Christen A. Johnson Why I'm in no hurry to forgive Amber Guyger
COMMENTARY

Christen A. Johnson Why I'm in no hurry to forgive Amber Guyger

  • 2
{{featured_button_text}}

“If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you and I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you,” said Brandt Jean, the 18-year-old brother of Botham Jean, who was slain by off-duty police officer Amber Guyger in his apartment last fall.

“I don’t even want you to go to jail,” Brandt continued. “I want the best for you, because that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do. And the best would be give your life to Christ.”

As he choked up, Brandt asked for permission to hug Guyger. The judge granted his request, and Guyger met Brandt in the middle of the courtroom where she wrapped her arms around his neck and collapsed into his embrace.

Christen A. Johnson

Christen A. Johnson

These words and actions from Brandt are courageous and noble, yet disturbing to me as a performance of black forgiveness.

I am a champion of forgiveness. I’ve been on the receiving and lending end of the tool. Forgiveness and reconciliation are what my faith hinges upon, and I have been a huge benefactor of each. I’ve understood forgiveness and grace to be in tandem: Forgiveness is an act of grace, or an undeserved gift. Christian teachings suggest we extend that same kind of grace to others. So I get Brandt’s heart.

But righteous anger in the wake of injustice also deserves a presence here.

When the tables are turned — as they more than likely are — black men and women are not granted the same grace and forgiveness when we’re deemed perpetrators (whether we actually are or not); we don’t get forgiven, let alone hugged and consoled.

We get the harshest punishment the court has to offer and dehumanizing labels.

We have the right to be mad that Botham Jean wasn’t even safe in his own home; the right to be mad that the maximum sentence for murder in Texas is 99 years, yet Guyger was only given 10; the right to be mad at the systematic injustices within the legal system that ruin the lives of black men and women, and destroy our families.

It’s OK to be mad at that — it’s right to be mad at those facts.

You can’t talk about black forgiveness, though, without mentioning black empathy.

Black people know all too well what it means to mourn life, whether it be in a casket or in a cell, so our empathy can run high for those who go through any semblance of something similar. History has familiarized us with trauma and tragedy and the depths of pain they bring. Compassion is any good person’s natural response to seeing someone else experience hurt.

The judge, while professionally inappropriate, later gave Guyger a hug, too, in addition to her personal Bible. Images and videos of a black female bailiff fixing Guyger’s hair after she was found guilty circled the internet.

These actions begged a conversation on mammying, since these black women were, in essence, nurturing this white woman. The gestures, while problematic, along with Brandt’s, did display how “selfless acts of compassion” by empathetic black people can be mistaken for absolving America’s wrongs against African Americans.

Not only do we have to endure injustices, we then have to turn around and forgive the injustice when that same luxury is rarely, at best, offered back to us. That feels like a double whammy. Forgiving, then, doesn’t become a tool for healing, but another burden we are plagued with.

And yet, I get it. Some days, after you’ve lived in America as a person in black skin, you just don’t have the internal capacity to be mad, much less acknowledge, feel, grieve and process the things you encounter. If I chose to be up in arms about everything I perceived to be racist — let alone the things that actually are undeniably racist, sexist and acts of mysogynoir — I would, very simply, be perpetually tired.

Sometimes it’s easier to forgive, to let it all roll off your back like a duck, than it is to unpack and productively deal with the emotional and psychological trauma that comes with being a black person navigating America.

Forgive, so you can be healed and whole.

Miss me with that. I have the energy to be upset today.

Christen A. Johnson writes for the Chicago Tribune.

0
0
0
0
1

Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Keep your hands visible. Don't be disrespectful. Say "yes sir, no sir." No sudden movements. These are the instructions inherited by Black children for generations. The directions are given, to sons in particular, with the hope they will get home alive should they come in contact with the police. Passed down like grandma's recipe for banana pudding, the fear cuts across class and income. ...

The story surfaced like one of those trial balloons we're used to seeing out of political offices and campaigns - Republican insiders telling Fox News that President Donald Trump is grumpy about his reelection prospects and might quit the campaign if his poll numbers don't improve. Let him. But don't count on it. The campaign rejected the notion, calling it the "granddaddy of fake news." The ...

My son, who is nearly 17 years old and Black, is afraid to go outside. "Mom, I am a Black guy wearing a mask in Oakland," he told me. "I am going to be killed." Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, my 19-year-old daughter was afraid to ride the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. "Mom," she explained, "they kill Black girls on BART." She was referring to the July 2018 murder of Nia Wilson, an ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News