I think about forgiveness a lot – well maybe not A LOT – but enough to consider what it truly means to me and the impact it has on how I heal from harm and trauma. In the collective sense I think about it too, I think about the fact that on more than a few occasions when a Black person or Black people are harmed by anti-Black racism there seems to be a rush to ask about forgiveness without very much time taken to truly understand the harm caused and the reason this harm was caused in the first place. I thought about that when I shared these tweets in 2021:
Anyway like I said before it’s his choice to forgive.
Whatever it takes for him to be happy and healed for himself.https://t.co/HktRmr4BOM
— Ronke Lawal (@ronkelawal) December 22, 2021
I also remembered this case from 2018 – asking a young Black boy whether he forgived someone who wrongly accused him an extremely serious crime:
He’s not even been given enough time to process or heal. It’s unfair to expect the young boy to just speak of forgiveness so quickly when he’s clearly still traumatised and in shock. Forgiveness is of course very important but it should not be used to cover up pain. https://t.co/VXMitjQwtr
— Ronke Lawal (@ronkelawal) October 18, 2018
Why is society and mainstream media always so quick to ask Black people about forgiveness when they’ve experienced harm and abuse?
This is something unsettling which I have noticed when a Black person is victim of racial abuse, racial violence and trauma, the centring around the conversation of forgiveness – often without the inclusion of the core and fundamental reasons why this type of abuse happens. The act will be reported but very little interrogation will be undertaken to assess the seriousness of anti-Black racism.
There seems to be a demand for forgiveness which is weaponised against those who have been harmed. It is used to absolve those who have caused harm or even the systems and structures in which they navigate so that the real damage of anti-Black racism is never truly faced. It means that racism persists without very little interrogation and we are encouraged to “forgive and forget” so that everyone can “just get along”. At times it feels like we are not even given the space to feel our full range of emotions: anger, pain The language surrounding forgiveness is in my view another tactic used to silence anyone who has been hurt or harmed and soften the impact for those who benefit from the racist structures/environments that exist. I suppose in the grand scheme of things perhaps forgiveness in and of itself is a survival mode but it can be draining to have the expectation of forgiveness seemingly imposed upon us by a society which does not want to face the depth of the pain it causes us through racism. This 2017 phenomenal piece by Mychal Denzel Smith in the New Republic: When racist violence kills their children, black women are called forth to perform a version of womanhood that is meant to convince white people they value motherhood and to soothe white fear. Black women must be devastated, but not angry. They must stand up for their children, but never question the system. They must fight for justice, but forgive everyone when none is delivered.
Do not get me wrong, I absolutely do believe that forgiveness in its purest form is essential for our mental and emotional well-being. Forgive whoever you feel like you need to forgive in your own time, at your own pace once you have undertaken the work to heal from any trauma that the person has caused you but peace and grace come first. Forgiveness without healing further compounds trauma in my experience. Forgiveness is not a race and should not be rushed, nobody is entitled to it. Society rushes our healing processes too quickly and it manifests in other areas of our live – resentment, frustration and more.
I love this from Hanif Abdurraqib To deny someone a forgiveness that you cannot honestly grant them is a reasonable refusal to participate in a ritual of hollow civility that doesn’t serve a complex and honest emotional response to trauma, grief, or rage.
Nobody is entitled to forgiveness – whether it is an individual who has caused racial harm or the persistent harms of structures that maintain inequality. We, as Black people, have forgiven so much historically and yet in spite of all this forgiveness the harm persists. And whilst I know we forgive for ourselves first our forgiveness should never be taken for granted.