.

    As I said, you're not upsetting me. Honestly.

    But we shouldn't be willing to endure the discomfort of others, Macon.

    I strongly agree, which is why I wrote the original post in the first place.

    Even in your response, you are backpedaling, now suddenly downplaying the significance of those words you once wrote down on paper. Al of a sudden, they don't really mean as much as before; they're just the half-considered feelings of a kid who hasn't even negotiated the world yet.

    I wrote in the original post about my former self that “'just letting them die' seemed to him like an idea worth considering." You wrote that I did and still do "desire" a massive die-off of non-white others--that I harbored "genocidal fantasies." I wrote back and said no, I didn't write that I "desired" such a thing, and I never have desired such a thing. You write back that I'm "backpedaling." There seems to be a logical fallacy of some sort at work here (straw man, maybe?). You accuse me of something I didn't do; I explain how your accusation is false; you then accuse me of backpedaling, from claims that I never made in the first place. See the problem here?

    Macon, did you share these words with us only on the condition that we would then congratulate you for doing so?

    No. I'm exercising anti-racist motives here, sharing information with others of that ilk, and hoping to inform others not yet of that ilk. If I sought self congratulation, I wouldn't open myself up to disgust and attack by sharing my own nasty, whiteness-induced thoughts, feelings, and tendencies.

    Finally, I'll add that your emphasis on "agency" and personal responsibility, and your denial of the variable significance of social categories within a white-dominated society, sounds familiar. Are you a Republican?

  12. Sorry I made some typos in the last post. I don't think any of them were in the parts you quotated. I'll be more careful this time. Also thanks for not pointing it out.

    Here's the thing, Macon. You are indeed backpedalling. Asking yourself "why not just let them all die?" is a form of daydreaming about mass death. I confess I'm not sure how to explain further something so basic. (I'm not trying to sound nasty.)

    It doesn't matter. The blind spot here, the most important one, is that you keep suggesting that thoughts like that are really common amongst whites. But you're unclear on how you know that. I understand that some people reading this have also entertained such thoughts (at least, they say they have), but you have to understand, Macon, that an awful lot of other people don't, haven't.

    There's something potentially important at the end of the path you started there, back at the beginning. I mean it. But you're getting off that track when you start telling yourself that those thoughts are the regrettable typical outcome of "white training." Now I know you're going to come back and accuse me of living in denial myself, but I'm saying this anyway because anyone who starts that worthy line of inquiry--yes, bravely--deserves help when they go astray: Macon: those thoughts are not normal.

    No, I'm not a Republican. I'm not sure why you asked me that, but it seems like it comes out of anger. I'll stop this now.

  13. Hi Sandykin, I don't know if you'll be back since you've decided to stop this, but just to clarify, no, it wasn't anger that prompted my question about your political stance. I was just trying to clarify where you're coming from, since for me, the approach you take to these issues echoes that of most Republicans.

    We seem to have reached an impasse on other points, so instead of my repeating what I've said before, I guess we should agree to disagree.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  14. OK. It just sounded like you were accusing me of being a Republican as a way to discredit me or my views as somehow conservative, though of course I'm not the one who has considered African lives as not worth saving. It's actually that view that has directed much Republican foreign policy. But good luck, Macon, as you try to get to the root of those destructive feelings.

  15. 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.

  16. Thanks KGWP, I find appreciative comments every bit as helpful as the critical ones.

  17. "--the white community discourages its members from feeling the empathetic connection to non-white people.."

    How so...? How does this square with the amount of aid from the US, both public and private (and predominantly from white people..) that is contributed to Africa. How do Asians feel about starving Africans..? How much aid have they contributed..? How about the oil states of the Middle East..?

    By the way:

    "In 1966, there was a 'near miss' in Bihar. The USA allocated 900,000 tons of grain to fight the famine."

    There was also substantial food aid from the US to India at other times and also to South Korea. (Believe or not in the early 60s you would find magazine ads asking to sponsor a Korean family for pennies a day..) Thankfully there is no large scale starvation in India now and non in South Korea.

    Much of the problems of starvation in Africa are related to warfare or dysfunctional governments. One would have to solve those problems before we could permanently solve the problems of starvation in Africa. (or generally anywhere..)

  18. Interesting read. As a Kenyan American, I am familiar with your (then-teenaged) sentiments. I would also like to add that it's not a failure to empathize with far-away non-white masses. It also manifests as an inability of most white people to empathize with non-white individuals, and specifically black individuals, directly.

  19. The sick thing about this is that white/European people at some point in time have had massive amounts of reproduction with just about every race. For example, hispanics sure as hell aren't just Incans/Mayans/Aztecs but white as well. Another one whites seem to forget is African Americans are not pure african but they're part white and native american!!!! Thats why we don't look like africans (maybe the whites never noticed but if you really look past the melanin similarity, it's a whole different set of features)!!! For the people that are starving in Africa, they're dark to protect them from the sun, they're hair is kinky to protect their scalps from burning in the sun. Nonetheless, human is human and starving is starving. If you would give the homeless guy downtown a dollar you can surely do the same for people across the Atlantic. I'm glad you guys all understand that but the people that don't, God help them.

  20. Aksmith, there's a discussion on another thread, toward the bottom of the comments, regarding interracial sex not necessarily = empathy or even seeing the POC involved as human.

    You're right @ whites procreating throughout the world with POCs but I see it, at least in (post) colonial countries, as more of a manifestation of dominance and aggression than desire or respect. The racist hierarchies set up by the white colonialists in a number of African countries, where blacks = worst conditions, Asians/"coloureds" (i.e., bi/multiracial people) = slightly better, whites = best conditions, bears that out. The whites had no problem having sex with the indigenous Africans but they clearly had a problem treating blacks fairly (which would run counter to the colonialist system/justifications).

    Slightly OT - all Africans don't look alike. It varies according to ethnicity and region. Some have what Americans would consider "European" features, including narrow pointy noses and straight hair and others have what people in the U.S. consider "pure" African features, including wide noses and tightly-coiled hair - with every feature and skin color in between. As the 2nd largest continent in the world, Africa is too big not to have variety.

    But I take your point: blacks throughout the world have varied features. And if most whites took the time to see us as individuals who are just as human as white people are (making empathy possible) - as opposed to seeing us as one dark, alien mass of "different" flesh - then they would know that too.


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