Being Better Than You Sucks
(The thoughts expressed in this post are my own. While I work in a school connected to a denomination, these thoughts are uniquely mine and do not reflect that of either entity as far as I know. If you have any complaints, I invite you to email me directly at email@example.com. I also hate that this is my Gmail address.)
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” - James Baldwin, author
This video angers me. To no end. Because I have been Jagmeet.
So many times.
If you haven’t seen the video Jagmeet Singh, a political figure here in Canada was campaigning in Montreal Quebec. While he is out doing the political thing of shaking hands and kissing babies, a man comes up to him and says…
“You know what? You should cut your turban off. You'll look like a Canadian."
This guy just says it. On camera. Laughing like it is a joke but being serious. To a person. To their face.
Jagmeet has, at that moment, a few choices. He could:
Verbally accost this man for his rudeness and blatant prejudice rhetoric.
Punch the man in his head top.
Walk away and say nothing until he got to his car away from the cameras.
Do what he did, which was smile it off and gently push back on his claim.
“Oh, I think Canadians look like all sorts of people," Singh replied. "That's the beauty of Canada." (Global)
The man tried circle it back by saying "In Rome, you do as the Romans do."
Let me say this: Anchorman is one of my favourite comedies of all time and the line “When in Rome” kills me every time. This bozo ruined the line for me. UGH!!!
Jagmeet closes the chapter by killing him with the classiest line: "Hey, but this is Canada, you can do whatever you like” and then walking away.
As I said, I have been in that situation many times. A person will make a race joke or a statement and then I, the person of colour, has to be better and laugh it off because if I say something in the wrong tone, the person delivering the joke will feel bad. Or they will be offended that I didn’t receive the joke in the same way that their other POC friend did. Basically they’d be saying…
Author, activist and my current dread goals king, Andre Henry put much better than I can:
“Their lips are often dripping with the language of “forgiveness” to make these arguments. Any anger we express at living in an antiblack world is mislabeled “bitterness.” Any accountability we demand is mislabeled “vengeful.” Any assertion that reparation is necessary is deemed unreasonable. It’s all “divisive” to them. Their argument is basically that we just need to “get over it.”
And this happens often.
A person makes fun of me to another person by imitating how I say “fam” or talk torontomans. Or saying I should learn proper English. (True story)
A person says “Well you’re black so you can do this, right?”
A person says “What do you know, you only like ___________ !”
A person says, in a room full of leaders. “I’m gonna beat your black ___!” (True story)
A person says “You always make it about race…”
And I or someone like has to take it or be seen as angry in need of calming down.
A person calls or says or does…ANYTHING…and I have to be better. I have to laugh and pull a Jagmeet. And sometimes…sometimes...sometimes being better than you sucks. Cause I’d love to be petty and go in on someone’s stupidity and explain how hurtful their words are. How it drums up painful memories and trauma. And sometimes that is appropriate in the right setting with someone willing to listen before they defend their actions. But more often than not, they are like that guy on the campaign trail…thinking that his turban joke was hilarious.
Being better means forgiving and hoping that a non-answer will help. Being better means crying in your car alone rather than yelling at a bully who will quickly say they are the victim (“I didn't mean it! I love everyone! I’m not racist. You’re racist for calling me racist!”). Being better means choosing to see through two lenses at the same time.
This week a woman in Texas, Amber Guyger, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of Botham Jean in his own home. Guyger, a former police officer walked into Jean’s apartment thinking it was hers and shot him when he got up from his OWN chair while eating ice cream. There are so many pieces to the story that you can google but I want to focus on two parts. Before the trial ended, I thought she’d be seen as innocent. Most people did. I mean, come on! She’s a cop. Cops don’t go to jail. On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was beaten within an inch of his life on camera by 4 cops, surrounded by cops ON VIDEO and a jury found them all innocent…so I wasn’t holding my breath. Then she was convicted.
I was amazed. Truly. That NEVER happens. And yet the over/under of how long she’d go for was starting. She could have faced life but many thought she’d get 10-20 years. And she got 10. And my heart sank. You can see young men in jail for life over marijuana charges…life. And she could be out after 5.
Even a win is a loss.
But the story changes. The brother of the deceased gets on the stand and publicly forgives this woman. And embraces her. And then the judge does. And then she goes off to jail.
The young man was Jesus to the sinner. And I was…torn.
No longer was the story about justice being served. It was about grace. It was about forgiveness. The narrative was chosen, seen through one set of eyes only (if you doubt me, check out Facebook or Instagram. How many people, maybe yourself included, talked about this story outside of just forgiveness?) and then away we went. The happy ending “erased” the injustice that led to it. Again. And it’s not as simple as a hug.
Pastor and all around cool guy Rich Villodas Jr. of New Life Fellowship in New York (#YERRRRRRRRRRR) explained it on his facebook wall this way:
“First, it's important to say that the racial dynamics and history in this #BothamJean case require careful consideration. It's important to wrestle with the dissonance many Black men and women feel as they watched Botham's brother hug the woman who was convicted of murder.”
And I didn't want it to be about being better. Cause for people like me, we’ve always had to be better. And it is exhausting. Cause forgiveness is vulnerable. And humiliating. And grace-filled. And it is a tough choice that only comes from the Lord.
Again, my dreadlocked hero (I cannot wait for my hair to be that long. Facts), Andre Henry:
“If you they say “wow” at Mr. Jean’s capacity for grace, they tacitly suggest that you understand the magnitude of Guyger’s crime. If they marvel at the abundance of his forgiveness, then they concede the enormity of the sin.
So then, I have to wonder. Perhaps America doesn’t excuse antiblack violence because of ignorance. Perhaps they do know how enormous a problem it is, if they can be amazed when Black people forgive it.”
Artist James Bland wrote after the verdict.
Better. Being better.
Taking the worst that this world has given and simply replying "That's the beauty of Canada."
So am I happy that the kid forgave? Sure. Yes. It, to quote the smart and talented Phil Aud, “…confounded the American systemic racist system, further confounded and revealed the darkness of that American system by upstaging it by his dismissal of retributive justice.” It was the only good thing that came from this ordeal and hopefully moves God’s kingdom closer to earth. But I am also angry that this likely doesn’t happen if that young man was looking at life in prison for murder or an even lesser offence. This photo explains the deep pain and frustration:
That’s not made up. That’s the real. That’s the regular. That’s the being “in a rage almost all the time…” as said by Mr. Baldwin. That’s why his forgiveness is SO much deeper that a facebook post or sermon illustration.
The same young man who forgave would be treated like an animal. Dylan Roof killed 9 black christians in a planned attack but was treated to Burger King while being taken into custody. Eric Garner was choked to death by a cop and held down by others for selling loose cigs. I do not think that those who posted this scene of forgiveness REALLY realize the significance of that young man’s gesture was. He forgave knowing he would not be given that grace if the gun was in his hands. Forgiveness sucks because it means being better even when others choose to not.
Sigh. This is what WE do. Take the pain and live through it, even as others use our stories to forget our own (for example, the lesson from the shooting in Charlestown, SC wasn’t that Dylan killed black people. It was that the church was being attacked. Like…HOOOOOW?!?!?!!!?)
So we live in forgiveness now while we wait for justice to “…roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Until then, we live in the tension of Micah 6:8, as pointed out to me by @honestyouthpastor, as best we can and aim to be better:
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
And this is hard. Very hard. Because a large section of society doesn’t view it like I do.
Again, my dreadlocked hero (I cannot wait for my hair to be that long. Facts), Andre Henry puts it this way:
If you don’t respect our anger, refuse to hold space for our pain, if you chastise us for protest and admonish us to overlook racial violence and forgive, then your celebration of our mercy is nothing more than positive reinforcement.
You’re just saying “bad Negro” when we’re angry, and “good Negro” when we suppress it.
Ouch. And Facts. Not an either/or but a both/and.
Well. This has been a long one and uber serious. Time to meme it up.
Some follow up questions:
If you are a white person, who do you have in your life that is a person of colour to ask questions during moments like this in modern history? Do you find yourself giving answers more than listening and learning from them?
If you are a person of colour, how do you balance your hope and anger during moments like these?
If you are a person of colour, how have you dealt with the jokes, comments and prejudging placed on you by others? Do you have a space to talk through some of the difficult moments you have faced?