Thoughts on Mia McKenzie’s letter to white liberals

Earlier this week, Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous wrote about being saddened by her own lack of empathy toward the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, which she attributed to burnout from all the times when white people ignored violence against people of color.

My first thoughts were: I can’t. I just can’t. This is raw and honest and important, but I just can’t deal with anyone expressing a lack of empathy for the victims–no matter how understandable her reasons, no matter how clearly she wants to be able to empathize. Not after last week.

Then, a few days later, it showed up on my Facebook newsfeed, and I read it again.

It still hurt to read. Not only because of the lack of empathy that still hit me viscerally, but also because of McKenzie’s assumption that only white people were harmed by the bombings. In fact, one of the three people murdered at the Marathon was Lu Lingzi, a student from China. I’m not ok with erasing her.

Also, the effects of the bombings and the subsequent scary-as-fuck manhunt were felt city-wide. This wasn’t a white-Bostonians trauma: it was an all-Bostonians trauma.

That said, I still think McKenzie’s piece is important, and I’m glad she wrote it.

It’s a painful read, especially as a Bostonian.

And I really wish she had acknowledged that people of color were in fact affected by the bombings.

But that doesn’t change her immediate, visceral reaction, or the very real circumstances that led to it.

That doesn’t change the truth that racism kills children like Trayvon Martin.

That doesn’t change the truth that many white people ignore the suffering of people of color, and that even those of us who are trying hard to fight racism can do better.

McKenzie’s pain–and that of her friends who reacted similarly–is real. Boston’s pain, both individual and collective, is real.

As hard as it is to hold them both in my mind, to simultaneously honor both kinds of suffering, I will try.

Because I want to work toward a world in which neither has to happen.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Mia McKenzie’s letter to white liberals

  1. I completely agree with you, and I read and agreed with (for the most part) what Mia was saying. Racism is always a difficult topic to speak about because it is an emotional topic, however I think it’s incredibly important for people to disregard a person’s skin color or cultural background when speaking of tragedy. A human life lost is a human life lost, and a lot of people these days don’t really seem to care, as long as it’s not one of their own. I think we need to care about every loss. I don’t mean this in a naive sense, I don’t believe it’s humanly possible to weep for every death, but what I mean is, every life lost to injustice should be respected, and we should not take sides when really it’s all of us that are the victims. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Maybe I’m a bit late to the party, but what strikes me about that letter is that racism has caused her to lack empathy for whites in the exact same manner that racism causes whites to ignore or downplay the deaths of people of color. It’s hard to admit, but this is a textbook side effect of racism: you just don’t care as much about the “other”, especially if you’re part of the dominant group.

    I wasn’t that shocked to read Mia’s post because I have read things like this before (even though I am a white liberal). Ultimately, it’s on her to become a better human being so she can be empathetic to everyone who is suffering while certainly not relenting on the fight against white supremacy. It’s on us white liberals to do the same thing (and for us to do the best we can with conservatives).

    I’ve noticed this phenomenon from certain parts of most communities. In the more nationalist and ultra-Orthodox sections of the Jewish community I grew up in, there isn’t much empathy for non-Jews. This is because of racism in Israel or the experience of being a minority in the United States. Each desensitizes us in a different way, but the effect is very similar. The question for us is how we can fix ourselves to be good human beings – to empathize with all who suffer and commit to social justice for everyone.

  3. I think this somewhat misses the point a bit. I am, however, grateful that you bring up the topic for discussion in the first place.

    Reading Black Girl Dangerous often blows my mind with its raw anger at a system that marginalizes those who don’t fit the white straight male normative. As a straight white male myself, it often gives me a perspective that I wouldn’t normally hear or see otherwise. Mia’s post wasn’t so much about her lack of empathy for the victims themselves, but it identified the selective empathy that we saw in the subsequent media coverage and public reactions. I thought she was merely trying to say, ‘listen here white people.. this shit happens every day, and yes, it’s awful. But what’s worse is that you only seem to care about it when it happens to ‘normal,’ ‘mainstream’ innocent white people like in Boston or Newtown.’ Yes, there were other victims that might not have been all white. But the point is that at some level, people get to decide which communities deserve sympathy, and which ones are viewed as naturally and inherently dangerous due to negative stereotypes). White America prevails in marginalizing non-white communities to the point where it is no longer on our radar. I’d highly recommend watching the HBO show VICE– the latest episode highlighted how parts of Chicago have been completed ignored all, and its horrifying repercussions.

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