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Race and Empathy in Corporate America

So if you haven’t noticed the surge of conversations and disagreements surrounding race relations you most likely have been living under a rock. Our country is literally convulsing over the issue of race. “ Racial PTSD” is a phrase I coined to summarize the tragic events that seem to have been mounting in a more publicized manner over the last few years that have left me personally feeling numb. There’s a poignant satirical skit by Evelyn from the Internets called “Calling in Black” and if you haven’t seen it well you should. Though comical, it left me thinking and over-relating to days when I just can’t cope. After each tragic event I’m faced with waking up the next day and putting on my happy face to walk into Corporate America. Only to feel like no one really seems to ever acknowledge the world is in turmoil when it’s about the topic of race.

So what is the responsibility of Corporate America in times like this?

In a world dominated by social media the demand for corporate companies to engage in authentic dialogue has become increasing louder. While in many cases most companies and leaders aren’t bold enough to discuss it. Those that are, typically produce a fluffy corporate communication (approved by HR) and filled with a series of euphemisms like… diversity, inclusion, diversity of thought, and the universal “can’t we all just get along “ banter, that acts as a containment strategy for checking the box that never leaves anyone really feeling affirmed. And let’s face it, intent does not equal impact.

Truth is, what most people are looking for is not a formal communication or support group but just simple empathy. Empathy not to be confused with sympathy… is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In most aspects we can extend empathy personally but race presents complexities that leave most people aborting their intentions. It’s what I call the racial empathy gap,” which I equate to a big ol’ bowl of unconscious bias, a dab of implicit bias, some stereotypes, a little self righteousness, a judgment or two, served with a big spoon full of privilege that leave people of color versus non people of color in opposition repeatedly.

So what’s the answer or remedy? A little pill call racial empathy!

Racial empathy is not about feeling sorry for a particular race because of their “plight” but rather repositioning your perspective to consider the vantage point of another race. It’s about considering that there is another point of view you may not have considered. On your quest for racial empathy let me remind you there are also a few other words that are not synonymous with racial empathy and they are: tolerance, indifference, silence, and colorblindness. When tragedy is intertwined with politics and race there is never going to be a perfect perspective, language and or terminology for which we all agree. What matters more than being “politically correct” is acknowledgement. The workplace is a microcosm of the world, not a bubble where real world issues and anxiety don’t exist. The risk of ignoring race in the workplace has many implications both financially and competitively. However, if you sit that aside there is a human component that should be the largest consideration. A value for the people we work and respect that won’t simply allow us to ignore that they matter. I am for one am always waiting and willing to receive sincere empathy.


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