We’re both nice white ladies, liberals who love the Children’s Defense Fund. When a friend suggest that I address you directly, I was hesitant. But after watching (a video of) the speech you shared in our community yesterday, I feel like we need to talk.
You spent a fair amount of your words talking as a Christian white woman, invoking scriptural images and using theologically potent concepts. As a white lady Christian pastor, I appreciated the attempt but also felt the chaff.
Jesus’ teaching does include the infamous “70×7” forgiveness challenge, and it is also true that many deeply devout Black Christians offered words of forgiveness in the throes of grief after the massacre at Emanual AME. But when you or I, white women, pick up those words and hold them up as an expectation to a people bent over with sorrow, there is no balm. In fact, the taking and using of those words and images is an appropriation which serves to salt the very wound you would bandage.
Quite frankly, as white women, even as white women who’s mother’s knew hard times, we don’t get to pretend that we understand what a Black mother’s grief looks like. We just don’t. We don’t know and it is the essence of erasure to pretend that we do.
And because we cannot understand the pain and the loss that confronts Black women in America on a daily basis, we cannot stand in judgement. To nod approvingly, as you did so graciously, is no less judgmental than a scowl of disapproval; the offense of judgement isn’t simply to be found wanting, the offense is in the assumption of power and privilege by the one offering judgement. You assumed a seat of power and privilege as you favorably judged the actions of the grieving community in Charleston. Witness to the insult was that though you had much support during the speech, no one clapped as you heaped praise on the forgivers; the room silently waited as you heaped insult on injury.
Much has already been written by Black women that I trust about the failed rush to forgiveness. While spiritual warriors are often able to detangle themselves from revenge, Jesus also suggested that we are to be not only as gentle as doves but also as wise as serpents. True forgiveness is a process which takes time and one that requires accountability, forgiveness is not a blank slate and a new beginning.
Desmond Tutu offered the prayer that you echoed with your “love is stronger than hate” phrase. He is also an architect of South Africa’s powerful Truth and Reconciliation work. When we do our homework, we learn that this work could not be done until Apartheid was over. The new Jim Crow is not yet over, any rush to forgiveness in America is premature. The other key piece we learn from Tutu’s work is that reconciliation comes only with the speaking of truth; for this too we wait.
Clearly you meant well. You are a politician with ambition, you are also a nice white lady, a liberal like me with good intentions. I understand, all to well, what you meant. But your message failed, and it was, for many of us, deeply offensive. I write in hopes that as nice white ladies, we might learn from one another because, quite literally, Black lives are on the line, now.