Being a Black Empath in 2020: I Can't Breathe and You Can't Empathize

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

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During these past few months, I have taken the biggest breath in my life, and have yet to exhale. The breath of the innocent Black lives stolen from us beg to take its place. They demand to finish and break cycles of their own accord; the ones they had every right to dismantle and explore. And we are left to reflect on how our Black brothers and sisters are being robbed of their basic human rights, unjustifiably beaten, and killed with little to no remorse.

Now I can’t breathe without thinking someone is going to take that precious gift away from someone I love, or someone who looks like someone I love. America not only lacks a conscience, it lacks empathy.

The illusive transmutation of its systems and structures are a glazed front for its ever-evolving systemic racism, oppression, exploitation, and marginalization. The bits and the pieces, the status quo and the protectees, the machines and the houses, the forces and the profits, are simply a scattered reflection of a racist image. So when these people within the system look at themselves, at what they and their forefathers perpetuated and picked off the backs of others, they don’t see racism — they only see what they want to see. They only see the patterns that make them feel comfortable; the patterns that complement their white privilege; their profiteering and their grip on power; their ability to further enslave us through law and imprisonment. Patterns that easily immortalize racial terror through the spreading of fear across Black America that any day now, we or someone we love can lose our lives simply because of the color of our skin. America’s traditional and patriotic values have stayed the same throughout the centuries — including the value placed on Black lives.

But I’m still waiting on that exhale.

So if you’re reading this, I’m here to talk to you about emotion. About a Black empath’s emotion.

What is an empath, you ask? It just means someone who takes on the emotions of others, including the underlying parts. Once planted, the seed of someone else’s emotion can easily grow into a giant beanstalk within an empath's chest. Separateness becomes illusory, and it takes time and practice to understand what emotions belong to my own world or to that of someone else next to me, or even miles apart. But now more than ever, I am engulfed by inextinguishable universal emotions.

Emotions that have stirred and blazed within me, wanting to lick pages with hot ink to reprimand this hate and protected ignorance. Wanting to form rivers to swim in that flow into an expanse but without first carelessly drowning in them. Wanting to be present by not only listening, learning, and taking feasible action, but by also allowing my own voice to be heard and not subdued by my own emotional hell within it all. Because even though I try to preserve my emotional and mental well-being, I am well aware of this flame that I cannot put out alone; a flame that perhaps can also serve as light that ignites will and action. I am also well aware that even if my words and efforts are not far-reaching, they have journeyed from my soul to the blank pages in front of me. We all feel the same basic human emotions in different ways and moments, charged by different experiences and identities to amplify their significance and psychological and cultural impact. So here is one Black empath’s experience.

If you want to understand why we feel what we feel, listen to us. If you want to learn how we got to this point, educate yourself and others around you. If you want to help amplify our voices, speak out against racism and take action. I’ve also included some resources at the end of this post for reference. Now, back to emotion.

In short, I am tired, I am hurt, and I am livid. I plead for patience to find me as it did my ancestors. But the words in Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddam echo in my mind: Too slow.

So my heart remains swollen. My spirit tested, yet still unbroken. When you feel the weight of intergenerational pain and trauma, and the convergence of hate, fear, and misunderstanding, with love, unity, and compassion, you start to fall apart emotionally. The two opposing forces are pushing and pulling you to shreds. A mysterious magnetism overcomes you as you become a rod for innumerable lightning strikes. You feel the good and the bad, the love and the hate, the compassion and the indifference, the empathy and the apathy. You feel something inside of you being ripped out, set on fire and put out over and over again. How can you feel everything all at once? Your body wants to shut down, but it can’t — it wont. It knows how important it is to feel these opposites. To be aware of the many faces the world shows; especially the ones people look away from.

Every day is a struggle in this America. Every day Black families fear for the lives of our brothers and sisters. Every day we are reminded that the systems in place were never built for us. Every day we feel like our lives are valued less than the person next to us because of the color of our skin, parallel to the discriminative and racist actions and lack of anti-racist initiatives and empathetic actions that surround us. Every day we see a man in office neither condemn nor reprimand racists who seek more reasons to hate and oppress us. Every day things change but the oppressive systems in place stay the same. Every day, we hug our fathers and brothers more tightly. And every other day, we hear the news of a Black life being tossed or taken like that of a groomed cattle led to a slaughterhouse. And we ask the world, where is the change you keep prolonging?

The more people reveal themselves, the more outraged we feel when they are not denounced or reprimanded. And the reason it has never been fixed is because it is only broken to the people it doesn’t benefit. Why fix something that is only broken to minorities? At its core, what appears to be a broken system is actually a fixed system. The system didn’t fall apart, it just landed exactly where the markers were placed.

And thus, we relive prolonged oppression and injustice daily. Yet, to challenge these routines is seen as a sacrilegious act against privileges that comes with self-anointed superiority. The true sacrilege is the disregard, the devaluing, and the exploitation of Black lives and fellow minorities. And that is why on any given day, our outrage is valid. To feel what you’re feeling is valid. And being caught in the pain Black people feel, a pain that has been sweeping this country for centuries, is a heavy weight to carry. But it’s a weight that all of us need to pick up and never put down — not until we have created enough spaces for understanding within ourselves and within our communities. People need to know how massive, consuming, and crippling it can be before they toss it aside with no regard. To pick up and acknowledge the weight of freedom is to understand that it was never distributed equally simply because it was never meant to be.

If your heart is feeling the weight of those being oppressed, and the people doing the oppressing, I can’t say it’ll ever get easier — feeling is a double-edged sword. But it is better to be aware and engaged, rather than asleep and vacuous. So resist and persist we must.

And we do so by speaking out; by taking action and by not staying silent and complacent in the face of injustice and adversity. It’s not about converting, it’s about conversation that leads to comprehension, compassion, and a true confrontation with oneself and the surrounding world. Our job is not to convince, it is to challenge the origins of prejudice and racism so that the roots of ignorance and miseducation will be severed and create space to plant new seeds free from preconceptions built off of pretenses.

So when you see people sit comfortably in their privileged skin and accuse, it becomes clear exactly why this behavior, support, and mindset continues. This is what many people in power look like; willfully ignorant, apathetic, and blinded by their want to protect their white privilege and the status quo of inequality in America. And this is also what some of our neighbors, bosses, coworkers, friends’ families, and our own family members can look like; even the ones who are POCs choosing to not stand in solidarity and expose themselves to a struggle belonging to the same people who paved way for their own rights and privileges.

Yet we are still told to sit down and not stand up — to be silenced because our voice is too loud; the oppressors and their supporters want us to be a mere whisper so they can easily look away. Those who have ingrained prejudice and racist mindsets do not like to hear or be reminded of the damage they continue to perpetuate by not acknowledging what fuels these continual uprisings for justice and equality. Or how this is their system, a system built for them; thus it requires their action and the actions of those alike to create change.

You hear us. Question is, do you want to listen? And most importantly, do you want to empathize?

Your Black brother and sisters need you. Your Indigenous neighbors need you. Your Black Trans family needs you. All BIPOCs need you.

Empaths don’t know it all, but we feel it all. To my fellow empaths who are not Black, but support our cause, I hope you can calm the feeling in your chest long enough before it rises again. Because it will. And when it does, we must resist and persist the destructive forces at hand. Whether that means physically attending a protest, sharing resources to those who can help from home, educating ourselves and informing others about the cause and about voting at local, state, and national elections, and/or by supporting your fellow Black brothers and sisters (check out your local Green Book) in all the ways you possibly can.

Always remember to protect your energy, because it is invaluable. If you need time to recover, take it. Do not drown where you can swim or waddle where you can stand. You are both strong and fragile, but how can that be? My fellow empaths, we are the center where opposites meet for conversation. We are the point where they converge — the peak of energy where lightning strikes release and form.

To our allies: It’s a lot to take in, especially when you care about the existence and struggle of Black lives. When you view us in the same light, and know that living in our flesh would change the way people and systems in this world treat you and perceive you. If only the people in power felt this kind of empathy to fuel their understanding and agenda for justice and reform. If only power could be more discerning as to whom it pairs with, but that’s where we come in. And it still feels like we’re running up against a landslide. But resist and persist we must.

To live and see this uprising in 2020 is to live and see the manifestation of our forefathers and foremothers; the many ancestors who wanted to be heard, valued, and protected so their children could experience the same.

Don't ever let the fire in your heart die down, no matter how silent the air around you feels. It is inextinguishable for a reason, for it fuels the light that guides you and incinerates the doubt, apathy, and pressures that try to hold you back. I encourage you to empathize, support, and engage in whatever way you can whenever you can, wherever you can. Remember, this isn’t a moment. This is a string of moments weaving a web of movement. You are both the spider and the gossamer. It is time to create new realities in a world that is so fixated on erecting walls where bridges can be built.

Here are some resources you can also find at (This link is the go-to resource for petitions, education [click more resources], information on who to text or call, where to donate, how to safely protest, voting resources, and more movements to stand behind) (Here is a resource to educate yourself or others on Black history) (This is an anti-racism document to help facilitate growth for white folks and allies) (This is a go-to resource for accountability and action for Black lives filled with information on petitions, safety protocols for protesters, contacts to call and email to urge for action, and what organizations to donate to and support financially) (To my fellow Tampa residents — discover what Black businesses you can support!) (A solid resource found in a place I'd never think to look)


The United States of Anxiety (history lesson)

1619 (history lesson cont.)

The Stoop: Stories of black diaspora (empathizing with the Black experience)

Pod Save the People (engaging in activism)

Co-Conspired Conversations (for checking privilege)

Seeing White + a study guide (conversations about race and whiteness)

Code Switch (for advice and insight)

Intersectionality with Kimberlé Crenshaw (understand how race, gender, class, and other individual characteristics interact with one another, overlap, and directly affect Black lives)

Here to Slay (hear input from Black feminists)

Snap Judgment episode Thick Blue Line (stories about police shootings, mistaken arrests, and growing up Black/Brown in America)

*found most of these podcasts through the Good Trade and Reader's Digest*

Ted Talk Playlists

Click here to watch Ted Talk playlists to help understand racism in America

If you’ve gotten this far, thank you for reading; for opening your heart and mind to give space to my words, thoughts, and emotions. I hope that even the smallest bit of this post resonates with you or encourages you to continue growing and finding truth.

Sending you support and light always.

Featured art:

Destined to Stand illustration by Deshlee Ford