Img source

White People Complain About POC Casting Because of the Empathy Gap

So, apparently people are complaining that Halle Bailey is cast in The Little Mermaid in the live action movie, and it’s a thing because in the old Disney cartoon, the mermaid was white, and Bailey is Black. I’m going to keep this kind of short, because my apartment is a *disaster* (even for me, and I’m usually a mess) and I desperately need to clean, but few thoughts:

So ok; I know this is all very depressing, but unless we face the emotional heart of what’s going on, we can’t find a solution. And, in society, there is far more at stake than movie enjoyment when it comes to the empathy gap; privileged people’s difficulty empathizing with less privileged reduces inhibition around violence; if causing pain to someone else also causes you pain, you will be less likely to do it. If you lack empathy for another person, this inhibition against causing them pain goes away.

So, how can we increase empathy for other people in our society? Well, one is to give people more power; I can attest that, as I’ve moved up in my career, men who perceive me as having power over them tend to have more empathy for my emotional state than men who think they have power over me. So, equalizing structural power imbalances is very important, and were — say — Black people and white people equals in society, probably many of these complaints wouldn’t even cross people’s minds. But you know, racism is still a thing, so what should we do in the mean time?

Well, ironically, making movies with POC, female, etc. main characters will probably help a lot. I can’t find the source for this, but I think I remember reading once about how white people back in the day ended up having less racist attitudes during the Olympics, because there were many black athletes and just being exposed to more Black people (even just a little bit on TV) helped reduce their racism a measurable amount. And, if so, that’s kind of cool, right? It implies that, the potential for empathy building may actually happen quite quickly (which, I’d believe given how much people’s empathy fluctuates based on their power status.) But of course, we now have the problem that many of the people who would benefit the most from seeing POC main characters will boycott movies where POC are cast. So, that sucks.

Personally, I don’t believe lecturing or shaming people will help. You may be able to get people to be less vocally racist, but you won’t be able to change their underlying empathetic response using these tactics — and so, you’ll still end up with anonymous troll armies on the internet who keep acting out.

Other than that… I mean, this sucks, but I don’t actually know how to solve this. If you’re among a privileged axis (say white) and you want to increase your empathy, engaging in fiction (movies, books, etc.) featuring people on an oppressed axis (say, POC) can help, but I don’t know what to do about the people who will refuse to even give the movie a chance because of the casting. I would say though, if you’re a white person who is sort of on the fence about this, you should go see the movie. And you shouldn’t go to be PC, but because you are reducing the richness of your own lived experience if you allow the racist structures of Western society to limit your empathetic connection to other humans. Or, you know, watch a movie about adults if you’ve aged out of The Little Mermaid. But, for anyone having a bit of (possibly secret) internal resistance about watching less privileged characters on screen, this resistance will probably go away as you get into the story, just like it did for the white people watching Black athletes during the olympics.



Facebook: — Twitter:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store