What is Empathy without Proximity?

I can’t figure this out. Can you have real empathy for experiences that you have never had?

I don’t have a single black friend. If empathy is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes, then, say, growing up as a black person is like wearing a pair of flip flops, and in my world, flip flops do not exist. Then, can I truly empathise with them? 

[Resmaa Menakem] felt non-blacks could never understand what it was like to be black (he frustrated me a great deal because it seemed I could never do anything right). [Joél Leon] further expanded the idea that it was arrogant for him to think he could empathise with what his father had experienced. 


Then, whenever I tried to square this, I tended to land on two thoughts.

First, it was compassion. Compassion asks us to take action, to do something, in addition to empathy. Therefore at the minimum, by being compassionate, I am primed to doing something about the situation, whatever it might be.

Second, if I truly accept that I could never fully know what it is like to be [fill in the blanks], then I need genuine humility, remember that I don’t know shxt, and catch myself assuming and approximating.

(image source: [https://keltymentalhealth.ca/blog/2017/05/compassion-conflict])