I sometimes think about the state of Blackness in the world, where its been, where its going, its endless potential. I think about how in the age of Black Lives Matter, it feels as if both Blackness and Black people have heightened scrutiny on every single thing that we do. I think about how much is expected of us, be it activism, be it through friendships, no matter what we do there is always added scrutiny. Just simply through existing we are constantly under attack, the very act of existing while black an affront to the eyes and sensibilities of many.
Through centuries of oppression, indescribable amounts of trauma and sadness, and dealing with White Supremacy, Black people still have the ability to be empathetic. This empathy, this ability to shoulder the burden of so many different worlds, let alone your own, is something that both boggles my mind and empowers me. I’m asking the question of where could this type of empathy stems from, what could possibly create the conditions for it, and the very nature of Black empathy itself.
The question of black empathy, for me, arose over the past few months thanks in part to the “All lives matter” brigade and their never ending fight to derail any racial progress. After many bouts of eye-rolling and questioning how people could be so obtuse, I realized that these people have many issues with seeing Black people as human. Their empathy stops short of understanding the need for there to be special attention on the lives of Black people, who are clearly being victimized like no other by the police and other vectors of White Supremacy.
As we continue to reflect upon the June 2015 Charleston shooting, the families of the victims then had the monumental wherewithal to forgive the murdering bastard. I don’t know about you, but I’m over the idea that Black people have to apologize every single time we become victims of extreme violence and trauma, there is no being the “bigger person” when we’re not afforded personhood to begin with.
“It takes a special kind of audacity to always expect Black people to be the bigger person regardless of the situation.”
We have to be superhuman in our empathy, we have to be so superhuman that we can make up for the deficit in empathy afforded to those who partake in White Supremacy. Black empathy, for me, feels like a reaction to the constant dehumanization we’ve experienced for centuries, and riles me up like nothing else.
Speaking on constant dehumanization, it takes a special kind of audacity to always expect Black people to be the bigger person regardless of the situation. Whether it’s being quiet about our oppression, constantly having other groups of people complain about our hypervisibility when it comes to violence and suffering, or just plain being your damn caretakers; the amount of empathy and work Black people do never ceases to amaze me.
We’re expected to empathize and humanize the likes of white mass shooters and terrorist, we’re supposed to further stigmatize mental illness by blaming their actions fully on mental illness instead of institutional racism or White Supremacy. When we’re fully expected show kindness and empathy to monsters, but Michael Brown was no angel, and a myriad of other black victims are slandered in the media by the virtue of their blackness; it’s no wonder Black people could potentially have ridiculous amounts of empathy. This toxic double bind is something I am not and never will be here for, I’m not here for that type of emotional work and I’m not here for that ridiculous expectation of us. We constantly have our inhumanity thrown in our faces, but we’re still expected to empathize and feel sorrow for the people and systems who are out to kill us; nah I’m good, return that one to the kitchen it’s undercooked.
I’ve also come to realize that so much of our empathy is born out of a combination of fear and love, something I’m taking note of more and more often. Love for the collective struggle, lives, and hopes of my friends, family members, and community members. Fear of the violence that may or may not be wrought upon them each and every day, simply just for daring exist in this world. When Black children are being murdered in the blink of an eye, made the butt of rape jokes, and subject to ridiculous amounts of vitriol and sexual assault jokes; your sense of empathy tends to to grow and grow. You no longer see Black children as children, but potential victims of a world that constantly reminds us that it hates them. When your trans sisters of color are being slaughtered in record numbers, and you’re hearing nary a peep from the same people who were screaming and shouting for marriage equality back in June; your sense of empathy just keeps on growing.
When death seems to surround you every waking moment, not sure of when it may take someone you love away from you, every single second is important and loving those around you becomes a job. A job, might I add, that constantly builds up your heart and your ability to empathize with others and their humanity, whether you really want to or not. When Black folks, and people of color in general, are always left to lick their wounds while White Supremacy and it’s many tenants are left to be coddled and cared for while not giving a damn about us ; I’m a bit more confident in saying that there’s something special in our collective empathy.