We must urgently cultivate empathy with marginalized people


We are all in this thing together, and the people who are celebrating their victory over diversity and "political correctness" need to recalibrate — because they rise and fall with us.

This is a suggestion with a political and cultural purpose. We live in a diverse country, where the most privileged people are treated as the default humans, and everyone else divergent from that norm. Straight white men are overrepresented in politics, media, pop culture; as investors, venture capitalists, and captains of industry.

Anyone who is not a straight white man is obliged, by virtue of needing to navigate the culture in which they live, to be fluent in the language of their experiences and perspectives. The reverse is, quite simply, not true.


That is not to suggest that there are no straight white men who have nurtured their own capacity for empathy, nor that a stubborn resistance to nurture empathy is reserved exclusively for straight white men.

But in the wake of this election, in which white supremacy, patriarchy, heterocentrism, Christianity, and able-bodiedness were centered — and divergence from those privileges devalued — we must urgently focus on the cultivation of empathy with marginalized people.

And we must do it not just because it is the principled thing to do, but because we are one country — like it or not — and we are all in this thing together. We must demand empathy with us out of self-interest, and make clear that it is in the self-interest of people who resent us, too.

We are all in the same leaky, creaky, unreliable boat. And knowing that means understanding even the most voracious self-interest is best served by egalitarianism: A fortune is worth nothing at the bottom of the ocean, less than a single penny carried safely to shore.

Moving forward, it will be profoundly difficult for marginalized people to continue to lift our voices, tell our stories and share our perspectives, doing it over and over to invite empathy, only to be rejected again and again. Only to have our vulnerabilities used against us.

But I am resolved to keep telling my stories — to report my lived experiences as a feminist woman, as a disabled person, as a survivor of sexual assault. I am resolved to keep speaking and providing the opportunity for people whose privileges I do not share to empathize with me.

And I am committed to listening to people who do not share my privilege.

Division is nothing more than a gossamer promise of a treasure that will never materialize. I am working toward something more. I am inviting my neighbors who hate or fear or disdain me in some abstract way to hear me, to empathize with me, and to agree to help me carry the penny to shore.