If you’re a black person living and working in North America, there’s a good chance that you’re not only very familiar with code-switching (i.e. attempting to appear more professional by changing the intonation of your voice, hiding any semblance of an accent and even changing your natural behavior in a manner that’s acceptable to the white majority) but you’re also familiar with rage control.
On the surface, it would seem like every human being in any community would understand and be familiar with controlling their temper, but it is very different for black folks, because it is imperative for many of us to avoid falling into the negative “angry black man/woman” troupe that is, unfortunately, a very real and prevalent aspect of our society. We understand that our outbursts of anger are simply not treated the same as everyone else’s. And while we joke amongst ourselves about restraining from “reading” a co-worker’s ass is an email or even whooping someone’s ass on the subway all in the name of “not looking like an angry black person,” there’s also a very dehumanizing effect at play here. See, in our society, it is heavily dictated that black anger is immediately unreasonable no matter what the cause, whether it’s receiving a factually wrong and shady e-mail from a colleague or being enraged over nine innocent black people being gunned down in a historic black church by a self-proclaimed white supremacist.
At terrorist Dylan Roof’s bond hearing, just days after he carried out his assassinations inside of Emanuel AME Church, family members of the victims approached him and individually began forgiving him for his actions. Some people may look at this as a sign of great character. Some may look at it as the living embodiment of Christ’s own biblical absolution. But what it truly represents is one of the most disgusting psychological remnants of slavery: black people must remain emotionally stable at all times, because even the slightest descent into rage will be met with abject hostility.
Watch the problem with premature forgiveness thoroughly articulated in this FB post
Black slaves were not allowed to be angered by their master’s violent control, mutilation or pillaging of their bodies. Black folks in the Jim Crow era were not allowed to appear vexed in the presence of white folks, lest they be targeted as potentially violent and subsequently lynched. Hell, it’s not even difficult to notice when President Barack Obama, the leader of the free world, must check his level of public anger in order to sooth any potential qualms amongst his very white colleagues. African-Americans have been told to check themselves for so long that now it’s almost a completely natural reflex.
And what’s so astonishing is that America itself does not practice what it has historically preached to black folks.
September 12th, 2001, will forever remain one of the most memorable days of my life. Early that morning, as I prepared to head to school, my family discovered that my aunt, who worked in the World Trade Center, narrowly managed to escape any significant injuries. But things got really weird once I arrived at my first period class and our teacher decided to broach the topic amongst us, her students. Although she was typically the living embodiment of calm and reservation, she bristled in abject rage, and our class discussion about the tragedy quickly devolved into a “rag-head” hate party, which I couldn’t join in on because, like Chris Rock once famously said, it’s only a matter of time before patriotism turns into “hate-triotism,” with a xenophobic lens that targets any and all minorities.
But here’s the funny part: This occurred in a classroom in Toronto, Canada.
I was an hour drive away from the nearest U.S. border, yet the anger from the previous day’s terrorist attack was so thick that it permeated our soil north of the border. As the days and weeks carried on, tensions and emotions ran high. Michael Strahan lead the push to force the NFL to cancel the week’s upcoming games because he knew that Americans didn’t require a distraction from their feelings — Americans needed to embrace their feelings and recover as a nation. There was so much anger, pain, sadness, frustration and confusion that it’s impossible to accurately quantify in words. But of all the different emotions that were felt shortly after 9/11, there was one emotion that was impossible to find: forgiveness. And there wasn’t a soul in our collective western society who insisted that American citizens, celebrities and politicians express it, especially not with some social requirement that Americans’ collective character relies heavily on how great they are at forgiving and staying calm.
So it is nothing short of confusing to look around at America, some 14 years later, and see how that expectation of forgiveness is being forced upon black people. Not only are black Americans expected to forgive their assailants immediately after a tragedy has struck but blacks are also judged upon how noble we are during the aftermath of a horrific attack. After George Zimmerman was exonerated for executing Trayvon Martin, black folks were told to stay calm. After Michael Brown’s lifeless body was left in the middle of a Ferguson street baking in the hot summer sun, black folks were told to go home. After Freddie Gray was almost decapitated in the back of a Baltimore police van, black folks were told to relax. At no point did the country ever allow black folks to express their outrage. The same country that interrupted sporting events and television shows to celebrate Osama Bin Laden’s execution as if their hometown team just won the Super Bowl is the nation telling black people that they must be quiet and solemn regardless of how much pain they feel in the depths of their soul.
And even in the rare circumstance that black emotion is not muffled, it must be presented with properly measured elocution in order to avoid being considered the ramblings of some angry negro. When NFL tight-end Benjamin Watson went on his Facebook account to express his emotions about Darren Wilson avoiding indictment, he wrote a long post that many people, especially white folks, praised for its honesty and insightfulness. The well-written post was not only eloquently written but also included expressed sympathy for Darren Wilson (“now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure”), police culture (“I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!!”), a denial of racism (“I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem”) and ultimately absolution of white responsibility for the ongoing continuation of privilege and supremacy (“The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel”). That post got 860,000 likes because of its perceived nobility in the face of abject racism. He said what many white people hope and expect black folks to say, even though the country at large wouldn’t dare paralyze its emotions by extending a similar olive branch, to say, a suspected Muslim terrorist.
With all of that said, that’s why I did not celebrate hearing Pastor Mannix Kinsey, in the wake of seeing his Briar Creek Baptist Church burned to the ground in an act of arson less than a week ago, say:
“Honestly I can speak for this church,” he told the Observer. “That we’ve already forgiven them and we want to move forward. And we are hoping this is an opportunity for Christ to show himself in their hearts.”
I don’t expect Pastor Kinsey to go on a F-word tirade or even to embody the same hate that many Americans still have for folks in the Middle East, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with any human being going through the Kübler-Ross model of dealing with grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance is a perfectly reasonable gamut of emotions to experience after a violent and traumatic incident, regardless of your skin tone. It is not black folks’ responsibility to forgive white supremacy in the noblest way possible; it’s the responsibility of white people to become noble enough to end the practice of white supremacy.
Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site ThisIsYourConscience.com. He’s an author of the book “You’re Not A Victim, You’re A Volunteer.” He can be reached via Twitter@lincolnablades and on Facebook at Lincoln Anthony Blades.