There’s certainly a pattern.
- Black person dies at the hand of white person.
- White person may or may not be held accountable.
- Black person’s family members announce that they have forgiven said white person.
- The majority of people oooh and ahhh.
- Tears are shed.
- Scriptures are quoted.
- Rinse and repeat.
Yes, there’s definitely a pattern of black folks being praised for absolving white folks for their egregious crimes against us. Of Black folks having that forgiveness ultimately weaponized against us. Our mercy becomes a model response where we can be regularly berated and beaten, marginalized and murdered and, regardless of whether justice is served, we are expected to demonstrate more remorse, more sadness than our perpetrators.
And the problem isn’t forgiveness itself. I believe in it. I believe that it is important to forgive those who harm us only for the sake of our own psychological and spiritual health. Unfortunately, forgiveness doesn’t necessarily require any accountability on the part of the perpetrator–the hardest part for me to reconcile–but yes, I know it’s a necessary step on the path to healing. But as fellow writer/thriver Julia Mallory said recently, how do we truly heal if we are unable to name our pain?
So the problem isn’t forgiveness. The problem is a system that demands our timidity. We aren’t allowed to be sad without being called unreasonable. We aren’t free to be righteously angry, to flip tables in the temple, less we become breathing justifications for own pain. We can never sweat blood tears no matter how much our homes and communities resemble Gethsemane. No, Black folks must quickly and succinctly—and hopefully, in front of every camera and on every stage—forgive our violators and then spend the rest of our lives, mostly alone, wading heart-deep in the trauma they leave behind.
Not to mention that many of those who praise the hugging of murderers and who go on and on about “the right thing to do” can’t seem to find their other cheek for the black boys being shot down in the street or the women who are assaulted in the shadows.
When I see victims, especially those from marginalized groups, choosing to announce their forgiveness, I want to believe that they are doing what they need to do to keep from imploding. In an ideal world, race wouldn’t matter and their willingness to forgive could just be one human extending another human the epitome of grace. But, sadly, that’s not what I see. Having lived through my own tragedies, I know that forgiveness is much more of a journey, a process, rather than a single moment in time. And when I see these proclamations of forgiveness, I can’t help but to think of every enslaved African who had to smile and choke back their rage, who had to forgive “in the name of Jesus” the utterly unrepentant acts of a master and of a country.
Unfortunately, our ability to grace the horrific has been used by many to, at best, mask the true nature of the devastation rendered by racial violence and, at worst, reinforce a narrative of white supremacy that remains infused into every system and institution that exists.
The brilliant poet Langston Hughes put into words what is likely the true reason why our ability to forgive has such utility:
“Negroes – Sweet and docile, Meek, humble, and kind:
Beware the day – They change their mind.”
Jesus forgave, yes. And his forgiveness was followed by a spiritual and religious revolution that arguably has yet to be replicated. What fruit does Black folks’ forgiveness bear?