I like to think that being an empathetic person, I can imagine anyone else’s situation as if it were my own, and for the most part I can. It’s an ability that has served me well in life. Many other people have this ability as well. Part of empathy Is being able to take a piece of your life, and superimpose it over a similar piece of someone else’s life. Allowing this, it follows that a person could not be empathetic to s situation they have never experienced. If the experience that they are trying to superimpose is too different, then the images won’t fit, and the empathic experience will be incomplete, to say the least. This is usually defined by this exchange;
Person A "Hey man, I know what you’re going through."
Person B "You have no idea what I am going through!"
This is a situation that is preferably avoided, since there are few times when a person feels worse than when they reach out to connect to another person’s experience, and fail. The time when such attempts tend to fail the most is when people who are not Black try to understand something that is uniquely Black. Some Black things really can’t be understood unless you are really immersed in what it is to be Black. This issue came up during the Donovan McNabb - T.O. saga. Many people in the media did not understand that the real rift between McNabb and T.O. wasn’t over money or playing time, but it was over status in the Black community. Some Black people perceive Donovan to be a "House Nigger" and T.O. basically referred to him as such on national TV. Black people have had a perception about ourselves since slave times, that some Black people are down for the struggle, and others of us suck up to white people in order to gain favor. In slave days, those slaves who sucked up where called house niggers because they got to work in the big house instead of out in the fields. House niggers were generally light-skinned, as the slave masters found the darker skinned slaves to be more offensive somehow. Because Donovan is the face of the Eagles, and the person they hold up as being their premiere player, T.O. and some other Eagles players viewed him as a sellout. Throughout Black circles this was debated far and wide. The head of the Philly chapter of the NAACP echoed these remarks. The national head of the NAACP told the Philly head that he had far better things to think about than the Eagles, and that there was nothing wrong with McNabb.
Things like this happen all the time in the Black community, and most people don’t know it. There is a racial subtext to everything that happens in the world, and unless you have known the shared experience that is being Black in America, you really can’t understand some things. There are several groups who have attempted to equate their struggle with ours, and it really just does not work. There really is nothing worse or more stressful than being a Black person in America. Women try to say that they have a claim, but even then, if you’re not a Black woman, then you’re life is fairly good, especially if you’re a white woman. Gay people try to say that they have it as bad, but that’s not true as well. They can hide their gayness, I can’t hide my Blackness. No matter what group you are, it’s worse if you’re a Black member of that group. Some Hispanic peoples have it pretty bad in this world, but it is always worse if you are a racially Black member of a Hispanic group. Did you know that there are Black Cubans? Of course not, you never see them. They are generally too poor to leave the island. The same is true for Middle Eastern and Indian people. Sure they are viewed as being terrorists wherever they go, but that will pass in time, and Black people still garner more attention and suspicion.
Sometimes I wish I could get people to see things the way I see them, then they would understand a little more why I feel the way I do. I was raised amongst white people for most of my life. I am most always the only Black guy in any given room, so I have a unique vantage point from which to view racial matters. I don’t think I’m racist but I probably am, and just getting more so with time. Yet I still have friends of all races and ethnicity. I’m not quite sure how I manage to reconcile these two subjects, but somehow I do. I hate many, many peoples, but I hang out with many, many peoples. Maybe I’m just a hypocrite. I try and explain some of my viewpoints to my friends, but they don’t get it, and sometimes they quite vocally don’t get it, and that’s OK. Friends don’t have to agree about everything. I let people think what they want to think. I know some people don’t understand what I’m saying and that’s fine. There are situations that I don’t understand, like what it’s like to be a young Indian-American girl who has to fly back to India to find a husband. That I cannot begin to empathize with, but I can try. I think as long as we try to see things from other people’s point of view, that’s enough, even if we don’t get it right.