One of the worst parts of watching the events at Ferguson unfold is knowing how little people care. Sure, everyone here is aware of what’s happening. Everyone knows it’s “important.” But I don’t think we understand the “whys” of the situation or fully recognize that what’s happening in Missouri affects us all.
When we talk about racism, we think about it as some historic, vaguely distant idea that we know is still happening but can not see. And because we don’t see it, it becomes a non-issue in our mind. Of course we’re not racist, so no one else we know can be either. This sort of mindset is what allows institutionalized discrimination to thrive and inaction to persist when the discrimination in question isn’t at the scale of Ferguson.
However, to turn a blind eye to the situation, to write it off as a one-time scenario, is to willfully invalidate the very real experiences of so many people in this country. What’s truly insulting is the idea that because you aren’t a minority you don’t have to care about racism, as if it’s some chore you’d rather not bother with. Recently someone implied just this when they complained about having to read “The Invisible Man” because they “[aren’t] black, so why should [they] care?”
Yes, as with most things, it’s hard to relate unless you experience the situations but the truth of the matter is that you don’t have to be a minority to be able to empathize. Real empathy too, not just the kind where you agree with a shrug that the crimes of the past were horrible but “that doesn’t happen now.”
Being a socially responsible member of society isn’t just about recognizing that something is wrong in the abstract. We have to care and empathize because that is the first true step toward change. We can preach against racism until we’re blue in the face but action is only transient until people care to listen. Otherwise the actions that are taken by a select, albeit passionate, few don’t mean anything in the end if the mindset that caused the problems isn’t adjusted.
I want to make it clear that empathy doesn’t have to be some forced action. It can be something as simple as reading the news and taking a moment to reflect on the situation. It can also be something as courageous as admitting you were wrong to devalue the experiences of others, like Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson recently did by apologizing. However you choose to display your empathy, remember that even this first step is monumental. Just take the initiative and the world will follow. Empathy, after all, is contagious.