I don’t know that I witnessed an act of forgiveness. Not in the way some others may have.
I wasn’t seeing an instant, followed by another, and surely one more, of profound human connection. Not at all. I wasn’t seeing anything steeped in human progress, or societal regression, or some moment meaningful for its ability to elevate or explain something better about our condition. There in that court room, was no growth point, or tipping point.
Rather, I saw a symphony.
I saw a finely crafted and uniquely miserable work of human failing, and yet another instant of our society doing its most perfect work in striking, traumatizing, mocking and promoting erasure of Black feelings, personhood, thought, wellness and lives. Again, one of these systems we dedicate our bones and will and efforts to perfectly functioned, and executed its result.
I did not see forgiveness in any of those moments with Jean. I did not see compassion in those same with Kemp. While it was fresh, I obligated myself to look again, and then again, and found what so disturbed me in those many frames. I located the spaces where the images, and the narrative, were so askew. I realized the rush to make those images of connection, amidst the backdrop of a Black man having been murdered, seemed agenda driven, nearly disingenuous, and certainly toxic. All of the air around this matter was made stifling, and purposely so.
I had seen this before, these very same practices. After another tragedy, after the loss of another Black life at the hands of a White person, again a commissioned peace keeper, there was the chorus calling toward that embrace, and the need for forgiveness, and moving on, and our only human salvation being some version of connection, and some bastardization of love.
I had seen this in Charleston, most certainly. The calls for a ring of hands and hearts dedicated to the sport of forgiveness, so called. I watched in tight as the mob surged forward and demanded our attention, and sought at every turn to spread their iteration of love to a community rocked, yet again, by violence born of intentionality and worship.
At this juncture, we most certainly cannot continue to suggest that the emotional, psychical or physical violence visited upon Black people is related to any poorly conceptualized and conveniently identified patsy like hate. That would be equal parts irresponsible, lazy and untrue. Our commitment to White Supremacy, and keeping our apex predators well fed and justified, and blaming victims for being wholly unable to pull themselves away from tooth and claw, are surely at the root of the psychology of this hate we so cavalierly speak of. We are purposeful in our commitment to allowing he who holds the gold to make the rules, and devout in our worship of anti-Blackness, White male personhood, the rightness of the American way, so called, and ushering of vulnerable persons onto the food conveyor of our society. We operate in a most base and depraved way. We are the perfect congregation in this church.
We are not audience, we are musicians, and all of those assembled, from Jean to Kemp, to all those offering some vague notion of forgiveness as an essential way forward, were most certainly playing from the sheet of music thrust into their hands.
I don’t care to convict Jean for failing to emotionally avenge his brother, or Kemp for failing to maintain a necessary distance and impartiality. That has been done, and needed to be. I am for the review of those images, indelible now, and seeing the grin of the worst of what makes us, just off in that corner. Just there, where your eyes would rather not go, where you always seem to avert your gaze.
Just there, around the middle of the image, is a feint outline of the psychology that is allowed to Black people in those brutal moments of suffering. There is the reality that we are not allowed moments of meditation, and shouting, and a refusal of our neighbor’s company and their bodies. No. Ours is not an experience that we are allowed to dictate when we are grieving. We are not permitted the decency and dignity of shaping our view of our losses, and further, how we react directly to the community that has birthed, nurtured and protected the perpetrators. No. We are made, required truly, to assuage their guilt while feeding our tears and anger and misery to their wandering heroes who venture over just after the blaze and lives lost to “see us” and proclaim that we will not be defeated as we are one, so called.
There is a kind of disturbed, unhelpful temerity to all of it. There is a violence to this rush, this silencing of Black anger and rage. It is as if the belief is that said rage will consume us all, so it must be extinguished before it is given oxygen. And, just there, come the firefighters, also fire starters mind you, as this fine circular process is still held in place by those brave, stout, altruistic souls.
We would rather crowd out Black rage, and those who feel it. We prefer pacification, and creating a loud, messy, bullying space fit for the ejecting of Black rage. We simply, purely, have no room for it, and no mechanism to engineer a proper space for it. We would rather it be stillborn.
In these instances, these bouts between man’s inhumanity and suffering, we shower Black people with the sense that they must feel shamed should they not join the chorus. We beat them about the head with this notion of forgiveness framed in “not all of us” lingo, and based entirely on affirming those said heroes. Funny how we see so little of those heroes in the spaces where they are needed most. Ultimately, it is not forgiveness which is the focus. Not truly.
Forgiveness, as we deploy it, is currency. It is a narcotic fed as ceremony to a tired, distracted and privileged public. It is an abuse to the vulnerable,a tearing out of their teeth and tongue before they can protest and assert. It is a poison and lie, one most sacred, and wholly useless for the purposes of wellness and personhood. There is rage to feel, and a raucous to cause, and grieving to be done, free of those shackles, and a system to be remade if we are to ever see all bodies liberated. But first, the necessary human endeavor of feeling, and knowing. Letting whatever complex and layered emotions surge, and letting them fill all spaces. First, that.
There is then the matter of our unique brand of Stockholm Syndrome, as it has been gifted to Black people, here on these shores. The syndrome develops as a result of hostages spending longer periods of time with their captors, and is characterized by said hostages developing a kind of psychological alliance with their captors. They begin to progressively see the captors cause as just, and so anything they must do as just, and their condition as no longer being a cruelty visited upon them, but as an essential and necessary process. They absolve their captors of wrongdoing, and will often join in the process as full participants. Even once the chains are removed, and the door opened, the hostage will remain, as their captors are now kindred. I would suggest to you that we, you, witnessed an instant of that in full view, in that courtroom. I would suggest that somewhere within the Black psyche, so traumatized by our captors here, is the seed that a White women, a peace keeper, should not be so punished for extinguishing a Black life. Those embraces represented that dissonance, a reaction to the wrongness of so called justice serving a Black family, and community. Those connections were very nearly an apology, for an escape attempt. Jean and Kemp are no more worthy of conviction than the society they have been forced shape and wither their personhood under.
A perfect symphony, truly. A system of supremacy doing all that it was designed to do, and having incorporated sheet music for the oppressed. See, the so called debates are not debates at all. We already know the truth of it, but would then be obligated to make sweeping, necessary change. If we see the ways of this nation family, and the hand it keeps pressed upon the backs of Black people, then we are left with the obvious. We can only sleep and exist peacefully, guilt free, if we accept the idea that Black people are racially, culturally and practically predisposed to creating the conditions that promote poverty, incarceration, neglect and depravity. In that way, we would be saying, believing, accepting that Black folks inexorably visit this upon themselves, ourselves. We should all, seeing the means by which our community has resisted the extermination and hopelessness that would follow that logic, refuse that. Outright. That leaves only one other clear explanation for it all, one sheet of music to examine for false notes. That being, most profoundly and obviously, that the circumstances tethered to Black lives, have been manufactured, intentionally. That these items have been forced upon a vulnerable community, willfully. There is no other means for explaining generation over generation of development in a nation that has not been afforded to one particular segment.
If we are not allowed full membership in the American experiment, we certainly will not be allowed to fully feel and project our human into American shared spaces. Those rumblings are revolution, and are to be burned at the stake. That courtroom, was no more than a pyre. Shameful, ablaze, and resolute.
It was as if Jean and Kemp couldn’t truly believe what was happening, and had to somehow offer themselves as sacrifice to correct the abject wrongness of it all. It is so ever present around us, that hoping. Believing that hope to be some great myth, that potential spark of connection being our Sisyphus boulder, and our praying often being for something resembling pain, as here, that is one of the few things we know to be constant and real.