Empathy Deficit? Thoughts on Racism and Empathy as We Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

So, there’s been a recent uproar over racist remarks from a certain political figure. Have you heard? Someone may have mentioned a thing or two about it. If you’re weary of hearing about race-related issues, you may want to quit reading.

I’m weary, too. I’m weary of the need to speak out against racism and saddened by the many *Christians* who’ve responded in defense of said political figure. Trying to navigate the silence and shrugs both sobers and saddens me. Where is the collective condemnation and call for lament, especially from white *Christian* public figures who are so quick to denounce other sins?

In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,

“A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right.

A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice.

A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”

If these words have merit, death might be imminent for our country–we’ll choke on the [white] *Christian* moderate response that says, “Be bothered but not too bothered. Don’t speak up or you might offend your family or friends. Play it safe. Best to keep these ‘controversial’ issues off the table.”

There are many who continue to read the history of our country, slavery, police brutality, peaceful protesters, and comments like ‘s***hole’ countries through their lens, which is usually white. Historical facts on racism, white supremacy, and mass incarceration have been distorted, covered, or ignored. I’ve observed *Christians* turning away, refusing to see that racism runs deep in this country.

The past several months have reminded me that many in the white *Christian* culture have an empathy-deficit in matters of racial justice. Oh, we’ll cross the ocean for 10 days with our church groups and take selfies of poor, black kids who don’t speak English. We’ll sponsor brown kids all over the globe in the name of ‘doing good’. We’ll even give our money to fund transracial adoptions. But move closer to our black neighbors? Invite them into our homes? Reach out to minorities to hear their stories? Stand up to racism in our own country? Nah. Too personal. Too uncomfortable. Too risky.

In the wake of Charlottesville, I observed silence. Toward peaceful protesters, I heard outrage. With these recent racist remarks from 45, I heard excuses. What do these responses say about the white *Christian* culture?

I liken this empathy deficit to how we feel about our favorite pair of shoes. We like our shoes. They’re comfortable, well-worn, and conformed to the shape of our feet. Stepping in to the shoes of another feels awkward, maybe even painful, and often forces us to adjust our gait. Who would willingly choose that discomfort?

If we’re going to be a nation that believes in ‘justice for all’, those of us in the white majority need to wear the shoes of our black and brown brothers and sisters. Yep, it’ll be uncomfortable. Awkward at first. And likely painful. Most of us don’t want to do this. We might be asked to explore our deeply held beliefs, presumptions, stereotypes, or sin. We might have to adjust how we relate to those who are different from us. We might need to connect with the pain of another, to confess that we’ve been complicit in racial inequality, and to repent for turning our backs on those begging to be heard.

Good readers, we don’t have to agree on every issue. But can we agree that racism exists? Can we agree that our silence and excuses prevent healing and empathy? If we want to move forward in the ways of Jesus, we must be people of empathy and compassion as we pursue racial justice. We must be humble enough to try on their shoes.

Many of our black & brown brothers and sisters are telling us that they hurt—they’ve been hurting from years of oppression, no matter how subtle. The white majority doesn’t get to decide whether that’s true. Our minority friends have spoken. Our responsibility is to listen, reach out in love, collectively grieve, confess, and repent.

Today we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To honor his dream and in my (tiny) effort to make his dream a reality, I’ve compiled a list of resources that I hope will aid in your efforts to build personal and communal empathy and create a more just home, community, city, nation, and world.

The list below, which is certainly not exhaustive, has helped to increase my awareness and better understand the deep layers of racism, specifically in America. Check Google for specific story lines and use your own discretion on what is appropriate.

Books for Kids:

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carl

The Bear That Wasn’t by Frank Tashlin

A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester

Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Ruby Bridges Goes to School by Ruby Bridges

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox, illustrated by Leslie Staur

I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Books for Adults:

The Color of Water by James McBride

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Real American by Julie Lythcott-Haims

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness by Michelle Alexander

Night by Elie Wiesel

One by Deidra Riggs

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne

Book of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

The Bible by several authors

Books for Adults-on my list to read:

Racism: America’s First Sin by Jim Wallace

Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew G.I. Hart

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Movies: Listed with rating and year

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (Not Rated,1967)

The Color Purple (PG-13,1985)

Ghosts of Mississippi (PG-13,1996)

Amistad (PG-13,1997)

Glory Road (PG,2006)

The Help (PG-13,2011)

12 Years A Slave (R,2013)

McFarland (PG,2015)

Hidden Figures (PG-13,2015)

Race (PG-13,2016)

Movies on my list to watch:

A Raisin in the Sun (1961. Remade in 2008)

The Central Park Five (Documentary,2012)

Fruitvale Station (R,2013)

Dear White People (R,2014)

Selma (PG-13,2014)

I Am Not Your Negro (Documentary,2016)

13th (Documentary,2016)


Would love to hear your thoughts on racism and empathy. Please be respectful in your comments.

What other resources would you add to this growing list?

A Word about 2017 and A Word for 2018

“All we have to decide

is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

This famous quote by the wizard Gandalf, in the epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings, reminds me that time is both a gift and a choice. The scene unfolds as the hobbit Frodo laments the presence of The Ring and his role in having to return it to the region of Mordor. (You can watch the movie clip here.) Frodo says to Gandalf, “I wish The Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” The wise wizard replies, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide.”

I relate to Frodo’s grief. I wish parts of 2017 had never happened. I wish I could have ignored the news, crawled into a hole, and disengaged from the vitriol on social media. I wish I could forget the hurtful comments, the passive aggressive remarks, the shocking hate from *Christians*.

I wish I didn’t need to initiate hard conversations with my kids about the N-word and other dehumanizing public remarks they’ve had to process in 2017.

I wish I didn’t have to explain to my kids why I wept with a black employee at Target who bore the brunt of a racist customer, “Where’d that white girl go? I don’t want a black person helping me.” 

I get it, Frodo. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf knows the burden Frodo carries and encourages him with this truth,

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

None of us were given a choice regarding the days and circumstances in which we live but Gandalf is right: we do have agency in how we use the time given to us.

My word for 2018 is time. Here’s how I plan to use it:

  1. My People:

Glendon. Just passed the fifteen year mark with The Hubs. I want to love him better and treasure the days. Here’s to more stories, more laughter, and more adventures.

Four Kids. I’ve been a parent for ten years and I confess: I grow weary of repeating myself, of correcting and training, of wiping noses and butts, of waking up at the most ungodly hours, of attitudes and bad habits that I thought we’d already mastered. With all the jackassery in this joint some days, I wonder if these people have forgotten or forsaken all that they’ve been taught. I ask God for supernatural strength to listen and connect, especially when the only logical response to all the nonsense is to hide in my closet with dark chocolate and a bottle of wine.

I do want to love them well–at least well enough so that in 20 years, I’m not the topic of conversation with their therapists. (I aim low, People.) I realize my four are more than complex humans to train. They are souls with dreams and hopes and hurts. I am so deeply grateful to be their mom, to help them navigate their brokenness in a broken world, while showing them what it means to love and be loved.

Friends. I’ve experienced a mutual drift with some friends this year, which has been tough for me, especially as an Enneagram 6. We’re The Loyalists. (For more on the Enneagram, click here.) I suspect the drift might be related to the current culture and political climate and the conservative evangelical response in the midst of it all.

I didn’t expect [white] *Christian* friends to refuse to connect or respond in anger after discovering our theological and/or socio-political differences.

I didn’t expect to be judged harshly for my stance on racial equality. I didn’t expect to be told that racism is politically motivated by the liberal media.

“You’ve got it all wrong, Katie. Your brown babies are so cute. They’re always welcome!”

That’s a nice sentiment but cute brown babies grow up to be objects of suspicion in cars, classrooms, work places, and convenient stores. They become less-thans who often feel enormous pressure to prove themselves worthy of existence in whitewashed America.




Mass incarceration of our black brothers and sisters.


Cornell University.

Peaceful protesters.


Am I–are we–to be silent on these important social, cultural, and personal issues in order to preserve the relationships of those outraged over our vision for racial equality? Should we limit social media to pictures and funny quips but avoid heavy topics, as some have suggested?

I didn’t expect to see the subtle racism, like a slip that fell below the *Christian* skirt. I wanted to turn away, to pretend I didn’t notice it peeking beneath the hem. Yet there it was–exposed. I can’t unsee it now. How do I trust  again after discovering the racism revealed by *Christian* friends I thought I knew?

I’ve emerged from 2017 a bit more guarded and wise in my relationships, humbled, and more committed to listen to and care for the marginalized. I see more clearly who I can trust and I remain committed to my small circle of authentic, diverse truth-tellers who value connection, challenge me when I need it, and encourage me to earnestly pray and work to bring His Kingdom here on earth, as it is in Heaven.

  1. My Passion:

I’m rounding the corner on 40 this year and I’m waving an enthusiastic goodbye to the decade of cankles, nursing, bottles, baby food, middle-of-the-night feedings, spit-up, and teething. The Ovaries and The Mental Health Coordinator have spoken and They all agree: “Your home is full with these four. It’s time to work on your other dreams.”

Duly noted.

I am no longer birthing or adopting human babies however, I do have another baby–shaped like a book–growing within–one that I hope to bring to life before the next decade. I’m using my time to craft more words, build my tribe, and sharpen my vision.

We’ve been given time and we get to choose how to use it. In 2018, I’m using it to invest in my people and my writing with greater intention.

How are you using your time in this new year?

Do you have a word for 2018? If so, I’d love to hear the story behind it.