Scott Woods:The Lie of an Empathetic City

Scott Woods
One of the banners painted to be displayed on a highway overpass

Watching Dave Chappelle’s recent Netflix comedy special, “Sticks and Stones,” I was compelled to generate and participate in several discussions about the offensive aspects of some of his jokes, primarily ones targeting the trans community. I won’t rehash those arguments now, but I do want to draw out one counterargument that took the wind out of my sails every time I saw it: If I wasn’t the target of his menace, why should I care?

It is a question so baldly insensitive that I could scarcely process it. As an ongoing beneficiary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, not to mention the abolition of slavery — both requiring buy-in from some portion of white people to become reality — I was disheartened by the reminder that, despite living in a time when nearly everyone possesses the sum total of human knowledge at their fingertips, we are not, by nature, an empathetic society.

Empathy has become so lost in the roux comprising the daily lives of Americans that people who deign to take up the charge of random caring do so increasingly as a result of breaking a law. A dozen people were arrested in San Diego last year for handing out apples and potato chips to homeless people in the face of legislation trumpeted as a public safety measure that boils down to erasing unwanted citizens from public spaces.

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