Why do we forgive? Ignoring or letting go of white supremacy’s impact through forgiveness has been how countless Black people have survived throughout history. Otherwise, we might have just buckled beneath the weight of existing in an anti-Black world.
But it’s also much more complicated than that.
Used frequently as a means to justify the cruel system of slavery, the Bible conditioned many of us to believe we deserved white hatred. We were taught that the scriptures called for forgiveness, and that was the only path to salvation.
“[Christianity] taught me that loving white folks in spite of their investment in our terror,” explained Kiese Laymon, “was our only chance of not becoming them morally.”
Loving and forgiving, from this vantage point, was how we avoided becoming monsters. This was also the logic behind the nonviolence movement – by not fighting back, we would show just how cruel our oppressors were.
It’s not the only strategy. Many armed Black organizations have taken a “fighting fire with fire” approach, sometimes very effectively.
Both strategies have merit. But forgiveness has most powerfully existed alongside movements for accountability and justice.
Forgiveness does not erase oppression or the need for major societal changes. True change comes when the system is held accountable. Then we won’t have to carry the burden of oppression anymore – we will be able to do more than just survive.