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Empathy, Power and Privilege

Race Race Discrimination

Speech to B’Nai B’rith Annual Human Rights Address 2014

It is an honour to be delivering this year’s Human Rights Address. May I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Gadigal people, and pay my respects to elders past and present. I also acknowledge the important role that B’nai B’rith plays in promoting human rights. Just last week, we saw people from all over Sydney come together for the annual Harmony Walk, organised by your president Ernie Friedlander. I am very sorry I was unable to make it last Sunday, but I would like to take this opportunity to commend Ernie’s leadership in making the walk a success.

The idea of the Harmony Walk is based on a simple proposition: that people, from all backgrounds, can walk in solidarity. It’s a simple proposition, yet a challenging task. Because solidarity requires compassion. Before we can walk with someone, we may first need to walk in their shoes. Doing this can be easy when you share a lot in common. But when you have little in common with someone, stepping into their shoes involves less a step and more a leap; an imaginative leap.

During the 1980s and 90s, one television show took on this premise in its most literal sense. Some of you may remember the science fiction drama Quantum Leap and its main character, Sam Beckett (played by actor Scott Bakula). Each week, Sam, a physicist conducting a time travel experiment, would fantastically leap into the past and into the body of another person. Sam would then have to right a wrong, before leaping again – out of one body and into a new one.

Quantum Leap was more than just science fiction. The program regularly ventured into social commentary. Not surprisingly, the program included numerous plot lines centred on race. In one episode, Sam takes the place of Jesse Tyler, an elderly black man in the American deep south during the segregationist 1950s. In another, Sam becomes Clyde, a new inductee of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1960s. Viewers watched Sam grapple with occupying another’s person’s form. As a white man in a black man’s body, how does Sam deal with experiencing discrimination first hand? And how does Sam respond when he leaps into the body of a committed white supremacist?

My remarks this evening concern empathy, experience and imagination. Unfortunately, the task of stepping into the shoes of others isn’t as simple as an episode of Quantum Leap. We can’t magically put ourselves into another person’s body. The work of empathy can be slow and difficult. Yet it is vital to society’s preparedness to walk in solidarity with our fellow citizens.

Empathy

The word empathy is derived from the Greek empatheia: em meaning ‘into’, pathos meaning ‘feeling’. It is, however, a modern word. The psychologist Edward Titchener introduced the term into the English language in 1909, in an attempt to translate the German word einfuhlung. As it was originally used, empathy meant being able to relate to the experience of another person, by mirroring it in one’s mind.

Most moral codes regard empathy as a fundamental concept. It is written into the golden rule shared by all religions and systems of ethical thought: you should treat others as you would like others to treat you. This maxim is, on its face, one about reciprocity. Yet to reciprocate implies empathising. Mutual respect would be impossible, unless people were able to place themselves in the position of others and to imagine another person as their own self.

Within the English-speaking tradition, we can trace notions of empathy to the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th-century. According to David Hume, practical reasoning was never about reason alone: ‘Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions’.(1)  In Hume’s view, the extended sentiment of humanity – what he called sympathy – is ultimately ‘the foundation of morals’.

As it was invoked by Hume and his contemporaries, sympathy is equivalent to our contemporary understanding of empathy. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith explained that sympathy involves observing someone and considering ‘what we ourselves should feel in the like situation’.(2)  For example, ‘when we see a stroke aimed and just ready to fall upon the leg or arm of another person, we naturally shrink and draw back our own leg or our own arm’.(3)

Empathy clearly has its place in our ethical and philosophical traditions; yet it is frequently resisted in our contemporary debates. Some commentators openly mock empathy. It is said to be an emotion only for bleeding heart do-gooders, who wish to flaunt their compassion for those in suffering. There can sometimes even be resentment when situations provoke feelings of empathy.

Consider the SBS program Go Back To Where You Came From. In the program’s first season in 2011, a number of people were taken on a journey to recreate the experiences of refugees who came to Australia. In one episode, participants were placed on a leaky boat at sea. Conditions were simulated to replicate a sinking ship, which would be rescued by the Australian navy. Not long after the participants were rescued, one of them protested that the exercise was illegitimate. The exercise was fraudulent, he said, because it had elicited his empathy without consent. The complaint was echoed by newspaper columnist Paul Sheehan, who slammed the program for involving ‘an empathy forced march’.(4) According to Sheehan, Go Back To Where You Came From distorted public understanding of asylum seeker issues. The debate ‘[was] not about empathy’, but ‘about principle: control the borders’.(5)

The withholding of empathy also occurs in situations involving overt bigotry and racism. Consider the controversy in August surrounding a Sydney Morning Herald cartoon about Gaza, which many regarded as anti-Semitic. The cartoon showed an elderly Jewish man, bespectacled and with a large nose, wearing a kippah, watching the bombing of Gaza from an armchair which had stamped on its back the Star of David.

The Sydney Morning Herald subsequently apologised for the cartoon – an apology that I, and many others, welcomed. It was striking, though, to find in some of the public commentary a refusal even to contemplate that such a cartoon could constitute anti-Semitism. There was a refusal, that is, to put oneself in the position of a Jewish person and to consider the history of anti-Semitic representations being replicated in the now infamous cartoon.

Consider as well our ongoing debates about community harmony. During the past few months, amid rising public anxiety about terrorist threats, members of Muslim communities have been making clear to me their concerns about safety and security. There have been media reports of Muslim women being physically attacked because they have been wearing Islamic garb. Mosques have been defaced with anti-Islamic slogans.

Yet we find among some commentators an apparent denial that some of this has been happening. Some have even appeared to suggest that certain minority groups are engaging in a form of ‘victim mentality’ for speaking out about hate attacks. Such denial has a double effect. Where those who are targets of anti-Muslim threats or assaults report an incident, they are derided for playing the victim card. But were these people not to report an incident, suggestions about anti-Muslim sentiment would become more easily dismissed as the unsubstantiated allegations of a self-identified victim.

The conditions of empathy

In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the hero Atticus Finch teaches his daughter Scout a lesson: ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’.(6)  Many of you will be familiar with the novel (and the film), and of the ways in which Scout gets to put her father’s lesson into practice. She is there at the trial in which her lawyer father defends Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman; in the courtroom, she watches from the gallery reserved for coloured people. At the conclusion of the novel, after having her life saved by the mysterious Boo Radley – a figure of malign gossip and speculation among townsfolk – Scout pauses to imagine what life would be like if she were the marginalised and isolated Boo.

Scout is a child with a certain character. She is smart, headstrong and courageous. She gets into fights while defending her father’s honour; she isn’t afraid to approach a mob that sets out to lynch Tom Robinson. I raise these qualities only because of the age-old question about nature or nurture. What are the conditions of empathy? Is empathy something that has more to do with our intrinsic qualities or with our personal experiences? Is it possible for us to educate people to empathise?

A medical school is one place that teaches and examines empathy. Medical students are routinely assessed for their bedside manner. In a recent collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, the American writer Leslie Jamison describes the process. A medical school finds actors, who they pay to play sick, and whose imaginary illnesses the medical students must guess.  The actors are given scripts outlining what’s wrong with them, what hurts and how to express their pain. They also give details of the actor’s fictive lines: how many children they have, the names of their husbands’ work, what sport or television shows they like, and so on.

When they play their part, the actors participate in a simulated fifteen-minute encounter. They then complete an evaluation of the students, including of how empathetic they are during the encounter. The actors are instructed that it isn’t enough to have a sympathetic manner: the medical students must also display ‘voiced empathy’ for the patient’s situation. They have to ‘say the right words to get credit for compassion’.(7)

As Jamison explains, though, the true test of empathy isn’t whether someone merely says the right thing. It’s about ‘acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see’.(8)  Thus understood, empathy is something that may not come to us naturally:

Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us – a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain – it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviours greater than the sum of our individual inclinations …(9)

Clearly, some people will be better than others at feeling empathy. Psychologists have found that empathy correlates with personality traits such as sensitivity, nonconformity, even-temperedness and social self-confidence. Some scholars even suggest there may be an ideological quality to the conditions of empathy – namely, that leftwing liberals are more inclined than rightwing conservatives to be sensitive to need and suffering, and to value caring for those who are vulnerable.(10) 

There are also people who are literally prepared to go much further than most to step into another’s skin. Perhaps the most extreme example involved the journalist John Howard Griffin. In 1959, Griffin, a white American, posed himself a question: ‘What is it like to experience discrimination based on skin colour, something over which one has no control?’(11) With the help of a dermatologist, Griffin began taking a course of drugs and underwent extended ultraviolent treatments. In effect, he turned his skin from fair to dark.

For six weeks, Griffin travelled as a black man through the deep south – in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia. He caught Greyhound buses; occasionally, he hitchhiked. He closely observed his treatment by his fellow Americans, particularly those who were white. His experiences would eventually be published as the book, Black Like Me (1961). In it, Griffin grieves at how ‘my own people could give the hate stare, could shrivel men’s souls, could deprive humans of rights they unhesitatingly accord their livestock’.(12) Griffin had seen his society from the eyes of another.

Of course, very few of us would have the willpower and commitment to undertake this kind of transformation. In any case, it’s open to ask whether it is in fact necessary to resort to such extremes. Empathy, surely, doesn’t need to mean total impersonation.

Experience, thinking and imagination

There have been experiments in educating for empathy. Arguably the best known remains that conducted by Jane Elliott. A schoolteacher in Iowa, Elliott first tested her ‘Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes’ exercise in 1968 on a group of her third-grade students.

Elliott decided she would segregate her students, all of whom were from a white, Anglo-Saxon background. Her premise was that they wouldn’t know or understand what it felt like to be discriminated against, unless they had been in that position themselves. Elliott chose to divide her students according to an attribute over which the children had no influence or control: eye colour.

Splitting the students into two groups, brown eyes and blue eyes, Elliott informed her students that the blue-eyed children were superior. She sat the blue-eyed children in the front of the classroom, and placed the brown-eyed ones at the back. She gave the blue-eyed children extra privileges, and went out of her way to praise them whenever she could. She made a special effort to dwell on the mistakes of brown-eyed children and to belittle them at every opportunity. The following day, Elliott reversed the exercise: making the brown-eyed students the superior ones.

Elliott’s experiment was a confronting one and continues to divide opinion. Yet it was a democratic experiment in the pragmatic tradition of the educational philosopher John Dewey. According to Dewey, knowledge was something that wasn’t only passively transmitted but also actively created through experience. You can teach a child about fire by asking them to read about it, or you can teach a child by getting them to stick a finger into a flame.

Here, experience shouldn’t be confused with mere activity. Rather, we learn from experience because of the consequences that come from acting upon something. Being burned involves a mere physical change, but the experience lies in knowing that sticking a finger into flame means being burned.(13)

Experience, then, must involve an element of thought or reflection. People must be able to understand the relationship between the things they do and their consequences. For the experience to have been a success, the child who has gone through the Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes exercise must be able to understand not only that notions of superiority and the effects of discrimination are connected, but also how they are connected.

These are the components, if you will, of empathy: experience and thought. In addition, there is affect. We mustn’t ignore this latter feature. We may experience something and appreciate it through thoughtful reflection, but empathy doesn’t seem complete unless we can feel something. In the case of Elliott’s students, the child in her exercise must be able to feel the pain of prejudice and the discomfort of discrimination.

There is one other component of empathy. I’ve not yet said anything about imagination. This is important because we may need to empathise with people whom we have no direct contact. The historian Benedict Anderson, in his work on nationalism, famously referred to the modern nation-state as an imagined community.(14)  In our globalised world, with our ubiquitous digital technology, we live not merely in imagined communities but increasingly in virtual communities.

When we think of empathy, we are often thinking of what has been called moral imagination – the power ‘that compels us to grant the highest possible reality and the largest conceivable claim to a thought, action or person that is not our own, and not close to us in any obvious way’.(15)  The first writer to invoke moral imagination was the conservative thinker Edmund Burke. Writing in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke lamented what he saw as the passing of an age of chivalry and the emergence of a more demotic temper. This new condition of democracy would dissolve all the pleasing and benevolent illusions of the ancient regime:

All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked shivering nature, and to raise it to a dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.(16)

For Burke, moral imagination was all about concealing our defects and decorating our manners. It was about honour and duty; it was about noblesse oblige. Yet it was always conventional. The wardrobe of a moral imagination may furnish the decent drapery of life – but the ideas are habitual ones, ones that sit on the rack, ready to be worn. As one recent scholar has explained, ‘there is nothing original or individual about moral imagination on this view … the moral imagination simply offers wisdom without reflection’.(17)

Burke’s notion of moral imagination stands some distance from the kind implied in the concept of empathy. If there is anything to which empathy is directed, it does appear to be wisdom with reflection. Empathy is about experience rather than convention, about emotional authenticity rather than courtly decorum. 

Here, we may contrast Burke with Dewey, who regarded routine behaviour as the antithesis of thoughtful action. In Dewey’s view, the routine ‘accepts what has been customary as a full measure of possibility and omits to take into account the connections of the particular things done’.(18) It says, in effect, ‘let things continue just as I have found them in the past’.(19) Conventional routine can be as much an obstacle to responsibility as an enabler of fellow feeling.

Power and empathy’s limits

There are limits to our empathy, in a number of respects. First, we cannot be capable of feeling empathy all the time, or for everyone. When we are provoked into feeling empathy, it is more likely that we do so with those with whom we have some connection. Even then, empathy can never amount to the intensity of feeling we have about our own personal welfare. In a much-cited passage in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith contrasts the example of a European responding to an earthquake in China. While the European may express their sorrow for the misfortunate of those caught in the disaster, they would nevertheless go about their business as if nothing had happened:

The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.(20)

Empathy also doesn’t mean partisanship. We don’t empathise in order to take sides, although sometimes our compassion may lead us to do so. The challenge of stepping into the shoes of another is one of understanding; it isn’t one of endorsement. To say that we must be capable of empathy doesn’t mean that we are compelled to assume that another’s worldview is correct.

This is one error made by some critics of multiculturalism. Such critics believe that any celebration of diversity must collapse into a cultural relativism. It is suggested that multiculturalism permits people to use their culture as an excuse – that, for instance, there can be exceptions to rules or standards because one’s culture demands privileged treatment.

In its most general sense, multiculturalism does make a demand of recognition. It demands that we can’t be blind to difference or assume that equal treatment must always mean identical treatment. It says that we shouldn’t negate a person’s identity.(21) Multiculturalism says that we must be open to empathetic dialogue: that, whether we endorse them or not, we are at the very least prepared to listen to claims made in the name of cultural identity.

In practice, Australian multiculturalism has been based on the principles of citizenship. As a public policy, it says that everyone should be comfortable in their own skin; it says that you can be Australian in your own way. Multiculturalism isn’t, however, without its limits. It is an expression of our civic values. Our multicultural policy has never, for instance, said that it is acceptable to let Christian canon law or Jewish halacha law or Islamic sharia law prevail over Australian secular law if they should be inconsistent. Any right we have to express our cultural identity is accompanied by responsibilities – namely, to commit to parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, the equality of sexes, freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Let me turn now to the limits of empathy, in another sense – specifically, the ways in which we may be limited in our ability to empathise. Because it is not always the case that we can succeed in understanding the perspective of another.

In 2009, Jane Elliott brought her Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes exercise to the UK. She recreated it with a group of British adults that included a mix of white, Afro-Caribbean and Asian backgrounds. The aim remained the same: to allow participants to experience what it feels like to be on the receiving end of discrimination.

But on this occasion, the exercise was a failure. A number of participants were asked to leave or chose to excuse themselves part of the way through. In short, some of the participants refused to go along with the premise. One participant objected that the exercise wasn’t fair because it labelled all white people as racist. Another participant, a young white man, objected that it was ‘an exercise that removes choice, freedom and autonomy’ and that he was exercising his choice not to become an ‘aggressor’. Others dismissed the value of the experiment by saying that it was wrong to make the issue all about racism felt by the brown-eyed people in the group. One such participant complained that she had:

…been in a situation many times where I have had people comment about my person, that I am white, blonde, older, whatever. I have come across just as much discrimination in my life as possibly many black people have.(22)

A similar thing happened on a recent episode of SBS TV’s Living with the Enemy. The program attempts to bring together people with diametrically opposed views by making them live inside each others’ homes for a week. One episode featured a young Muslim couple, Ahmed and Lydia, and Ben, who staunchly believes Islam is a fanatical and violent religion. Ben gets along well with the Muslim couple, but then abruptly decides after a few days to withdraw from the experiment – ostensibly because Ahmed and Lydia were too moderate and failed to match his expectations. Ben refuses to agree that Ahmed and Lydia were real Muslims (since he believed that all Muslims were extremists or fundamentalists).

What we see in these two examples are illustrations of the obstacles to empathy. The example of Living with the Enemy reveals the moral challenge that comes with experiencing empathy. Taking the view of another may mean questioning your own views and values. It can involve suspending, if only momentarily, one’s own beliefs – leaving them open to challenge. For some of us, particularly those who crave certainty or feel threatened by change, this can be too much to demand. Not everyone can cope when confronted with the stress of dissonance, the reality that one may have drawn the wrong conclusion or acted too hastily. It is not at all surprising that psychologists have found, as mentioned earlier, a correlation between empathy and social self-confidence. Fortitude may be a prerequisite of empathy.

In the case of Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes, we see that empathy can be resisted because of power and arrogance. The experiment failed because some white volunteers refused to accept there was anything they could learn from participating. Here, we see one aspect of enjoying the position of social power: you can feel that you are always in the right, you can feel absolutely certain that you already know all that needs to be known. To feel empathy, though, requires something else. It demands a dose of humility.

Privilege

I would like to say a little more about the question of power and its relationship with privilege. The example of Elliott’s failed British experiment shows how some groups unaccustomed with racial discrimination can be unaware that they may be the beneficiaries of a certain privilege.

The concept of privilege refers to how some may enjoy unearned or unacknowledged advantages over others. The concept emerged in the 1980s through the work of feminist scholar Peggy McIntosh. In a celebrated essay, McIntosh wrote, that, ‘as a white person’, she had been taught not to see how social privilege placed her at a certain advantage. Privilege was like an ‘invisible package of unearned assets’, a ‘weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank cheques’.(23)

McIntosh listed more than 40 ways in which she could cash in on such privilege each day. Some of these examples related to the mundane details of everyday life. Thus, if McIntosh wanted to do so, she could be pretty sure of moving into an area and be assured that her neighbours would be neutral or pleasant to her. She could turn on the television or open the front page of the newspaper and see people of her race widely represented.

Then there were the ways in which privilege could shape others’ perception of McIntosh. She could swear or dress in second hand clothes or not answer letters, without having people attribute those choices to the bad morals, poverty or illiteracy of her race. She could speak in public without putting her race on trial; and if she did so well, she would never be called a credit to her race. She would, indeed, never be asked to speak for all the people of her racial group.

The beneficiaries of social privilege, as I’ve said, may not be aware of their privileged position. Part of this is because conversations about discrimination tend to focus on those who are disadvantaged by prejudice. It isn’t always the case that we consider the other side of the coin: what it says about those who do not experience discrimination.

For example, last year economists at the University of Queensland conducted a study on Brisbane buses, where four groups of students boarded a bus with a faulty ticket and asked drivers if they could travel for free. The four groups were defined along racial lines. One group was defined as black; one was defined as Indians; one was defined as fair-skinned Asians; and one group defined as fair-skinned Caucasians. The study found that in 72 per cent of the encounters white Caucasian passengers were given a free ride, compared to 51 per cent of Indians, 36 per cent of blacks and 73 per cent of Asians.

Consider another study conducted by economists at the Australian National University in 2010. This involved researchers sending more than 4000 fake job applications for entry-level jobs. The applications contained the same qualifications but with different names, distinguished by their ethnic origin. In order to get as many interviews as an applicant with an Anglo-Saxon name, someone with a Chinese name needed to submit 68 per cent more applications. Those with a Middle Eastern name would need 64 per cent more. By comparison, those with an Italian name needed to put in 12 per cent more applications.

There are two ways of making sense of these findings. One would be to say that there are particular groups which appear more susceptible to experiencing racial discrimination: in the bus study, blacks and Indians; in the resume example, people with Chinese names and Middle Eastern names. The other interpretation is to say that in both cases we see those of a majority racial or ethnic background ostensibly enjoying a form of social privilege.

Raising questions of privilege is not easy. It can be confronting for some; it may cause a good deal of discomfort. Yet it is not about apportioning individual blame or culpability. This is because privilege is not so much personal as it is structural. Charles W. Mills, a scholar of race relations, argues that the western social contract is in fact underpinned by a racial contract – a contract that serves to differentiate majority groups from minorities.

As Mills explains, modern notions of the social contract begin with a state of nature. In the imagined position of people’s ‘natural’ state, they make the transformation into ‘political’ society. Mills, however, argues that race intervenes in unacknowledged ways. For example, in white settler states, the state of nature has demarcated the pre-political state of non-white people and the arrival of white Europeans:

The establishment of society thus implies the denial that a society already existed; the creation of society requires the intervention of white men, who are thereby positioned as already socio-political beings. White men who are (definitionally) already part of society encounter non-whites who are not, who are “savage” residents of a state of nature characterised in terms of wilderness, jungle, wasteland. These the white men bring partially into society as subordinate citizens or exclude on reservations or deny the existence of or exterminate.(24)

But the end result of this racial contract is singular: duties, rights and liberties are assigned on a racially differentiated basis.(25)

In historical terms, such discrimination was frequently done in an explicit manner. For much of the twentieth-century, the Australian polity was indeed a racial polity, defined by the supreme ideal of White Australia. Yet structural notions of race also shape contemporary society.

Let me give you one example. Earlier this year, leading up to Australia Day, there was extended public debate about so-called patriotic t-shirts that were being sold by the Big W chain of shops. The shirts were emblazoned with an Australian flag and said, ‘Australia: Established 1788’. Many were quick to criticise the t-shirts as offensive and racist, while others rushed to defend them as legitimate expressions of national pride. In one sense, the t-shirts were not racist: they did not explicitly articulate support for propositions of racial superiority or racial hatred. Yet, in another sense, you could plausibly interpret the t-shirts as evidence of precisely the kind of racial contract which Mills argued underpinned a modern social contract. Here, after all, was a statement that appeared to endorse Australia as a racial polity. It seemed to say that we could ignore all civilisation that existed before 1788 because it didn’t live up to certain white European standards.

Conclusion

The point of talking about privilege, as I’ve said, is not to point the finger at anyone. Earlier this year in an interview with the New Yorker, Peggy McIntosh reflected on how talking about privilege shouldn’t lead to divisive arguments or bitter confrontations but something positive. It should ideally be about understanding: ‘it has to do with looking around yourself the way sociologists do and seeing the big patterns in the rest of society, while keeping a balance and respecting your experience’.(26) It was a way not only of seeing the oppression of others, but also seeing how systems oppress oneself.

There are some signs that empathy may be on the rise, and that our digital age could be presenting new opportunities. Over the weekend, one report in the Sydney Morning Herald observed the emergence of a new genre of empathy-based video games. Some gaming developers are focusing on games that ask players to inhabit their characters’ emotional worlds, as opposed to the usual shoot-‘em-up or thrills-and-spills we associate with computer games. Australian anti-racist activists have also recently developed a new mobile phone app that allows a user to gain a virtual experience of being on the receiving end of racial discrimination.

Any technological or generational advance, though, is not a panacea. Our human frailty is eternal. There will inevitably be times when attempts at such individual or collective self-understanding will fail. They can fail because people want to protect their social power, because their social power makes them arrogant, and because some people may not have enough power in the first place. This is a reminder for all of us that empathy – that basic moral task of stepping into the shoes of another – is in fact something that is deeply political. Little wonder then that it is so frequently resisted and so difficult to realise.

ENDS

 

References

(1) D Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1817) p 106.
(2) A Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (2007) p 10.
(3) A Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (2007) p 10.
(4) P Sheehan, ‘You call this even-handed? Refugee series is strictly for the gullible’, The Sydney  Morning Herald, 23 June 2011. At http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/you-call-this-… (viewed 4 November 2014).
(5) P Sheehan, ‘You call this even-handed? Refugee series is strictly for the gullible’, The Sydney  Morning Herald, 23 June 2011. At http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/you-call-this-… (viewed 4 November 2014).
(6) H Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) p 30.
(7) L Jamison, The Empathy Exams: Essays (2014) p 3.
(8) L Jamison, The Empathy Exams: Essays (2014) p 5.
(9) L Jamison, The Empathy Exams: Essays (2014) p 23.
(10) J Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012). 
(11) In S Manzoor, ‘Rereading: Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin’, The Guardian, 27 October 2011. At http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/27/black-like-me-john-howard-… (viewed 30 October 2014).
(12) In S Manzoor, ‘Rereading: Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin’, The Guardian, 27 October 2011. At http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/27/black-like-me-john-howard-… (viewed 30 October 2014).
(13) J Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916) pp 133-34.
(14)  B Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983).
(15) D Bromwich, Moral Imagination: Essays (2014) Preface, xii.
(16) E Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1821) p 171.
(17) D Bromwich, Moral Imagination: Essays (2014) p 7.
(18) J Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916) p 140.
(19) J Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916) p 140.
(20) A Smith, The Essential Adam Smith (1987) p 106.
(21) C Taylor, 'The Politics of Recognition' in A Gutmann (ed) Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition (1994) p 43.
(22) ‘How Racist Are You? With Jane Elliott’, Channel 4. At https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MYHBrJIIFU (viewed 23 October 2014). 
(23) P McIntosh, ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack’ p 1. At https://www.isr.umich.edu/home/diversity/resources/white-privilege.pdf (viewed 3 November 2014).
(24) C Mills, The Racial Contract (1997) p 13.
(25) C Mills, The Racial Contract (1997) p 93.
(26) In J Rothman, ‘The Origins of “Privilege”’, The New Yorker ,12 May 2014. At http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-origins-of-privilege (viewed 3 November 2014).

Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner

See Also