Forgiveness Tends To Be A One Way Street As It Relates To Black People.

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Elwood Watson, Ph.D.

Oct 20, 2019 · 5 min read

It was the hug that was felt and seen around the world. Depending upon their outlook on the situation at hand, different individuals responded differently to the gesture. I am referring to the hug that was delivered to murderer Amber Guyger by Brandt Jean, the brother of slain victim, Botham Jean. As most people who closely followed the case were aware of, Guyger, a Dallas, Texas police officer was found guilty by a multi-racial jury and sentenced to a decade in prison.

The fact that she was even found guilty sent shock waves throughout much of the Black community and likely, the larger society as well, if we are being honest about it. Generally speaking, police, in particular White police officers who shoot and murder Black people, even those Black men and women that are unarmed and pose no direct threat to the officer in question , are often given the benefit of the doubt and exonerated by many juries and the legal system at large. Thus, surprisingly and justifiably, there was a kernel of justice in the verdict that was rendered. The reason I state that some small degree of fairness occurred is due to the fact that in spite of being convicted, Guyger’s sentence was considerably lenient given the crime. Moreover, she will be eligible for parole in 2024. A minute modicum of justice indeed.

Even more distressing is the unsettling and violent death of Joshua Brown, one of the key witnesses in the trial. According to police accounts, Brown was gunned down in a botched drug robbery. As can be imagined, after hearing law enforcement’s version of events, more than a few side eyes were given and rolled. Any reasonable person is astute to the fact that the story given by police does not come across as rationale on virtually any level. The murder of Joshua Brown is in itself, another whole issue that deserves its own column. Thus, in this article, I intend to discuss the issue of forgiveness.

As can be imagined, more than a few Black folks from all walks of life were less than enthralled when they witnessed the hug between Brandt Jean and Amber Guyger. While some lauded him for practicing a classic act of Christianity by engaging in the act of forgiveness, others saw him as being a weak person. A sucker, foolish, pathetic, an uncle tom, disrespectful to his late brother etc… The commentary was plentiful and intense. There was no shortage of opinion on the matter. What was just as noteworthy was the fact that the presiding judge in the case, Tammy Kemp gave both Ms. Guyger and Brandt Jean a hug as well. She also issued Guyger a bible. For a brief moment, it seemed that love was saturating the air of the Dallas courtroom.

A number of other commentators have made the argument (and I concur) that it is not up to any of us to dictate how another person should decide to express their grief. How people mourn or grieve is a practice that should be solely left to them. Truth be told, I myself, marveled at the level of compassion and grace that the younger Brandt displayed toward the woman who murdered his brother. Personally, given the manner that he died, I am certain that I could not have been as forgiving and resolute in my actions. To put it bluntly, he handled the situation a hell of a lot more gracefully than I would have! I am not there yet, and likely may never be if we are keeping it real.

Such a gesture displayed demonstrated the often forgiving nature of Black people. In fact, some people, including other Black folk argue that sometimes , we as Black people are too forgiving too a fault. We have seen this act of forgiveness time and time again . From the relatives who lost loved ones at the hands of an unhinged , die hard White supremacist in the Charleston AME church massacre in 2015.

The bombing and murder of four young little girls at the sixteenth street baptist church in Birmingham , Alabama in 1963. Several members of the victims forgave that Ku Klux Klansmen who engaged in such a heinous and sadistic act of violence. There have been other numerous examples of Black people forgiving White people who have taken the lives of their loved ones. Remarkable indeed.

I am certainly not condemning or attacking the act of forgiveness. The fact is that forgiveness can be a very therapeutic and cathartic exercise for the individual(s) in question. The real dilemma is that, in America, forgiveness tends to be a one way street. Seldom, if ever, do we see Black people in our society granted even the most minute level of absolution.

Admittedly, I am engaging in some psycho analysis here. It is highly unlikely that if the situation was reversed, that a family member of Ms. Guyger would have been so eager and willing to embrace the man who shot his sister in cold blood, forgive a rabid Black nationalist who killed one of their relatives as they worshiped in church during bible study. Intentionally blew their young niece, daughter of cousin to pieces in a church bombing on Sunday morning during Sunday school. Shot their unarmed son in the back and so on. It just would not happen even if the killing was accidental.

Such situations tend to give the power of forgiveness to the perpetrator (in many such instances White people) and absolves he/she of any responsibility for their misdeeds. On the flip side, it results in the victim (usually Black people) to partake responsibility for being victimized. It is the classic example of blaming the victim. Nothing more and nothing less. Period. It is a sort of Stockholm syndrome.

The fact that so many White people saluted Mr. Jean for his compassionate behavior was not surprising. By responding in such a manner, it reassured more than a few white people that they possessed some degree of humanity and assuaged whatever discomfort and /or guilt they were feeling about the situation.

The truth is that when it comes to the history of race America, in particular, Black /White history, ugliness, unfairness, unalterable and untoward behavior abounds. It is a story that many White people like to mitigate, and if preferably, forget. Thus, this is the reason why White denial coupled with White fragility is so commonplace in the psyche of more than a few White people. Liberal, centrist, conservative or apolitical.

Black people have suffered quite a bit in this nation. Past and present. For far too often, we have been required to wear the mask, comfort others, put Whites at ease in our presence, in some cases, engage in self deprecating behavior and so on. It is as if we are required to be gluttons for punishment. Such a one way street of forgiveness is unjust and must be aggressively and deftly redefined and combated.

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a professor, author and public speaker. He is the author of Keepin’ It Real:Essays on Race in Contemporary America. University of Chicago Press. You can follow him on Facebook and twitter @bleachbred

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Historian, public speaker, social-cultural critic. Professor of African American and Gender Studies, Post-WWII U.S. History, at East Tennessee State University.

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