When I saw Brandt Jean hug his brother’s killer I felt my face get hot. Rage. Pure. I was in an airport, and since I couldn’t react with the volume I normally would have at home, I just sat with it. Silently. I forced myself to examine my rage. Admittedly, I found that some of that rage was from knowing that as soon as he hugged that murderer, every Black person in America was going to have to deal with at least 2.5 white people saying, “Well, he forgave her, so you should, too/you’re so angry/it’s not that bad/etc.” Somehow, in times of need there is never a shortage of white people to set our examples for us.
Shamefully, some of the rage was at Brandt for not taking the rest of us into account in his decision to publicly embrace a killer. Then I wondered if I was abiding by that very same white supremacist setting of examples. This man should get to grieve however he feels to be necessary. He shouldn’t have to set an example for the rest of America. He shouldn’t have to hold back his compassion because of how it’s perception might affect the rest of us. White people don’t have to worry about that. White people aren’t told to grieve a certain way because of how Black people might perceive it. They have a freedom in their grief.
Then, in thinking about freedom I remembered my father’s letter from George HW Bush.
It was a thank-you letter signed by the dead ex-prez himself. My father got it by donating to Bush’s campaign. He kept the letter in a frame on the wall in the living room just under his own eye level. He placed it there because he wanted his friends to see it and my father was taller than his friends.
Lest you get the wrong idea, my father was not a fan of George HW Bush. He thought Bush was the racist milksop war criminal history shows him to be. But my father was a veteran and his community was made of veterans. White veterans. In a white town. In the whitest state. This meant, for my father to feel that he and his family were safe, he needed to do certain things to shield himself and us from that whiteness. In this particular case, that meant sending $10 to the 1988 George HW Bush Presidential campaign.
My father grew up walking through colored entrances and using colored bathrooms and drinking colored water in a white world that that would kill him if he did otherwise. If he even said what he thought about Bush, there could be consequences, but not just for him.
My father was not free to speak his mind and neither is Brandt Jean. Both my father and Brandt Jean are from a country in which the police are a leading cause of death, in which white supremacy continues to run rampant—especially throughout law enforcement, in which law enforcement officers continue to be the most punitive, petty and vengeful members of society, yet the only ones permitted to kill.
Brandt Jean lives in a country in which his own brother was just murdered by an admittedly racist police officer. He lives in a country in which there are ruthless consequences for not being nice to white people and those consequences aren’t only paid by the individual. They are often paid by an entire family.
I am not saying that Brandt Jean’s compassion is insincere or implying anything about his motivations. This is not about him. This is about a country that demands white humanity be constantly and vibrantly visible while commanding Black humanity to be silent, worthless and invisible. This is about the outcome of that inverted relationship; their inhumanity encourages them to kill us while our humanity forgives them for it. This is about a system that only goes in that specific direction. This is about a pattern that must stop because the forgiveness will eventually stop, either because the violence has ceased and/or simply because there will be none of us left to grant that forgiveness.
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