Empathy? “Loving Engagement?” Or Just More Bullshit, in the Era of Trump?
I recently finished reading “A Third Way in the Respectability Debate,” yet another article written to present “Respectability Politics” as a solid sociopolitical blueprint for Blacks, and other marginalized groups — this time in an effort to ease the mounting tensions between those who support Pres. Donald Trump, and those who don’t.
“Respectability Politics” is defined as “a strategy in which marginalized groups police their own members to illustrate their social values as being continuous and compatible with mainstream values, as opposed to challenging the mainstream for what they see as its failure to accept difference.”
The article, written by The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersorf, argues that in spite of the controversial and largely reviled perceptions surrounding the Politics of Respectability, “… misapplications of respectability politics should not obscure…[the fact] that any marginalized group should be attentive to how it is perceived.”
Friedersorf, himself using an article written by Harvard Law School professor Randall L. Kennedy (an African American) to undergird his argument further opined, “The politics of [B]lack respectability has not banished anti-[B]lack racism, but it has improved the racial situation dramatically and has kept alive some black people who might otherwise be dead.”
The larger point, then, when taking these previous statements into account, is simply this: Respectability politics can (and should be used to) effectively de-fang the Trump Administration’s more rabid supporters, when it’s instead channeled as what Friedersorf calls “Radical Empathy.”
“Radical Empathy” is the process stepping in the shoes of someone with an opposing viewpoint, to see the world from their perspective. The belief is that an exchanging of viewpoints will reveal an understanding and a commonality previously thought nonexistent.
At best, Radical Empathy can be viewed as the opposite side of the “Nonviolent Resistance” coin – the same coin that convinced many Blacks of the Civil Rights Era and beyond (unfortunately) that the best way to conquer hate, was to do it “with love.”
Friedersorf contends that with Radical Empathy, attempts made to “convince” racists (largely believed to be President Trump’s most ardent supporters) that they have more in common with us and other non-whites than they think will ultimately prove to be a more fruitful strategy than self-righteous attitudes, protests, and outright refusals to engage the Alt-Right population in meaningful dialogue.
In other words, it’s still up to the despised and the marginalized among us – Blacks, Latinos, and (to a certain, lesser extent) women – to convince the republican plutocracy that created America’s sociopolitical philosophy of our humanity – just in more palatable and easily digestible bites.
It’s still up to us to somehow try to see if “playing nice” with those who have beaten, raped, enslaved, abused, falsely imprisoned, stolen, stolen from, and unjustly accused us will somehow get them to “see the light,” repent, and sin, no more.
As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working out for you?”
This same White Supremacist, during his trial, complained about being forced to listen as his victims’ families described the anguish they felt, and still feel, as a direct result of his vile, hate-fueled actions.
His actions. Not theirs.
The irony is that the people Dylann Roof murdered in Charleston, SC on that fateful day were the ones for whom “Radical Empathy,” had it been “properly” applied, should have worked.
Though the Charleston Nine shooting victims were “good, respectable Negroes,” doing exactly what good, respectable Negroes do, they were murdered in cold blood, anyway.
The Charleston Nine died because the Alt-Right believes that even the more respectable Negroes among us remain a threat to their way of life.
I guess that blows a hole in that whole Radical Empathy theory.
Or at least, it should.
The idea that even now, there are Black and Brown people who believe that by “illustrating” their social values are in lockstep with the mainstream, they are effectively challenging and converting a racist mindset — instead of challenging the systems that help perpetuate and normalize such wrong-headed thinking — says far more about the pervasiveness of Racism and White Supremacy than it does about anything else.
“Radical Empathy,” then, does nothing to help the victimized; instead, it only serves to help enable the victimizers by absolving them from taking any responsibility for their actions.
To suggest that it does otherwise is irresponsible – and dangerous.