One day when my son was just four-years-old, I received a call from his teacher because he had thrown a few tantrums in the class that day and she wanted me to have a talk with him. I just happened to be home that day, so I did her one better and took the five-minute drive to the school. When I arrived, I marched straight to the classroom and gave my baby the look that all Black mothers give their children that communicates more than words can. He straightened up and I took him in the hall to let him know that he was too old not to be using his words when things bothered him.
We talked about the problem and better ways to communicate that something was wrong. I asked in the hall if he wanted to say something to the class, and he agreed to apologize. Well, after the pep talk and a hug — because I don’t care what my baby does wrong, I remind him that I still love him — I walked him back in the classroom.
I told the teacher that he had something he would like to say to the class. He stood before his peers and teacher and apologized for disrupting learning time. When he finished speaking, the teacher said to the rest of the class, “What do we say?” In unison, 20 four-year-olds said, “It’s ok, but don’t do it again!”
Annoyed, I made a mental note to speak with the teacher when I picked my baby up. I did just that when I arrived at dismissal. I asked her why she required the children to say that it was ok. She said she wanted them to learn about forgiving and not holding grudges. I told her that was a noble aspiration, but that my son had wronged those children and that I didn’t want her to teach my baby that his remorse should be immediately and automatically repaid with forgiveness. I told her that I didn’t expect my son to say that if he was wronged either because we all have a right to be angry when we’re violated.
That lesson is especially crucial because my child is Black, and born into a society that preys upon and victimizes Black bodies and demands we not hold any resentment for it. During slavery, it was marketed that we were best fit for enslavement of all races due to our superhuman ability to endure pain. Apparently, that legacy of being human enough to work, build and entertain but otherworldly enough to be abused and dehumanized without ever holding on to the justifiable anger such treatment warrants persists more than a century and a half after the official end of slavery.
I’m beyond tired of the media running headlines celebrating the families of Black victims of brutal, senseless violence forgiving the killers within days of the murders. It’s almost as if the media is complicit in constantly reminding society that you can do whatever you want to Black people without the moral burden of knowing we are angry and vengeful. If I didn’t know any better, I’d believe that news organizations were complicit in upholding the idea Black people having resigned ourselves to accepting that our lives aren’t valuable enough to stay angry over.
We saw victims’ families forgive a maniacal, white supremacist for gunning down nine innocent people as they worshipped in church in less than 48 hours. Just yesterday, CNN ran the headline “Cleveland victim’s family: We forgive killer” for a story about how Robert Godwin’s children “hold no animosity” toward the man who shot their 74-year-old father in the head on Facebook live. That story too ran less than two days after the murder. It’s as if the time clock for the period allotted for Black sadness, grief and anger automatically resets at 48 hours.
Now there are those who argue that forgiveness isn’t about releasing the killer from responsibility but about the victim releasing the anger so that it doesn’t bitter them. Perhaps that’s true, and I am never going to lecture victims about how they choose to cope with their grief, but if in fact their forgiveness is for themselves and not the offender, then it should be private. It’s not a front page story. It’s not something they should be praised for, used as an example for other Black people who choose not to forgive to follow.
Black people are not here to continually renew society’s faith in humanity or the power of forgiveness. Anger is part of our reparations package. Too long we were denied our right to the seething anger that our dehumanization earned. So long in fact that our dignified performance of grace in the face of horrific tragedy is now expected demanded even. I suppose that a society that wants to move on from selling human flesh without making any amends for its collective sin would have everything to gain by upholding such a myth, but make no mistake, forgiveness is not a Black superpower.
There are those of us who will not have your microphone shoved in our faces to ask how we feel about having our loved ones ripped from us for no reason other than the killer’s need to hurt. There are those of us who hold on to our anger and use it to fuel our revenge. There are those of us who don’t give a fuck about your demand that we “stay calm” and not allow our anger to change us. There are those of us who will make you eat that your perception of Black endurance of suffering. There are those of us who will not be lulled into docility.
Though I hope with everything in me that we do not soon see another Black person innocently murdered, I pray that when and if we do, the victim’s family is likeI just described. I’m waiting for the day Black people stand before cameras and when asked how they feel about the killer, they reply, “I want his head served to me on a silver platter.” I anxiously await the day the world really learns that Black people aren’t its ever-appropriate canvas to paint the ideal picture of the spirit of forgiveness.