That Ain’t Forgiveness: On the Political Economy of Hugging

By Dr. Herukhuti

Stop it.

Stop showing the images, playing the video. Stop talking about how amazing or incredible or moving or heartwarming it was. To anyone who is using the scene of the sentencing phase of Amber Guyger’s trial in Dallas, TX, USA to pimp a narrative about forgiveness and Black people or Blackness in general. Stop it.

Stop labeling these kinds of performances as acts of forgiveness. Forgiveness requires free will and consent.

There is no ability to consent among the oppressed in the matrix of settler-colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, and cisheteropatriarchy. There is no ability to choose from a range of options that which most addresses one’s needs. There is only compliance and resistance.

These performances are just as consensual as the sex that Europeans slavers imposed upon African people during slavery.

So whether it be the hug Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean gave to Amber Guyger, his brother’s murderer at the sentencing proceeding or the hug Judge Tammy Kemp, the presiding judge and person of African descent, gave to Guyger durning the sentencing or the forgiveness Felicia Sanders, the mother of one of the nine victims killed by Dylann Roof in a Charleston church, extended to him, during the trial, these acts are performed under duress because they happen within a society in which people of African descent do not control the systems of accountability nor possess the ability of freedom of movement and expression necessary to do anything other than the limited set of options the matrix of domination affords them.

These performances are more so acts of resilience.

In a chapter I wrote for the book Black LGBT Health in the United States: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation, which is titled “Uses of the Interstitial as Power: Black, Bisexual Men Building Maroon Health,” I highlighted the problematics of glorifying the resilience of Black people:

Resilience has become an important concept in theorizing the adaptive tools and abilities used by members of oppressed people i.e., people of color, LGBT people, etc. in response to the structural inequalities they encounter. Although there is no consistency of definition within the literature for resilience, researchers believe that both intrapersonal (e.g., strong sense of racial group membership, integration of multiple identities such as ethno-racial, sexual, and religious identity, a sense of self, and positive or active coping skills, etc.) and social factors (e.g., supportive community and protective interpersonal relationships) contribute to the degree to which members of these groups can live and function within a society that undermines their wellbeing (Follins, Walker & Lewis, 2014; Colpitts & Gahagan, 2016). Resilience, the ability to recover after experiencing trauma, assault, injury, or the impact of an undermining force, has been attractive to researchers who wish to adopt an appreciative, strengths-based alternative to prevailing pathological models for understanding oppressed people. And yet, as Colpitts & Gahagan (2016) observed, “resilience as a conceptual framework in understanding and measuring LGBTQ health…has traditionally been framed and conceptualized from an ethnocentric, white, Western perspective, as the emphasis on individualism demonstrates” (p.6).

On a practical level and to borrow from boxing terminology, resilience measures how well you can take a punch. As a tool, it does not help anyone interested in understanding how to prevent the initiation of the punch or counter the punch to disarm the opponent and defend oneself. Resilience doesn’t provide a language for analyzing the circumstances that brought one into the ring in the first place, recognizing who is benefiting from the staging of the fight or determining if the deal made on the purse is exploitative or beneficial. Resilience just helps you make claims about how well someone can be a punching bag without falling out.

The ability to be resilient in the face of the enormous violence of oppression is not a demonstration of humanity or even superhumanity, which is usually a characteristic of superheroes, but subhumanity in that demands and requires the resilient person to dislocate the body’s recognition of pain, ignore the body’s compulsion to avoid or end the experience of destructive pain, and perform an empathy/embrace of the source(s) of one’s pain. Resilience, in this context, is the reaction to oppression that the matrix of domination affords to dehumanized chattel and the constraining of oppressed people’s access to the right of self-defense, self-determination, existence, and futurity.

White supremacy relies upon our ability to absorb pain, abuse, and violence without fighting back to maintain itself and its hegemony as patriarchy relies upon the ability of women, trans folks, and people outside the gender binary to absorb pain, abuse, and violence without fighting back. Christianity and the mythological, fanciful propaganda on the uses and effectiveness of non-violence have been used to brainwash oppressed people into adopting resilience strategies.

There are teachings in Christianity that were brought into the religion from Judaism, the true meaning of which are only understood in the original cultural context that created them, as well as teachings that were brought into it by monarchs and elites (e.g., Constantine and the Council of Nicea, King James, etc.) for the purpose of advancing their political and social agenda and that subsequent elites have used to manipulate followers/believers. Our absorption and living out of these teachings harms our health and wellbeing, personally, socially, and culturally.

Christianity doesn’t provide Black people with the psychic, psychological, metaphysical, or cultural resources to transform the energy of the pain, abuse, and violence of the matrix of domination and so we direct it in upon ourselves, our family members, our community. I think there needs to be more space, we need to create more space for Black rage, what bell hooks called killing rage, that is directed upon the systems and people who oppress us.

When viewing the hugging/forgiveness propaganda ask yourself:

Who hugged Denmark Vesey?

Who hugged Nat Turner?

Who hugged Assata Shakur?

Who hugged Kuwasi Balagoon?

Who hugged Mumia Abu Jamal?

Who hugged Larry Davis/Adam Abdul-Hakeem?

Who hugged Christopher Jordan Dorner?

And you’ll begin to develop an understanding of the political economy of hugging and forgiveness in the United States. It is an act of self-annihilation to hug murderers of your people.

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