I approached the readings (and video) for this week thinking about the definition of the words empathy and sympathy, two words which are often confused and used interchangeably. A blog post on dictionary.com defines the differences in this way: “sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another.” It was useful to have this definition when viewing The Couple in the Cage film and unpacking visitor responses.
In the video, visitors respond with a variety of feelings: anger, curiosity, pity—but it is rare that visitors empathize with the “natives.” According to Fusco, “People of color…have at times expressed discomfort because of their identification… making frequent references to slavery and to the mistreatment of Native people… [while] cross-racial identification with us among whites was less common.” (pg158) The thought that a white visitor was more likely to sympathize while a person of color was more likely to empathize raises a lot of questions:
How might the reactions by visitors (especially white visitors) be different if the project the “natives” were said to be from an island off the coast of Norway rather than an island off of the coast of Mexico? Would this even be plausible for most visitors? Some visitors refused to believe that the subjects were “Natives” because they looked too white.
How does a person’s race (and other identities) determine who that person can easily empathize with? What implications do identity and empathy have socially and politically?