A lesson in empathy, Vol. 1

Imagine yourself on foot, crossing an intersection. You see people tensing up inside of their cars, consciously avoiding eye contact with you as they discreetly lock their doors. They don’t know you, but they’re afraid of you.

Now imagine, if you will, entering a convenience store. As soon as the door chime announces your arrival, all eyes are on you. Management assumes you’re there to steal something and signals the cashier to keep an eye on you as well. One of them might approach you with aggressive hospitality, or simply follow you around the store, pretending to stock or check things until you make your purchases and leave. You’re keenly aware of this scrutiny, and feel insulted that your observers think you don’t see it. But, what’re you gonna do? That’s just the way things are–that’s the reality of your daily life.

You’re not there to steal anything–all you want is some chips and a drink. You place them on the counter, and one of the two people who has been watching you the entire time greets you with a fake smile and a cheery “Did you find everything you were looking for today?”

You grunt in affirmation, take your Flaming hot Cheetos and 20oz Sprite and get the fuck out of there. You have little doubt that the two employees are discussing you now, perhaps commenting on how “rude those people are.” You don’t even get the courtesy of being treated like an individual. You’re lumped in with everyone else in America with whom you share certain physical characteristics. Again, that’s just how things are. You hold your head up and persevere.

Imagine you’re driving now. It’s 2AM, and you’re coming home from a night out. You had a good time, and you’re in a good mood.

A cop catches a glimpse of you as you roll past his hiding spot in the shadows of the parking lot of some closed business. The red and blue lights come to life, and your heart starts hammering in your chest. You might die tonight.

The cop asks you what you’re doing out this late. You tell him, and he smirks and makes some smartass remark. You’re a captive audience, and you sit perfectly still while after fucking with you for a little while, he goes back to his car and takes his sweetass time running your license. Everything checks out, and he deems you worthy of freedom and releases you. You’re grateful that you didn’t wind up face down on the pavement in handcuffs, or worse. You had a pleasant evening, but now it’s been ruined by this experience that reminds you that everywhere you go, there’s a target on your back.

No one believes this happens to you on a regular basis, and that pisses you off. It’s hard not to be jaded. People who don’t understand what it’s like to be in your shoes want to know why you’re afraid of the cops.

“Don’t break the law,” they say, “and you won’t have anything to worry about.” They wish you’d quit talking about it and making trouble. They wish you’d learn your place. They’re the same people who want you to sing and dance and play basketball for your entertainment, but would prefer you keep your mouth shut and your opinions to yourself.

You drive off into the night with a fresh reminder that you’re a piece of shit and not worthy of respect and dignity.

Who are you?

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