“The call for forgiveness is a painfully familiar refrain when black people suffer. White people embrace narratives about forgiveness so they can pretend the world is a fairer place…Black people forgive because we need to survive. We have to forgive time and time again while racism or white silence in the face of racism continues to thrive.” —“Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof,” –Roxane Gay
Today I considered forgiveness and love and hopefulness. I figured that the rest of America was already over our grief—ready for us to bury the Charleston nine and all of the emotional baggage that came along with it. The rest of America is probably hoping that this last racial showdown will finally shut us up, shove us back into submission and help us shelve our discontentment with living our subpar lives.
Since Sunday’s post about why I need the black church more than ever, I’ve considered finding ways to make myself comfortable again– maybe figure out how to return to posting fun, lighthearted stuff on social media these days; perhaps explore new ways to quiet my spirit in spite of the unrest I have been feeling. After all, I had already decided to stop watching the news, limit my internet intake and listen to only gospel tunes about love, mercy, grace and forgiveness so I can, hopefully, feel some of what the Jackson, Lance, Pinckney, Sanders, Hurd, Coleman-Singleton, Doctor, Simmons and Thompson families felt when they, what seemed like, so easily went to forgive the killer of their loved ones only two days after they were murdered. I had been trying, really hard, to wedge myself back into the “American way” of dealing with a national tragedy that wreaks of racism and deeply affects the Black community.
But then I read the piece, “Black churches taught us to forgive white people. We learned to shame ourselves,” by Creative Nonfiction author, Kiese Laymon, which was published online yesterday by The Guardian. Laymon shares a conversation that he had with his grandmother after the Charleston nine’s family members’ apologies were publicly made and praised. Laymon carefully transcribes the stories of his grandmother, an apparent God-fearing woman who loves a good curse word every now and then, living in the state where my grandmother was born and raised.
My grandma, today an 87-year-old elder from Jonestown, Mississippi. When I visited my grandma’s hometown as a child there were barely-paved streets and shanty-roof homes in neighborhoods full of working-poor black folks who hadn’t moved North during our country’s Great Migration from the South. My grandma, who moved to St. Louis before my mom was born and some years after she finished school after third grade, came and worked from the 1950’s to the late 1990’s doing one of the only few trades Black women learned down south—she cleaned homes for white people.
My grandmother, an 87-year-old Christian woman, who painstakingly gets dressed for church on Sunday mornings– and any other time if she could get a ride to a service— was probably not too much unlike Mother Susie Jackson who, also at 87 years old, likely went through the same strains to get to a sparsely attended Wednesday night Bible study in an old A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Thoughts of Mother Susie Jackson’s death among the other eight who were slain now paired with these stories from Kiese Laymon’s grandmother keep setting me back on my attempts to embrace the love and kindness and extensions of sympathy from white people across the country who would like us to grieve as quietly and as peacefully as possible. The white Christians who sang hymns and lit candles and knit shawls and wrote condolences in exchange for no riots, no uncomfortable conversations about race and a prompt return to business-as-usual in the U.S. by this Thursday, a full-week after the domestic terrorist attack.
But, in spite of myself and my heartbreak for my people, my community; regardless of my disenchantment with ideals around the words “equality” and “reconciliation;” despite this ball of pessimism towards phrases like “Love Wins” or “Love Conquers All,” I intend to find the strength to conjure up some warm fuzzies for the white people who befriend me on Facebook and are looking for me to return to my jolly-ole, social media self. I’m going to get some willpower to applaud Christians, both Black and white, who earnestly believe that their familiar fear and damning discomfort, respectively, could be dispelled if we only seek God for guidance and resort to prayer as the sole action against injustice. I am about to work on stretching myself even thinner, pushing my pride aside a little further, and opening my mind a little broader and see if that will do me some good. In the meantime, I hope the world will be patient with me.