It seems to me that the concept of ‘forgiveness’ is suddenly attractive to white people as a group. This seems different from personal forgiveness, which is what I felt this family member did when he hugged this murderer.
The concept of forgiveness is a religious one. It isn’t embraced by all people or all cultures. On a personal level, forgiveness may be extremely important — even healing — for the individual.
However, in our society it seems that the concept of forgiveness is leveraged by society when convenient: ie, when white people know that they are going to need it to ameliorate the consequences of their behaviors, which are now being examined in (slightly) more open ways (if this happened 30 years ago, would we even know about it? Or, would it have been pushed under the rug so that a woman like Amber never even went to trial?!)
Note, for example, the Laci Johnson book (Reckonings) which makes such a big deal about ‘forgiveness’ while completely missing the mark on understanding of race. She tries so hard to be the sympathetic white woman but, upon reading the essay, it simply seems she wants to be the ‘good’ (and published, the actual motive) one. She then writes about her own tragedy and her own need to forgive. These conflations are not necessarily coincidental: she knows a reckoning is coming, but rather than support people of color directly, instead she finds a way to get her own book published. Is this really helping people of color? Her plug for forgiveness seems a subtle hint to people of color at this juncture in history: that is, ‘forgive me, since look — I’m forgiving the person who victimized me.’
In the case of this murderer, the concept of forgiveness, which should be personal, is conflated with the social and political. Botham’s brother, as an individual, may feel restored through his forgiveness, which is wonderful. But this attitude — one which suddenly embraces the concept of forgiveness where historically there has only been oppression — is never granted to African-Americans, especially black men . This concept is part of the psychology of shirking responsibility— it leverages a personal concept subtly to be used socially. Ultimately, this same sort of psychology was used to give this white woman a much lighter sentence than any other executioner would have gotten. Because she is a white woman.
In a free society, forgiveness should be a personal choice. BUT, it shouldn’t be leveraged as it has been as a tool to prevent proper justice, which is what happened in this case. There is a general sense among society that white women are imminently forgivable, that we need only underline their vulnerability.
Forgiveness and justice sometimes stand at odds with each other. The notion that each of us will simply embrace forgiveness the moment the perpetrators feel as if they may have a speck of accountability for their behaviors — accountability that, thus far, hasn’t been taken for centuries — is absurd. Democratic courts have a commitment to the victim — especially one who is embedded in constant derogation — and not continued psychology that elevates the perpetrator at the victim’s expense. This sudden embrace of ‘forgiveness’ ‘is hardly coincidental: it is part of the crowd psychology required to deal with the inevitable response that will come when 90% of the human race figures out what happened to them at the hands of the other 10%. It is as if they say, ‘forgive us’ instead of ‘what can we do to fix this white supremacist mess that my ancestors invented and which benefits us for free?!’
This court case simply reflects hundreds of years of white woman protection and the way in which they are often relieved of moral responsibility, likely resulting in the dearth of moral behaviors we are forced to witness.