The Price of Forgiveness

This year we’ve seen a lot of instances in which white men and woman called the police on Black men, women, and children over silly things. I’m also thinking of every white man and woman caught on video screaming racial slurs at the top of their lungs because of traffic or a bad day at work. After the police came and the situation was revealed to be–surprise!–of no serious threat, their actions came with repercussions. Their businesses were ruined, their jobs lost, scholarships taken. I don’t feel sorry for them, though. In this day and age, it doesn’t pay to be an asshole.

I started thinking about this because I was wondering about forgiveness and its limitations. At what point can you forgive someone for something? When does it start and end? How does one determine if someone is worthy of forgiveness?

It’s the most complicated amongst my peers. We have the privilege of easily accessible information; Google is free. If there’s something we want to know, we can look it up and chances are there’s a detailed answered hiding somewhere in the internet. Some of us have the privilege of a higher education and access to academics who spend their lives studying their respective fields. We can turn to them for answers to our questions. Meaning, we don’t have many excuses as to why we may not know something.

A lot of us, however, take on this “I’m smarter, better, and more worthy than you” attitude. I understand why, but I don’t think that’s productive.

I get it–there are some things that one should just know. There are some things that baffle me when I realize that someone doesn’t know it. When I first entered college, it drove me insane that some of my peers didn’t know basic things about racism and how it worked in the country. Now, I realize that I studied enough of my own history and the history of this country to be well versed in it. Basics aside, I don’t think I’ll fault someone for not understanding the Black experience or why popular statistics surrounding race are either inflated or misinterpreted.

Yet, the apologies of those men and women usually contained either “I didn’t know” or “I knew it was wrong, but…”. That’s not good enough. It’s even worse when you knew that calling someone a racial slur was bad but you did it anyways. At that point, you asked for the consequences. In our current society, it’s hard to tell when one is being genuine in their not knowing or using it as the scapegoat. “It’s your fault for not educating me,” so to speak.

While I was in Japan, I had the opportunity to give a short little presentation about a social topic of my choosing, so naturally I talked about being Black in the country. There’s probably less than three thousand Black people in the country (totally guesstimating, since there’s no accurate numbers anyhow) and yet, with the exposure from Western media that Japan receives, my presence was met with shock and surprise. A trend is that the English teachers who move overseas tend to be white, and in Japan a “proper English speaker” is conflated with whiteness. In an effort to expose students to more cultures, I argued that the government hire more teachers outside of a narrow demographic.

All of that to say my thing is education. To a certain degree, I think it’s a little overboard to expect people to know certain nuances, especially if they don’t have exposure or experience with said nuance. Now I’m not making excuses for every jerk that says some obviously offensive things, but I am saying that in turning every person away for a small mistake we prevent ourselves from accessing the people that actually want to be different.

Don’t work with people who don’t want the help. Let them and their rigid ideas be in their lonely little island of ignorance. The people who want off, who want to learn–those are the people we need to focus our attention on.

Let’s be real–none of us knew what we know now, even as recent as yesterday. New information is always coming out, old information constantly being changed. Who are you to tell someone that they don’t deserve forgiveness? All of us at one point didn’t deserve it. Consider it a kindness that you are still in the good graces of someone you’ve offended.

I also understand that forgiving someone comes down to a matter of personality and one’s set of morals. I’m not here to tell you your morals are wrong, and I never would. There are some things that one might consider reprehensible. I have no right to say you’re overreacting. In my own personal life, I’ve definitely unfriended people when I learned they voted for Trump, because that decision to me said that they don’t respect the values of this country or what my existence represents. To some, that might be dramatic. For me, that’s just what it is.

I’ve yet to meet someone perfect. And again, I’m not making excuses for those with cinder blocks surrounding their brain. I am saying that we’re always going to be learning, and instead of dedicating time to creating an in-real-life block list, understand that everyone is going to make a mistake. Correct them, educate them, and move on. At least in our daily lives, that’s the best bet. And if someone shows you no sign of change, then keep it pushing.

Now go and learn something new.

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