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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Increasing Compassion Through Witholding Compassion?

It's important for me to say at the outset I don't endorse the idea in the title of this post - but I do think we need to address it.

There's an article by Mia McKenzie on her website Black Girl Dangerous that spouts a fairly common criticism of white liberals - that many of the problems of people of color are due to white liberals not recognizing white privilege. I can't quote her here because she makes it clear on her website that I would need her permission to do so. I will be the first to tell you that more than a few whites, and not just liberals, are ignorant of the level of privilege they enjoy just by virtue of being white. It has a different quality among liberals because liberals imagine themselves quite welcoming and accepting of marginalized groups until a person of color walks into a room and says "motherfucker," at which point all bets are off.

She also mentions the truth that white people seem (lacking any scientific study I don't think we can go beyond "seem" or "appear") to be more upset when large groups of white people are attacked such as at Sandy Hook or the Boston Marathon than at the larger numbers of children of color who are the cumulative victims of violence in separate incidents. I confess there is a part of me that believes that the size of a single incident does intensify public reaction regardless of the ethnicity of the victims, but I cannot cite studies to substantiate that feeling.

The article goes on to say that because white liberals don't care about children of color who are victims of violence, the compassion and empathy the author and other people of color she knows used to experience when confronted with white suffering has been replaced with anger and resentment because they believe white people don't respond in that way to suffering in their community. This is where her argument falls apart. She says that when white people start feeling compassionate toward the suffering of people of color she and her friends will start returning the favor again. The problem is that isn't how compassion works - it's not a commodity you can choose to withhold and then later flip a switch to turn it back on. Compassion takes decades, perhaps even lifetimes, to develop. What's more, her assumption that white liberals have the power to cause her or her friends to feel anything is flat out wrong. Nobody makes us feel anything. We choose how we feel. To believe otherwise is to assume an external locus of control and believe the world acts on us and we are powerless to change our circumstances. Holding such a belief over an extended period of time creates a certain victim mentality that strips us of our ability to fight injustice.

Of course this won't be popular among angry young people like herself, but it has to be said. As a white, straight, liberal who is in touch with white privilege and who stands with all oppressed people and groups and most especially with his friends who happen to belong to those groups - and as a person who has been oppressed himself because of things beyond his control - I have to say it: Don't paint me with that that one size fits all, "white people (or straight people, or whatever) are all evil and insensitive (or whatever)" brush, because we aren't. When you paint us all with that brush, you eventually lose allies. When you say to me, "oh, we weren't talking about you," I have to remind you that when you say all white people, I are one.

Marginalization and oppression are horrible evils, but the decision to withhold compassion and retreat into anger isn't going to hurt anyone but you. The decision to become cold and callous will destroy your spirit, not the spirit of anyone else. After years and years of watering the seeds of anger and resentment in your consciousness, it isn't going to be a matter of just deciding to drop that act and become your old self because the seeds we water are the seeds that grow. As the Dalai Lama has pointed out, you don't cure hate with hate, you cure it with love.


  1. Amen!.....sorry for the short comment, but Amen! sums it all up. As always, nicely done Bishop!

  2. Yes Yes Yes...reverse discriniation is just as wrong and divisive as any form of pretense that justifies a hater attitude !!!! Thank you my friend for telling the truth !!