osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,
osewalrus
osewalrus

On The Importance of Empathy In Addressing Racism and Sexism

A good article summarizing a bunch of the research.
http://www.vox.com/identities/2016/11/15/13595508/racism-trump-research-study

For myself, I have always found it frustrating that we (meaining progressives) generally extol the theory that race and sex are social constructs, thus the whole idea of racism and sexism are artificial creations. Nevertheless, we treat racist or sexist behavior (or speech or attitude) as a sing that the person is a "racist" and that these actions are a window into the soul, barring said racist or sexist from the elect forever as assuredly as Puriticans believed external poverty was a sign that God had marked you as bound for Hell on the day of your birth.

Part of this is the confusion between "empathy" and "patience" and "permission" and "forgiveness." I've become a big fan of cognitive behavior therapy in recent years, and much of it revolves around identifying the persistent negative thought patterns and behavioral patterns that create the bad behavior (e.g., overeating) and gradually altering and connecting them. For example, transforming the idea of exercise from a punishment for "lack of will power" to something that you can enjoy and appreciate it's many positive effects. Or, in the more dramatic case of dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), getting the brain to unlearn the patterns that were locked in place from the stress.

So consider the question of how to change people's attitudes on racism and sexism, particularly the less obvious ones that people often deny they have. The article runs through some of the issues and problems, including "white fragility." White people get very, very upset at being thought of as racist or sexist or that the things they casually do and say could hurt (either emotionally or in some other way) people of color when they don't mean to do so. This fragility does not mean that white people get a free pass to act as they please, but it is important to recongize the phenomena and strategize about how to deal with it in a way that will be more effective. Again, if someone has PTSD, so that a loud, unexpected noise prompts them to go into a fighting stance or physically tackle the person nearest them to protect them from an IED explosion, we don't ignore the dangers of these behaviors to others. But we (hopefully) don't tell the PTSD sufferer to "get over it." We need to confine someone suffering PTSD for treatment, but we do not tell the person so confined we are cofning them because they are an evil, agressive person and this punishment will get them to think about how awful they are.

The burden, sadly, falls on those who wish to reduce racism or sexism in the same way it often falls to family members to intervene to help someone suffering from mental illness or substance abuse. It is neither fair nor easy. But we can at least stop making the situation worse by proclaiming lack of empathy a virtue and efforts to understand capitulation.
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