White Resentment and Empathy

Two links posted on my FB feed yesterday nearly made my head explode. In both cases, I started to write a response calling out the racism inherent in the links, and in both cases, I ended up shaking it off, deciding that these particular incidents, in the toxic context that is a Facebook feed, weren’t worth renouncing my fray-adjacent status. I hate admitting that, even though I’m not saying these incidents or types of commentary aren’t worth caring about or talking about, just that the energy it takes to answer them in the inherently 101 at best space that is Facebook is something I rarely have.

The two stories were completely unrelated to one another, with one connecting thread – the feeling of white resentment at the recognition and discussion of non-white experiences.

The first linked to a commentary on SunNews (a horrible, tabloid media organization) about Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s new ad, with a several-hundred word analysis of the fact that this 30-second spot does not include a single white man. The author apparently demanded answers for this exclusion from the party’s representatives, and received nothing that satisfied him. He concludes that this is of course deliberate, an indication that the liberals want to portray themselves as shiny happy and diversity-supporting. You can hear the sneering and cynicism beneath the text of his entire article, and my only takeaway from it is really – so what? There were white women (several of them) and it’s not like each of the other ethnic groups portrayed were equally represented by a male and a female exemplar. Almost like white men are somehow exceptional…

The second story is far worse, and cut-and-pasted the status update discussed and dissected by Snopes here. I hadn’t heard this story, and it breaks my heart to read about such a senseless crime, but as Snopes points out in its clear, calm, fact-based way is that the connection between that story and the Trayvon Martin case to which it is compared in the chain status is quite literally non-existent. It’s a tragedy and deserves to be seen as a tragedy, but pretending that the African American community and their allies were angered by the death of Martin simply because he was ‘one of their own’, and not because of the circumstances surrounding the case itself, and everything it said about the criminalization of blackness and the depth to which that criminalization is felt within that community, in small everyday ways as well as in huge, earth-shaking and heartbreaking ones, demonstrates an appalling degree of illiteracy.

I try, in all sincerity, to think in terms of compassion for the people who say things like this, who perpetuate these expressions of white resentment. I try to see where there is real fear and real pain and real loss for them, whether it be through the loss of jobs or through the experience of tragic violence. This doesn’t excuse the illiteracy and the ignorance, the unwillingness to recognize that the very experience of resentment at these things (as opposed to the assumption of their normalcy, the built-in ways of dealing with them that are taught in the information exchanged among members minority communities) is itself the result of their whiteness. I try to think this way because otherwise, I just get angry myself and feel overwhelmed by the consequences of that resentment.

But just as it was with the Stand Your Ground laws I was talking about a couple of days ago, that degree of hostility and entitlement is foreign to me, though it shouldn’t be because it’s certainly not a uniquely US thing. I honestly want to know what it is that locks some people into that view, and what the real ways out of it are. If I’m thinking in terms of empathy, I guess the start would be to ask myself how it is that I *don’t* feel that way, but that’s a much longer post, and it is much too late to start that train.

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