Home Evolve Botham Jean: Forgiveness as a spiritual practice is very different than what the niceness of whiteness demands

Botham Jean: Forgiveness as a spiritual practice is very different than what the niceness of whiteness demands

by Confluence
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By: Iyabo Onipede: Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.

First of all, as we discuss this issue forgiveness, context is critical. I am also committed to addressing nuance and that applies in this situation.

I think we are making a lot of false equivalencies and that is what is causing so much pain in the African American community on this issue.

Yes, make room for the African American Community as they process grief. Onwards.

According to St. Lucia Times, Botham Jean was the son of Allison Jean, described as “former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development” and Bertrum Jean, who was a store supervisor for Water and Sewerage Company Inc., known as WASCO. His uncle, Ignatius Jean, is “Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Water and Sewerage Association Inc. (CAWASA) and former government Minister and Parliamentarian.” Botham worked as an accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers. This is a young male from a middle-class family/background with an educated immigrant perspective on America. If you do not understand his social context, you cannot understand the younger brother.

This speaks to the issue of class for this Carribean family. They are privileged people. Also, Brandt Jean, an 18-year-old, the younger brother who hugged Amber Gyger, his facebook page says he lives in Castries, Saint Lucia. He is young. He is in the throes of grief and they are fundamentalist Christians based on their home church. I can so relate to all this personally.

These are NOT African Americans. They are dealing with private and personal grief and are not speaking for the entire 400 years of slavery and racism in the US. That young man was not bearing the weight of the African American experience on his back as he thought of those words. He is an immigrant.

Do you know how long it took me to start to get it? As an immigrant? And I was always conscious of social justice issues.

At best, after 10 years of living in this country, as an immigrant, you may feel a distance from the issue of racism. You see it as occasional. You recognize that there are bad people but it actually takes training to recognize institutional racism. But as an immigrant, especially as a middle class educated person, you came here for a better life, so you are still “enamored” by the institutions that you are trying to get into.(I.e. PricewaterhouseCoopers) This is what you came to America for. To be successful so you can bag your credentials and create a comfortable life for yourself and go back and help your country or help others. When immigrants come to this country, the focus is safety, education and attaining a good life. We know we will encounter racism but we did not grow up with the heightened awareness of it and how debilitating it is to the human psyche.

At this point, you probably do not have a clue what “systemic racism” is. It takes years for this to develop, especially if you are not running around in social justice circles. We were taught that racism was solely overt acts of racist behavior (kkk, use of the “n” word, etc.) In addition, African and Caribbean immigrants come here with our own biases against African Americans. We may say, “He must have done something bad, that is why he ran away from the police.” We ourselves do not understand the oppression of African Americans because we also are brainwashed about African Americans. So slowly, often, we distance ourselves out of lack of understanding and lack of appreciation for bridging the cultural gap.

As an aside, especially us Africans, we engage in ethnic pride and distance ourselves from those that have the same skin color but we consider “culturally inferior.” Everyone else is culturally inferior – this is what we believe in the equality that we live in. We consider this pride. We bring this paradigm to the US and we do not understand how harmful this is when applied to African Americans. You also see this with the Caribbean where ethnic pride exists about the different islands.

What makes it easier to put aside race relations for us immigrants is that we keep going back to what we come to the US for: To develop skills to create a better life. We are living in the promise America made: Study. Get your degrees. Work hard and you will succeed.

The loss of the promise of what this country holds for that entire family is what feels so traumatic to me. I wish I had words to unpack this more but let us move on now that we have contextualized the whole family.


Let us be sure we have shared language on what forgiveness is.

1. Personal forgiveness: Forgiveness is deep and hard work and you do it to truly be free and liberated from the clutches of the damage that extended trauma produces on the body, soul and spirit. In a sense, forgiveness is a selfish act because it is all about you, the “victim.” I use the word “selfish” in a positive way. It is a necessary thing. But it does not relieve the other of accountability.
2. Communal reconciliation: No one person can speak for the African American Community when it comes to the price that they have paid to build this country and the fundamental loss of “humanity” status that the system has categorically refused to accord upon black bodies. One individual’s act of forgiveness does not speak for this community.
3. The requirements of white nicenesss: Part of the culture of whiteness is niceness. We like to smooth out rough edges and uncomfortable feelings and so interpreting the words of Brandt Jean as “how nice” soothes the raging beast of discomfort that is required to deal with the myriad of issues in this case. This is fake and only serves to immediately hop off the real issues at hand. White niceness likes this type of forgiveness because it plays into the white supremacist demand of keeping everything copasetic. Niceness soothes fear and insulates the conscience of white people against a sense of wrongdoing.

After trial Brandt said to Amber Guyger, “If you truly are sorry, I speak for myself, I forgive you.” When he goes on to say he does not even want Amber going to jail, he clearly recognized that prison will not bring his brother back. His conditional forgiveness is a huge lesson on what forgiveness is. “If you are truly sorry……” True repentance is based on you, the perpetrator of the crime, being able to see yourself as an equal to the victim. Not superior.

There is a distinction between personal forgiveness as a formation spiritual practice and the subject of communal forgiveness which must include accountability. I think many of us are mixing up the two with this case.

Forgiveness as a spiritual practice is very different than what the niceness of whiteness demands. Superficial niceities of “what a beautiful act of forgiveness” and feel-goodness has nothing to do with forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not excuse behavior. Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness does not include holding the other accountable for what has happened.

Personal forgiveness can only happen where there is true equality. And of course, same with communal reconciliation. When a person forgives as in #1 above, they have healed enough to find a personal sense of healing and take ownership of their power within to make the claim, “I will not allow this to control me and take away from me. I let you go. I let go of the toxic dance that I am engaging with you.” There is a sense of power in this. Yet, it does not absolve of the responsibility of consequence for the actions.

The reason the African American community is saying “No,” to forgiveness, is that healing has not occurred for this community. Yet, we understand that forgiveness is deeply personal.

There are various perspectives and definitions of forgiveness. A psychological approach, a cultural approach and a biblical approach may all be different.

Checking Greek translations in the Bible, “Aphesis” denotes a release, from bondage, imprisonment, liberation from captivity and remission of debt. It is designed to “liberate.” To leave behind.

Brandt, especially because of his youth and middle-class immigrant background, may have perceived himself as an equal to Amber Guyger and conferred the opening of his heart to forgiveness to her: as an equal giving a gift. This is his perspective and does not reflect the reality of how society sees him and her. Not equal.

There is no such equality and I doubt that Brandt recognized that. Yet, his faith gave him a concept of personal power that he exercised.

Other issues with this case:

1. The 12 jury members, plus four alternates, included seven black members, five nonblack people of color and four white members; 12 members of the entire pool were women, and the other four were men. What do we do with this? This was a trial by jury and this is a very diverse jury.
2. The jury deliberated for six hours to reach the verdict of murder. The jurors also considered the lesser charge of manslaughter. This is not a long deliberation.
3. At sentencing, prosecutors recommended at least 28 years in prison, the age Jean would have been at the time of Guyger’s conviction. The jury deliberated for just over an hour before settling unanimously on 10 years — slightly longer than the minimum of five years they could have handed down, yet far short of the 99-year maximum. One hour deliberation. Not long at all.
4. Why was Botham demonized in the investigative process with his apartment being searched and the media revealing that some weed was found in his apartment? The Dallas PD did not handle the case properly. Did that impact the prosecution of the case?
5. I listened to about 2 hours of Amber’s testimony and I thought the prosecutor did a horrible job. He did not try and prove her guilt. He was responding to the defense attorney’s insinuations.
6. I am fine with Amber crying in the courtroom. When you are faced with this type of thing, tears are normal. For anyone. However, watching the trail video, she goes from being stone-faced to crying at the drop of a hat. This was creepy to me. Yet, the jury talked about her remorse.
7. She is eligible for parole in 5 years. WTF?

The other issue for me is that as long as I am oppressed (or anyone else) there is an oppressor and the oppressed and they both engage in a dance that will continue until one of the identities change. If, when I have some little power due to a change in my position, I only now know how to not be an oppressed by becoming the oppressor because the only way I know how to engage is to be EITHER oppressed or oppressor then I am perpetuating the dance. The personal formation practice/exercise of forgiveness removes me from the label of oppressed or oppressor for me to engage in a new dynamic and not be defined by the experience.

With all of the above, the most critical thing to me was Guyger entering that apartment. There is a discrepancy as to whether the door was open or not. Neighbors say the door closes automatically. So if it did, how did she get in there? If it did not, why did she not drop her stuff and call 911 when she discovered her door was open?

This is what I want you to walk away with when you read this post – For Amber Guyger to walk into the wrong apartment was the greatest act of while privilege ever. You see, I do not get to walk around my world, even after a 12.5 hour shift (not long at all) and blame that as the reason I am so unaware of my circumstances that I can walk into the wrong place and take ownership of it. That right there is where the problem is.

That is something that boggles my mind. I cannot wrap my head around that. White people get to make all sorts of mistakes and I have an internal check system that says to me that I cannot afford to make such a mistake as it would clearly cost me my life. Do you get that I cannot afford to leave my door unlocked because it would be my fault if the cops killed me? Not a burglar, but the cops!

And of course, as a white person, her “property” mattered more than a life.

We’ve got a lot of hard work to do to dig into ourselves to figure out how to live in community with one another.


More by:  Iyabo

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Iyabo is a Leadership Development Coach whose work focuses on the soul of the leader. She moves leaders from thriving careers into discovering, crafting and living into their life work. By helping successful people integrate spirituality into their leadership roles, they become more engaged with their work, expand the connection of their work to social justice issues and experience more satisfaction in their life work. Using the power of narrative and reflection, she helps leaders fine-tune the sacred “work their souls must have” (Alice Walker).

Iyabo is located in Atlanta, Georgia and graduated from Goucher College (B.A.), Georgetown University Law School (J.D.) and Candler School of Theology at Emory University (M.Div.).

Iyabo’s home on the web is at http://www.coachiyabo.com


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