COVID-19 Journal: Day 85

I've always been a bit bemused about the difference between sympathy and empathy. Today it was made crystal clear. I got some really bad news from home. The kind of news I've feared since I walked through the departure gates at Adelaide Airport the day before the Iraq War was declared in 2003.

Amidst the profound global fear and negativity, it came up very close and very personal. It stopped the rest of the world. As the day went on, it also made me feel a big wave of sadness for friends who've experienced this same thing. Now I know what they feel like. I feel sorrow. Empathy is the one where you have to try as hard as you can to understand. Some people are very good at this. Some people are terrible at it. You can learn how to be good at it, I think, and to reach in with compassion. 

It's been useful advice from Kim Crayton to first educate myself about what whiteness means, how the concept was developed, and by whom. (Another shoutout for the Seeing White podcast and The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter.) Empathy is super loaded here. much as White anti-racism seeks to foster understanding and intimacy, and to close the distance between one subject and another, it does so by keeping a certain distance in place. Anti-racism invokes a certain technology of knowing and separating whose function it is to authorize novel forms of empathic understanding, by attributing profound and irreducible differences to racialized individuals and populations. In this way, the apparatus of White anti-racism is less the cooptation of an original critical stance than a form that fundamentally reproduces many of the key categories, assumptions and relations of the very racism from which it develops.

Binkley, S. Anti-racism beyond empathy: Transformations in the knowing and governing of racial difference. Subjectivity 9 181–204 (2016).
Those at the top of the pile have no sympathy for disadvantage. They seek to create it. People have been trained to not sympathise. I watched footage of those revolting, repugnant white men in Trafalgar Square posturing at the cops yesterday. What a repulsive sight. The beast has flailed before; the backlash. It is not sympathetic. It is drunk and spitting and pissing and shouting and armed. 

I've literally shut the world out this afternoon. Worn headphones for hours. I tried to watch The Mandalorian, but sadly, it was just another man hero beats the natives or some bad guys or whatever to get stuff and I was so disappointed. I loved Star Wars when I was a kid. I had no idea of the undertow. Thought I'd be saved by Sandy Toksvig reading me her new memoir, Between the Stops, but even there I learned about the "approximately" 20,000 anonymous Black people put in concentration camps after the British burnt farms to the ground in the Boer War, and how we still don't have equality and our leaders are fanning the flames of polarisation. I just want to KICK #NOTALLMEN IN THE BALLS. I didn't find peace (actually, except for trying to concentrate a bit on writing this). I hope this is a glimmer of empathy for the gnawing violence of racism.