Remember how we discussed emotional labor and race? Amber Guyger was sentenced to ten years for walking into the wrong apartment and killing Botham Jean who sat in his own apartment eating ice cream. She did not give him cpr, she did not try to revive or check on him. Botham Jean faced an investigation after his murder. Cops looked for evidence of wrong doing on Botham Jean’s part and even obtained a warrant (this supposedly requires just cause) to search his apartment not Amber’s. Police tried to find anything they could to prove that the murder could be justified. Can you stop and imagine that? Your brother sits alone in HIS apartment eating ice cream, someone walks in, says they got scared, and shoots and kills him and the first thing the police do is investigate your brother for wrong doing. How fucking insane and maddening. But Botham Jean’s brother gave an impassioned speech of forgiveness and grace. He implored the woman to seek forgiveness of God and tells her shockingly that he “loves her like he love anyone else”. He gave her a long hug. The judge gave her a long hug. The bailiff fixed her hair for her after her sentencing. All of them black. The dignity and consideration that is offered is above and beyond. It’s incredible. To be honest, it makes me angry. Oh I admire their spirit to be sure, but that grace is also a requirement. I’m friends with the cutest smallest brown lady ever. She is 4’7 and thin. She was speaking with her much larger white male neighbor about race one day. They’ve known each other for years and regularly have dinner at each others’ homes. When she became passionate and turned toward him, he cringed away from her as though she were going to hurt him. She was so shocked and heartbroken she immediately wanted to cry. She explained to me that she gets so tired of that kind of reaction. She and her wife have to meter their voices, and their movements or they’re perceived as threats. They always keep the cheerful, extremely friendly and gracious facade up so that they can just exist. They don’t get to be the annoying neighbor, or the passive aggressive neighbor. They have to be that sweet couple. For hundreds of years, African Americans survived by smiling, being sweet, and comforting us as we stole their very lives, crushed their happiness, beat their bodies. They cared for our children while we sold theirs. Do we really think those habits disappear after one generation of sharing the same rights? Do we really believe they are free to react with anger or with forgiveness without differing consequences?
Botham Jean’s brother has every right to feel however he feels. He has every right to offer forgiveness or not. His character in doing so is exemplary. But the white reactions sharing his hugs and forgiveness when the same people never called out for justice for his murdered brother very clearly that pat the head of the “well behaved” black man while we shun others for screaming for justice. We can only uplift the black brothers and sisters who endure their lot in gracious forgiving quiet. Black people are held wholly responsible for the emotional labor of proving their own worth, making us feel comfortable, teaching us what racism looks like and telling us how to fix it. All the while we are forcing them into caricatures both good and bad, and forcing our black brothers and sister to play in to either one or the other.