Don’t Ask Black People to Forgive You, Ask God.
As a millennial who spends way too much time on social media, I’ve become quite fond of the use of hashtags. This label used on social networks to consolidate messages with a specific theme has created a streamlined way for people with similar interests to share ideas as sentiments around common interests. One hashtag I have always followed is #neverforget. Used to reflect on some of the biggest atrocities that have taken place over the course of history around the world, I recall first coming across #neverforget when people began sharing memories of where they were on September 11, 2001 during the 10 year anniversary of the tragedy. Since then, #neverforget has been used to have us give pause to events like that of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Holocaust and other acts of terror like the one that took place in Paris in November of 2015. However, I’ve noticed that whenever the hashtag or phrase is used to lift up acts of terror on black people from slavery to police brutality, social media commentators get hostile claiming that black people need to stop racializing the hashtag and move on from talking about slavery and racism because it only causes division.
The entire infrastructure of the British Empire and the Americas were built on the backs of black people after they were stolen from Africa , packed onto ships like cargo and made to work as slaves. Not only did this crime strip an entire people group from their land, loved ones and culture, it set a precedence for the perpetuation of physical and psychological abuse on the black body and psyche. Easily put, encounter with something outside of whiteness caused so much fear that it led to the social construction of race and the correlation of blackness to evil thus making it easy to dehumanize and kill them. Marred with such an extensive criminal record in relation to color, whiteness should never have the audacity to initiate or facilitate conversations about forgiveness . Forgiveness is not a one time act, but a process, a series of steps taken to reach an end goal. When the history of trauma on black bodies is examined, there is literally no room to begin such a process because as black people attempt to re-member their bodies from the dismemberment of the past, new forms of injury are inflicted on them .
Today, black people, though 13 percent of the American population,make up 37 percent of the prison population. Black children are 4 times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts and are 2.5 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police. Black children develop low self esteem to their white counterparts who are often lifted as the standard of excellence and beauty in academia and culture. So, if well meaning white Christians want to talk about forgiveness, they should do that not by dictating when and how forgiveness will be granted to them by their victims, but by acknowledging their criminality and harm on communities of color, by repenting for their participation in the systems that continues to allow it to exist, by seeking new ways to do life together where the voices and stories of the vulnerable are centered and by using their privilege to change said systems. Anything that sways from this framework adds insult to injury especially when the victims are still living through the trauma as evident in the constant cases of racism that show up in society today. After the shooting of the Charleston 9, the family of the victims were held in high esteem because many of them publicly forgave American terrorist Dylan Roof for what he’d done. Right winged evangelicals — whom are often proudly colorblind — commended the pardon for it displayed the high moral compass of Black Christians. Such empty praise has historically been the white response to the respectability theater that black people have had to put on in the public sphere so as to not fall into the trope of being angry and aggressive as bestowed upon them by the white gaze . Pressuring black people to forgive racism and the inherent violence that comes with it, is giving white people an excuse to easily remove themselves from having to see or let alone fight the system that feeds it. To pressure a victim of violence into forgiveness is a refusal to see the humanity of that person as one who has been deeply injured, it is asking the person to be God while refusing to see the image of God in them. In conflict transformation, the work of forgiveness and reconciliation must take place through dialogue and the first dialogue perpetrators must have is with themselves asking “Who do I need forgiveness from?
“ While victims of violence can and should have the agency to forgive for the sake of their healing, the perpetrator needs it the most from God. Victims can and will rightfully relapse in anger and pain because of the reality of their trauma, but God won’t. God is God because God can validate one person’s pain, comfort them and stand on the side of the oppressed,denounce systematic sin that has broken right relationships ,execute justice accordingly, and still carve out a future for those that are truly repentant and seek to turn from their evil ways. This is biblical. As much as we want to believe in the power and resilience of the human spirit, the reality is that we are vulnerable, we ache , we bleed. We are only strong because our Creator is and when we can’t be , it’s imperative that we give it to God and not pretend because it is noble.Forgiveness is too complex of a gift to ask hurt people to grant. So white people, when it comes to working through your racism, please don’t ask Black people to forgive you, ask God and then do what it takes on your end to make your wrongs right.