Departmental Talk (Empathy Gap)

On November 1st, the author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, Beverly Daniel Tatum came to the University of Richmond to engage with a conversation with President Crutcher surrounding the empathy gap and the importance of conversations.  The conversation took a few turns, however, I thought her point about the current segregation of this country to be particularly relevant. Apparently, 75% of white Americans have strictly white networks.  Therefore, how are we expected to develop empathy for those different from us when we have never met them. She claimed that first, we must have to acknowledge that an empathy gap for different racial minorities exists, not by ignoring it through colorblindness, but by truly seeing and talking to one another.  She claimed that people are motivated the most to action when you care about someone. To care about someone, you must come into contact with them and substantive interracial interactions aren’t happening nearly enough. Therefore, we need to create the space for real, sustained dialogue. Finally, I found it particularly compelling how she claimed that the systematically disadvantaged know a lot more about the privileged than the privileged do about the disadvantaged.  Therefore, in order to have a productive dialogue, we need to teach white folks how to listen.


This talk was definitely relevant for this course because I think that empathy is one of the most important soft skills for a healthcare provider to have.  Without empathy, how can a provider even try to be culturally competent/humble? I think that if Lia’s doctors had possessed some more empathy for the Lee’s then maybe her story could have been very different.  Or in another case, think about how providers deal with those who struggle with obesity. Providers need to come from a place of empathy rather than sympathy or judgment if there’s even to be a hope of having a productive patient/provider relationship.

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