Skip to main content

See also:

12 Years and a racial empathy gap study

What effect does "12 Years A Slave" have on the ability to empathize with black pain?
Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Since 12 Years A Slave showed up at the Oscars, and ran away with two, Lupita N. images are everywhere.

She’s the real person behind the personified images of centuries of white violence against black bodies. Images that defined the African American violent and dubious relationship with law, order, and authority, particularly toward citizenship.

Lupita in pictures everywhere with everybody is excellent. Not everybody knows or cares who Jared Leto (or anyone else in the photograph) is. But Lupita’s photograph alongside another body likely does something for the global western European psyche and hopefully conscience.

According to a then Harvard PhD (anthropology) student's (2011) study, people in general believe that black people feel less pain that whites. Black people believe this about black people too.

In the United States the lack of empathy for black pain may explain recent black frat hazing incidents. It would be interesting to know how many of the young Kappas in the deep South charged with hazing were under the influence of the 12 Years movie.

PBS host Michel Martin briefly interviewed the Harvard racial empathy gap scholar. His suggestion for solution is to “push people to take perspective of another person”.

Lupita and 12 Years forces viewers to take perspective of American history from an abolitionist perspective of the moral depravity of slave owners. And this is pretty new to cinematic slavery story telling in the United States.

Social media is the best place to institute a campaign that reshapes and structures the world with empathy for black bodies, black lives, and black pain. Lupita next to anyone is an excellent image to evoke the global consciousness that exercises with regard to the racial empathy gap.

If black pain is not on the consciousness of the global European western psyche, then black on black crime will continue as will the aggressive charging and sentencing of black youth compared to whites.

What part will you take in the 2014 campaign that asks you to develop empathy for the perspectives of others? What global events are underway that have resulted in the punishment of those unable to empathize with others?