by Kay Olson
[edit 04.23: originally posted as a comment in response to this post – mb]
With everything that has happened recently in the feminist blogworld (Seal Press, discussions of intellectual appropriation, BFP quitting her blog), and Angry Black Woman’s proposal for a Carnival of Allies, I’ve been thinking a lot on “empathy”, what exactly it is and how far it can get us in understanding each other.
In being effective allies, I don’t believe empathy can get us where we want to go. It’s a good place to start. Probably the best and only place to begin, but even with a generous definition of empathy as something that encompasses all manner of attempt to put oneself in another’s shoes, it still relies on the limits of an individual’s imagination. One has to be able to think of whose shoes to stand in and have some inkling of how they might feel. And privilege limits imagination.
Privilege is the ability to look around a room and not notice who is missing, because they weren’t invited, couldn’t take time off work, didn’t have the means to get there, or weren’t allowed in the building because of, oh, dress code or lack of ramps. CripChick notes in comments to her own post that she doesn’t feel able to participate in a discussion like the one over at Feministe that questions her own right to parent, and she’s not alone in that sentiment. Why show up for a debate where your personhood is in question? Why keep blogging when you (and the people you write about) are not given equal footing in discussions about your own lives? Why keep trying to bulldoze your way into parties where your absence/silence is apparently unnoticed?
What I’m saying is that the misplaced empathy and the silencing: they’re related, you know.