The Question in St. Louis County: Can Whites Empathize With Blacks?

As the Brown grand jury hears evidence, are its white and black members even hearing the same thing? Many studies suggest: probably not.

Empathy isn’t about your own experience, but honoring and valuing someone else’s experience, especially when it’s different from your own. But studies show white people simply have less empathy for black people. For instance, in one study, white subjects were shown videos of people being stuck with a needle. The subjects’ brains and body chemistry were monitored for what researchers have identified as the tell-tale signs of empathy.

And when the white subjects watched white people being stuck with a needle, they responded with more empathy than when they saw black people being hurt. Another study corroborated this — asked how much something would hurt someone else (for instance, stubbing a toe), subjects consistently responded that hypothetical black people would feel less pain than hypothetical whites….

Sally Kohn