In 1968, a white journalist, Grace Halsell, turnt herself black and lived like a black women for half a year. She documented her experience in a book called ‘Soul Sister’. How far could this kind of ‘walking in other people’s shoes’ empathy go?
We have limited capacity for feeling other people’s pain. We tend to still identify with individuals in the other group who are more similar to us instead of the collective. This kind of identification only reinforce exclusion. This so reminds of Michelle Obama talking about some of her friends still only have one black friend, her.
Even when she tried to understand other black people, she was looking for ‘authentic black’ experience, that meant she included more stories of suffering and hardship, not the ones with joy. She didn’t understand how black people interacted with each other or with the Civil Rights movement. She did not discuss anything about oppression of the institution and structures.
So is empathy enough? The answer is probably not. Empathy is great when it inspire actions and actual solidarity. I think empathy also could provoke us to look at the underlying intuition and seek change. I feel bad for you is probably not enough in a world we are so interconnected.
Partial Transcript https://www.npr.org/2020/03/06/812864654/the-limits-of-empathy