The Racial Empathy Gap.

‘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 more literal. It is as if people physically ‘don’t see race’ at all. The subconscious disregard of ethic people in todays Western Society has gone unacknowledged.

What I’m trying to say is, if someone was asked, ‘do you see black and white lives as equal’ the natural answer would be yes. But if we search deeper into the 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 country hit by famine, how would you react to the dehumanizing images of  the malnourished ethnic children? I don’t need to paint you the image. The image is already there. We’ve seen it on our screens, headline after headline we’ve become desensitized. To the point where we don’t have the same feelings of empathy for someone black or brown compared to someone white. Pain and suffering of brown people is expected and somehow it has come to the point where we don’t see ‘people of colour’ as ‘people’.

The study of the ‘racial empathy gap’ perfectly illustrates this issue. At the University of Milano Bicocca, a group of students and nurses, both black and white, 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 videos and found that they reacted more empathy when seeing pain inflicted onto the white skin. Of course if the participants were asked, prior to the experiment, whether they value one race more than the other, the answer would be no, but the results were shocking. For both the part takers and the organisers.

So why is it that people don’t react to everyones pain the same? It is possible, in some cases, that the correlation between the proximity of a victim in the news, and the lacked empathy for them is justifiable as it is human nature to have less feelings for a situation far from home. For instance you are more likely to feel empathy for someone on TV that is from your town than someone who lives across the globe. But the Milano Bicocca study gave the disturbing truth that people don’t feel as much sympathy for the pain endured by a coloured person than they do when a white person goes though the same experience.

Therefore the ‘I don’t see race’ statement has slightly eerie undertones to it as it seems we plainly 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 images of brown and black suffering that we have become desensitized.

Not only have we been watching numerous news reports featuring malnourished, war-torn images but we have been provided no context. By this i mean, the image is there, but there’s no name. There’s no personal story. And there’s no compassionate story.

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 do we remember his name? His story? His life pre-disaster? His mothers name? There was no context.

Yet we remember Madeline McCan.

Both stories are tragic. But why do certain stories get more media coverage and attention? 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 even realised it. It’s there laying quietly beneath the surface. Media corporations are getting away with putting certain issues higher than 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)

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