102 Rodrigo's Eleventh Chronicle: Empathy and False Empathy
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102 Rodrigo's Eleventh Chronicle: Empathy and False Empathy RICHARD DELGADO In Which Rodrigo Offers a Solution to the False-Empathy Dilemma, and Suggests Two Roles for White Reformers and Fellow Travelers We picked out our desserts, which the waiter quickly brought, Rodrigo's a creamy French-Vietnamese pastry of some sort, mine a tangy lemon sorbet. After eating for a few minutes in tacitly agreed-to silence, I looked up at Rodrigo. "I hope that my real dessert will be that you tell me what your solution is to the predicament in which we find ourselves. Reformers and minorities get little if any genuine empathy in courts, or indeed anywhere, and can count on no one but themselves to climb out of poverty and despair. Life's road is hard going. Can't we find confederates? If we can't look to our liberal friends, to whom can we turn ?" "Empathy would work in a just world, one in which everyone's experience and social histories were roughly the same, unmarked by radical inequality. In such a world, we would have things to trade. There would be reasons for needing to get to know others, for understanding what they feel and need. But we don't live in such a world." "And since we don't," I said, "what should we do? We can't give up, can't just sit around bemoaning our plight or plotting revolution. There must be a strategy, a set of procedures for operating in an imperfect world." "I do have a plan," Rodrigo said, drawing a deep breath. "It contains three provisions. It's all based on the idea that false empathy is worse than none at all, worse than indifference . It makes you over-confident, so that you can easily harm the intended beneficiary. You are apt to be paternalistic, thinking you know what the other really wants or needs. You can easily substitute your own goal for hers. You visualize what you would want if you were she, when your experiences are radically different, and your needs, too. You can end up thinking that race is no different from class, that blacks are just whites who happen not to have any money right now. You can think that middle-class blacks or ones with professional degrees have it made, need no solicitude or protection, when their situation is in some respects worse than that of the black who lives in an all-black, working-class neighborhood ." "Your solution, Rodrigo, your solution," I urged. "Oh-as I mentioned, I think the solution lies in three parts. The first is essentially to 84 CAL. L. REV. 61 (1996). Originally published in the California Law Review. Reprinted by permission. Copyrighted Material Rodrigo's Eleventh Chronicle 615 give up on the very idea of empathy as any sort of primary tool for our advancement. We must realize that persons of radically different background and race cannot be made vicariously to identify with us to any significant extent. Their help, if any, is likely to be misguided , paternalistic, mistaken, and unhelpful. This is especially so if they are lawyers and other court officers. Legal empathy is even rarer and less trustworthy than other kinds. Law carves up your story, serves it up to an uncomprehending judge, atomizes your claim, and sparks real resistance when it tries to do something-as it does every century or so." "And then what?" "The next step-after abandoning hope in liberal empathy and cross-race, cross-class identification-is to urge one of two strategies that I think will work. Would you like to hear them? "Yes, yes," I said impatiently. "The first role for white folks who would like to be helpful is what Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey call the race traitor.1 Have you heard of the idea?" I strained to remember. "I think I have. Don't they have a magazine by that title?" "Yes," Rodrigo replied. "I brought you a copy. It's in that envelope back in your office. But I see you know about it already. Just when I think I have an idea or approach that will surprise you, it turns out you know about it already. It's kind of discouraging talking with you, Professor." "Stop the flattery. You're miles ahead of me in most respects. I just have a little more experience than you. Tell me how you see the race traitor idea applying to our empathy dilemma." "White...