Why White People Contribute to Cruelty Instead of Compassion

Justin D. Henderson, PhD
7 min readMay 30, 2020
Image by Rawpixel from Envato Elements

Compassion is both the sensitivity of the suffering of others and the motivation to attend to and prevent it.

What happens if we do not give compassion to others?

George Floyd was killed by a police officer. His death is tragic no matter how you see the situation. His death was unnecessary and preventable. George Floyd is not a rare exception but is part of a harrowing tapestry that reflects larger issues of racism within our society. My heart breaks for his family, his community, and the countless others who live in a space of grief, anger, and fear everyday due to the cruel society we live in.

It is interesting to me to see a glaring lack of compassion from so many of my fellow white Americans. This is evident not only for George Floyd’s death but the countless deaths of black members of our society that are the result of a culture with racism at it’s core. How does this happen? How can time after time stories be presented that display the tragic deaths of black and brown bodies at the hands of white police officers or citizens and white people not respond with an ounce of concern? How can you watch the video, in all of its realness, of George Floyd being killed and not feel the compelling orientation to extend compassion. How can you NOT feel concerned? Outraged? Appalled? Nauseous?

I’ll tell you why. White people, like me, have been socialized to not see, validate, empathize, or otherwise recognize the suffering of people of color. Pain and injury is not only inflicted but such pain is invalidated, ignored, rationalized, or silenced. And I’m not talking about the parade of ignorant and heartless people like Tomi Lahren. I’m talking about average everyday white American citizens.

White people have been socialized since the time of slavery to not see the pain and suffering of black and brown bodies to be legitimate pain and suffering.

Even if there is some sense that suffering was the outcome then it had to have been justified. There is a deep denial that we could live in such an unjust and cruel world. Even if white people experience the heart wrenching sting of empathetic pain watching a…

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Justin D. Henderson, PhD

Dr. Justin D. Henderson is a psychologist, professor of counseling, and organizational consultant. He’s a Medium Top Writer in Leadership and Business.