The Racial Empathy Gap: No Sympathy For The Black Working Class

Let’s do a thought experiment. I want you to imagine that there is a Black mayoral candidate running in Detroit, one of the Blackest cities in the United States. Let’s imagine that the Black mayoral candidate — let’s call him Jamal Brown — has no government experience whatsoever, but has a bombastic, braggadocious personality and billions of dollars in real estate wealth. Mr. Brown claims that Detroit’s decline in economic might and political stature is due to white people who are coming into the city and “taking jobs” from hard working Black Detroitians. Mr. Brown alleges that Indiana and Wisconsin are sending in white criminals and rapists, and that the city of Detroit should build a wall to keep these white people out. Mr. Brown was sued by the federal government in the past for refusing to rent to white people, has declared bankruptcy several times, has been accused of sexually assaulting over a dozen women, and questioned whether or not George W. Bush was an American citizen. Mr. Brown has ties to Black separatist groups that he refuses to condemn, and in fact encourages violence against white protestors at his rallies.

Let’s be honest here. Would Jamal Brown win the Detroit mayoral race? No. Would Mr. Brown get support from law enforcement, intelligence agencies, or military generals? No. Would our fictitious character get the support media apologists who claim that he is simply channeling the anger of Black “economic anxiety?” No, of course not. He wouldn’t get hundreds of millions in small donations either.

Our fictitious character is obviously a direct analogy to Donald Trump. The comparison is made to show what I like to call the racial empathy gap. The media has pushed a narrative that a large number of Americans have simply come to accept: that Donald Trump’s supporters aren’t racist, they are simply worried about the economy, and this pushes them to words and actions that might “appear” racist, but in reality are not. I wholeheartedly reject the “economic anxiety” narrative, not only because Clinton won voters in every rust belt state whose number one issue was the economy, but also because the economic anxiety narrative itself is a prime example of white privilege (and thus the racial empathy gap). According to a Pew Research piece published in 2014, the white median net worth for a family stood at $141,000. The median net worth for a Black family stood at $11,000, and the same number for a Latino family was $13,000. That means the median white family had 13 times the net worth of a comparable Black family! Despite this massive racial wealth gap, economic anxiety was frequently employed as a catch all excuse for aggrieved over the past 18 months. Economic anxiety is virtually never used as an excuse for Black people. There’s a reason for that.

The Crack Epidemic Vs. The Heroin Epidemic

If you want to examine how the white working class receives empathy that is never reserved for the Black working class, look no further than the heroin epidemic. Now admittedly, the heroin epidemic is a terrible health crisis that requires bipartisan solutions. But when crack cocaine disproportionately affected Black communities in the 1980s, there was no call for a public health solution. In fact, the crack epidemic was not considered a public health problem at all, instead, it was considered a criminal justice issue. Crack cocaine users in the Black community were not given clean needles or anti-overdose drugs. They were arrested, given records, and mandatory minimums. Politicians did not call for compassion and sympathy for poor Black people caught up in drugs in the 1980s. They called for harsh criminal penalties. Just look at the 100–1 mandatory sentencing ratio between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine. The law was consciously designed to more harshly impact Black people, who were more likely to use crack cocaine versus the powdered version of the drug. Millions of Black people were got records, were locked up, lost their voting rights, and were later unable to reenter the economy or get a job due to harsh state and local laws passed in the 1980s. Those poor Black people who used crack cocaine got no sympathy from the media or from politicians. But we are expected to sympathize with poor white people who use heroin, and even work overtime to help them avoid criminal penalties.

No “Economic Anxiety” Excuse For Black Workers

How many times have you turned on the local news and seen a Black person accused of committing a petty crime, such as stealing from a gas station or not paying a parking ticket? How many times have read a piece in conservative media that called Black people “lazy,” or “freeloaders,” or “welfare queens?” How many times have you seen members of the media or politicians go on some extended riff about Black on Black crime? Now think about how many times you’ve heard “economic anxiety” used as an excuse for Black people for any of these things? Zero right?

Economic anxiety isn’t an excuse that Black people (or any other minorities really) are allowed to have. Black people are supposed to be at the bottom of the social caste system, and we’re supposed to be meek and quiet about it. Even supposed leftists talk almost exclusively about the white working class, spending virtually no time speaking to the Black working class or building relationships with them. When they ask us to talk about “workers,” they are talking specifically about white workers in factories in the northeast and the rust belt. They aren’t talking about Black communities in South Carolina, in North Carolina, or in Georgia.

Despite the median Black family having 13 times less the wealth of the median white family, Black people have not turned to racial demagogues who demonize other races and call for attacking them to solve their economic problems. The Black community has not turned to the politics of hate in order to fix our much more pressing and severe economic anxiety. Why isn’t economic anxiety ever an excuse we get to use? You already know the answer. Instead, “economic anxiety” is reserved as an excuse for significantly wealthier white workers who have espoused support for racist politics. Nobody is talking about how the Black working class has very real economic anxiety. They are either ignored or told that that they deserve it.

My Personal Empathy Challenge For Readers

Initially, I wanted to say I challenge white leftists, but that wouldn’t be fair. I want to challenge everyone to this: the next time you see a Black person who has done or said something bad, consider if they have economic anxiety. Since economic anxiety is an excuse that is readily available for the white working class, I think it should extend the same empathy to Black people feeling real economic anxiety. If that Black teenager on the local news stole a sandwich, that doesn’t mean he is an irredeemably bad person, it just means that he has economic anxiety. If a Black person says something mean or inappropriate, perhaps they are just worried about the economy, and you should have sympathy for them. We’re not going to defeat anti-blackness and discrimination overnight, but having genuine empathy for Black people (instead of viewing them as a threat, or violent, or stupid) is one of the first steps on the long winding road towards justice and equality.