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The Power of Empathy
2021 marks the 95th year of commemorating Black History Month — previously known as Negro History Week. It is a time to honor and celebrate the lives and accomplishments of the African Americans who came before us. Although we have made plenty of milestones, the Black Lives Matter Movement reminds us that we still have a long way to go. Stories after stories, lives after lives, and I cannot believe that after everything, one of the main deciding factors for being a victim of injustice still comes down to the color of our skin.
It can be easy to overlook problems when you are not directly impacted by them. There have been times in my life where I witnessed mistreatment based on race and I knew I should have said or done something, but I chose to look the other way instead. It’s heartbreaking to see my fellow African Americans being treated unfairly, especially when most people in the United States claim that so much progress for equality has been made. Many of us in the Black community still feel like we are not being heard, seen, or understood. We have lived alongside our white counterparts for centuries, and yet our history is still not valued enough to be taught in schools. Without it, how can we educate others on the significance of black history and its relevance today? How can we teach people that black history is still important after Black History Month is over?
I certainly don’t have all the solutions, but I know one thing we can do is to have more empathy.
Empathy is being able to place yourself in another person’s situation and understand their feelings. Maybe you can relate to the frustration of having poor connection issues in a zoom call or the awkwardness of accidentally leaving your microphone on during a meeting.
Empathy is different from sympathy, which takes a more outsider approach to someone’s situation. The sympathizer feels pity or sorrow for the other person, but does not truly connect to their situation. Empathy, on the other hand, is a more personal reflection. As the old saying goes, “If you want to understand someone, walk a mile in their shoes”.
Being able to empathize with others is a great social skill, and it can help mend and build relationships. Fortunately, Resilience teaches about empathy as one of the lessons from our Social Emotional Learning Enhancement Application (SELENA) Curriculum under the core topic of Social Awareness.
One thing we can do to improve our ability to empathize is to learn about different cultures. This exposes us to different perspectives, ideologies, and customs. When we have experience with different cultures, it makes it easier to empathize with one another because we have a larger background and presence of mind to do so. America is blessed with so much diversity, so if you are genuine in your curiosity, then most people will be glad to share their culture and story with you.
Too often do we let our skin tones, economic status, age, and beliefs prevent us from empathizing or understanding one another. Once we are able to strip down our construction of race, connect with each other emotionally while seeing a person, we can truly begin to learn and appreciate the contributions African Americans have made toward society. So the next time you hear or see something different, stop and put yourself in their position to understand where they are coming from. You don’t always have to agree with someone, but you can listen, respect, and value their opinion.
And maybe one day, black history will be taught alongside white history. But until then, don’t forget what you learned from Black History Month and do your own research. With the power of empathy, I know that one day the African American story will be as equally important as the Caucasian one.