‘I don’t see race’ seems to be a compliment of some sort these days.
‘Oh don’t worry, I don’t see race’, to the average person, means that someone takes white and black people as equals in society but in reality, the phrase seems to be a lot more literal. It is as if people physically ‘don’t see race’ at all. There is a subconscious disregard of ethnic people and Western Society doesn’t even realise it.
If someone was asked, ‘do you see black and white lives as equal?’ the natural answer would be yes. But, actually, if we search deeper into our subconscious, the average mind doesn’t seem to see black lives as of equal importance as white ones. Yes that sounds a bit irrational but hear me out.
Let me ask… if you were watching the news right now, and saw an international report of a third world, warn torn country, how would you react? how would you receive the images of malnourished brown children? I don’t need to go further and paint you the picture… It’s already there. We’ve seen it on our screens, headline after headline, story after story, and we’ve become desensitized.
We’ve become desensitised to the point where we don’t have the same feelings of empathy for someone black/brown compared to someone white. The pain and suffering of brown people is expected and somehow it has come to the point where we don’t actually see ‘people of colour’ as ‘people’ at all. Their suffering is normal to us.
It is the study of the ‘racial empathy gap’ that perfectly illustrates this. At the University of Milano Bicocca, a group of white participants were shown images and videos in which a needle was pressed against someone’s skin (of both blacks and whites).
The researchers recorded the reactions of the participants watching the needle go in and found that they reacted with more empathy when seeing pain inflicted onto the white skin. When pain was inflicted on white skin participants released more sweat from their palms – which apparently is a reaction when there is activity in the pain matrix of the brain.
Of course if the participants were asked, prior to the experiment, whether they value one race more than the other, the answer would most definitely be no, but the results told otherwise.
And potentially even more harrowing, a recent study involving medical personnel. A group of nurses and nursing students (of all races) were shown various images and asked to rate them on a pain scale of 1 – 4. They talked about painful situations like stubbing a toe or getting shampoo in their eyes. Then they were shown, what they thought were random, images of the same pain inflicted on others. They were asked how that ‘experimental target’ would feel. Sometimes the ‘target’ was white and sometimes they were black. And in each experiment the participants showed more empathy towards white people.
But this can’t possibly be racism? Black participants themselves found less empathy for black skin. It troubled the researchers but they found the cause to be a subconscious link to associating black people to lower socio-economic levels. They carried out further tests looking at adversity and privilege. It turned out the more privileged and status a target held , the harder ot was to see them suffer.
Why else is it that people don’t react to everyones pain the same? It is possible, in some other cases, that there is a correlation between the proximity of a victim, and the lacked empathy for them. It has been historically argued that it is human nature to have less feelings for a situation far from home. For instance you are more likely to feel empathy for the suffering of a local person from your town rather someone from across the globe.
That being said, the Milano Bicocca study gave us a disturbing truth in that people don’t feel as much sympathy purely based on skin colour. The participants from the original study had no other factors (like proximity) that could have contributed to their reactions or justified why they felt higher levels of sympathy for one race over the other.
Therefore, the ‘I don’t see race’ statement has slightly eerie undertones when you think about it. It seems we actually do not see certain races. We don’t acknowledge the pain of certain individuals because there’s a subconscious expectation that some are more tolerant to pain and hurt than others. It seems society has either become so whitewashed that it has put Western people on a ‘life value pedestal’ or that the media have fed us with constant dehumanising images of brown and black suffering that we have become desensitized.
Not only have we spent our lives watching numerous news reports featuring harrowing images of people of colour but we have been also been deprived of context. By this I mean, the image is there, but there’s no name. There’s no personal story. Theres no compassion.
We need more stories.
We all remember the photograph that emerged during the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis, of the baby boy washed up ashore, alone on the seafront.
But how many remember his name? His story? His life pre-disaster? His mothers name? There wasn’t enough context.
Why is it we remember this famous pulitza prize winning photo of the famine-stricken child (named ‘the struggling girl’) with a vulture beside her but only because photographer Kevin Carter made headlines after taking his own life following the backlash of his capture.
Why is it that I, and many others, know of photographer Carter so well but not the context of the photographed child.
It’s not like the media are unable to provide us with emotive stories. I mean … We remember Madeline McCan don’t we?
All three stories are tragic. But why do certain stories get more media coverage and attention? More context. More emphatic language. And more importantly, why do we accept it? Why aren’t we pressuring. the. media?
It has reached the point where there is an undeniable racial empathy gap.
And we haven’t fully acknowledged it yet. Its not even overt enough to be the elephant in the room. Its just there laying quietly beneath the surface. Media corporations are getting away with prioritising certain stories over others, altering the political agenda. And we, the audience, have brought into it.
It’s time to put pressure on news organisations. Make a fuss. Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. Just as much as everyone else’s.
Make. A. Fuss.
(The syrian boys name was Alan Kurdi. The famine stricken girl was actually later found to be a boy).
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