Radical empathy ~ it takes a village (Part 5)

Dear President Trump,

Did you see the piece in the WP this morning about the teens from Newport Beach, CA, who threw a Nazi-themed party over the weekend? They arranged their red plastic drinking cups in the shape of a swastika and took selfies in front of it. Understandably there’s a lot of anger and concern roiling around about this, much of it focused on condemning the students and calling for them to be expelled. The mayor of one of the towns that feeds that school district, Katrina Foley, was clear that hate-fueled actions and symbols must not be tolerated, but she also warned against vilifying the students and advocated implementing curriculums with “better anti-bias and anti-hate content” saying “we must develop comprehensive programming so that students can empathize with people different than themselves.”

There it is again – that fundamental ingredient of empathy, or radical empathy; a healing balm when present and a dangerous vacuum when absent.

When I read Foley’s comment I found myself nodding and thinking: “Yes, and what about those kids’ parents? What about President Trump?” I tried to envision what a truly comprehensive anti-bias and anti-hate program could/would/should look like and realized it would be impossible to get the progenitors of the fear mongering and hateful messaging in the room and that even if it did happen, it would probably go poorly. And then I thought about the “Christian” love-thy-neighbor-in-theory folks who are likely among the parents and teachers of these kids. They almost certainly didn’t model the overt hateful behavior and almost certainly don’t condone it, but I worry they are apt to not recognize their white privilege cocoons and have a hard time seeing them stepping up to attend anti-bias / anti-hate programming with their children and students.

Maybe I’m wrong and more of these parents and teachers than I expect will realize that complacency and silence on these issues leaves way too much room for malignant ideas and attitudes to take hold. I hope so. I also hope that whatever programming the school district undertakes will be cognizant of both the edgy allure of the haters the kids are finding for models and the powerful, powerful role that silence and hypocrisy cloaked in “good Christian” and “good secular humanist” garb plays in allowing hate to fester.

May we be safe to call out leaders who foment poisonous attitudes.
May we be willing to deal forthrightly with everything that props up hatred.
May we teach our children how to value and enact radical empathy.
May we not make peace with half-measures when it comes to addressing our biases.

Tracy Simpson

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