a better way to empathize with someone describing experiencing racism than “so sorry you had to go through that”
I’ve noticed many white people say things like “I’m so sorry this happened” in reaction to people of color sharing their experiences of racism.
I generally think towards best intentions but these statements often come off as vacuous and meaningless especially when that white person does nothing when seeing the racism happening, or “avoids politics at dinner” and doesn’t consistently try to stop racism/white supremacist ideas in their own white communities. White supremacy is in the foundation of how this country was formed and until you acknowledge that, or actively learn that history, you can’t really fight against it.
Since “sorry” tends to be associated with “apology,” it’s easily interpreted as hubris, apologizing for someone else’s actions especially when not there. You’re not some omnipotent savior. If you were there, then you could have stepped in to do something to diffuse the situation.
Even if you are intending to express empathy and not using the “apology” definition of “sorry,” saying “I’m so sorry you had to go through that” centers your feelings over the person who went through the racism, which is not the best way to empathize.
It is more empathetic to acknowledge how difficult/frustrating that must have been: “It’s awful you had to deal with _____.” Then consider sharing something you learned from the story and an action to take in the future: something like “I never realized how harmful this could be and will try to step in next time I see something like this and do ____ to prevent these attitudes.”
These are nuanced, meticulous suggestions for how to better express empathy based on observations from an entire lifetime of interacting with white people, being forced to assimilate into white-American culture or face ridicule and isolation, and the accompanying frustrations with that. You can take them if you wish, considering this (unintended) impact I described above, or ignore them. If you view it as me trying to impede on your freedom of speech, I’d hope you can examine why you are viewing it as that because it says a lot about how you were socialized. (Perhaps related to the entitlement of not being aware of the consequences of your freedom of speech and the false belief that your good intent will always translate to good impact).
This piece explains further.