“We’re Always Expected to Forgive:” Forgiveness as a Reaction to State Violence and Hate Crimes against Black People

Authors: Priscilla McCutcheon*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Cultural Geography, Geographic Thought
Keywords: Black geographies, state violence, justice, liberation, Black liberation theology, Beloved community,
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 39
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper explores the aftermath of death through forgiveness, by Black people who have been the victims of hate crimes and police violence. I first question the extent to which forgiveness can ever be considered a radical act, drawing from the tragic case of Emanuel A.M.E., where a white supremacist gunned down nine Black churchgoers during prayer meeting. Before being convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, some family members of those murdered publicly forgave him. I analyze this moment of forgiveness through Black liberation theology and King’s beloved community, where forgiveness is predicated on the oppressor eventually seeing the oppressed as fully human. Second, I consider the physical act of forgiveness through the 2018 killing of Botham Jean in his own home by a white officer. After a tearful testimony following the officer’s conviction, the victim’s brother forgave the officer and hugged her. The officer was then hugged by the judge. I argue that the visceral reaction by many to these two hugs were that they offered the white officer bodily contact, narrowing a spatial separation that many deemed necessary to preserve the line between victim and aggressor. I conclude with recent reflections on the police killings of Black people in the summer of 2020, and what happens when Black people either refuse to offer forgiveness or such forgiveness is conditionally based on justice and liberation.

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