Why asking Black people to forgive whiteness won’t ‘heal this country’
It’s time we have a serious conversation about what it means when white people offer disingenuous apologies to Black people they have harmed while expecting absolution and exoneration from those very same people.
Last week, news broke that a 79-year-old Trump supporter named John Franklin McGraw, who was seen on video elbowing a young Black anti-Trump protester named Rakeem Jones in the face at a Trump rally, was sentenced to probation. It was McGraw’s own words during that sentencing that draw attention to the ways that white supremacy operates to protect whiteness at all costs while demanding emotional labor from Black people in the form of forgiveness.
In conversation with Inside Edition reporters after elbowing Jones, McGraw says, “You bet I liked it.” When the reporter asks what he liked about it, he says, “knocking the hell outta that big mouth.” Then, he follows up the declaration of pride by saying, “Yes he deserved it. Next time we see him, we might have to kill him.”
However, during the court proceedings, McGraw spoke directly to Jones saying, “You know what you did, and I know what I did. I’m not going to say you were wrong or I’m wrong,” McGraw reportedly told Jones. “I hate it worse than anything in the world. If I met you in the street and the same thing occurred, I would have said, ‘Go on home. One of us will get hurt.’ That’s what I would have said. But we are caught up in a political mess today, and you and me, we got to heal our country.”
The two then hugged. The mainstream media has been eating up this story as a “reconciliation” of sorts.
Let’s just sit with that for a minute.
The same man who a) supports Trump, b) physically assaulted someone who was not threatening him (on video) , and c) later threatened to kill the same man, is not going to say that he was wrong for any of that because we are all just “caught up in a political mess today” and have to “heal our country”?
Watching all this unfold is absolutely enraging for so many reasons. Perhaps the worst being that Jones was trotted out in court like the Black Representative of all Blackness to publicly forgive a man who likely would have harmed him further, maybe even killed him according to his own words, had he had the opportunity a few months ago. Not only that, this violent and unapologetic man looked him squarely in the face and refused to truly take responsibility for those choices, blaming politics for his decision to physically assault Jones.
This is precisely how white supremacy works. It relies upon the age-old notion that white people are inherently good no matter the violent, murderous, and inhumane acts they inflict on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. It demands that these very same oppressed groups prop up white people like McGraw when they get it wrong, seeing their rage and aggression as mistakes that can be corrected with hugs, handshakes, and kindness rather than long prison sentences, unjust corporal punishment, or extrajudicial violence.
And while this “heal the country” narrative has been ever-present on the lips of many whites and at the fingertips of many an online journalist, it greatly minimizes what these people are really asking Black folx to do: forget about this country’s vast history of white supremacist institutions and anti-Black political structures, ignore present day affirmations of those racialized and gender-ed processes, and forgive white people not just when they do harmful things but before they even have a chance to so that the status quo remains intact, unbothered, and generally the same.
Black folx cannot absolve white people of racism, white supremacy, or anti-Black sentiment. It is actually not possible. To believe that an oppressed individual or group has the power to free oppressors of their oppressive ways is a mind-numbing, circular trick bag meant to both blame the oppressed for their condition and free the oppressors of accountability. We have to be clear about that.
And, like the fabled power of Black forgiveness, “healing this country” is just another myth.
It’s like unicorns, Santa Claus, and American democracy. It doesn’t actually exist and it can’t. This is mainly because healing requires a return to a previously healthy state. It rests upon the idea that some sort of inoculation can restore a body – or, in this case, a body of citizens – to a place of harmony. Since the United States have never been truly united, never once administered equal justice for all, and have never actually been whole, these narratives are moot. So, whatever state these hugs will get us back to certainly won’t be the one that most of us are fighting for.
Forgiveness of whiteness is not the answer. Rather, it is indignant rage, justified anger, radical blame, targeted accountability, and strategic resistance that will liberate us all. So, let’s stop playing these games and get to work.