Botham Jean, black, was murdered. His brother forgave the murderer, a white woman! Then, he hugged her. So did the judge. And they all prayed.
The Judge’s breach in courtroom protocol aside, the real question is: why do we forgive, and hug? That behavior is rooted in our history.
I firmly believe that personal religious and spiritual practices should not to be publicly demonstrated or debated, yet everything about being black in America has been ‘colored’ by our early conditioning.
Almost all African-descended folk in this hemisphere have been subjected to one ideology: Christianity.
For hundreds of years, Catholic/Christian nations dominated the slave trade (Catholic Portugal, Spain and France, the Dutch-reformed church, etc.). Hence, Christian beliefs influenced how Africans were ‘collected’ and treated for more than six hundred years.
Don’t forget: the founders of America were puritans! Of course black folk are mostly Christian.
The NY Times 1619 Project is a marvelous collection of essays about our history in America, but we need to go further back, before 1619.
A vast history about the slave trade has been published. There are many books and scholarly research on the subject.
I’m currently reading Hugh Thomas’s The Slave Trade, 1440-1870, a 900 page tome, of an account of the business of slavery; i.e. how the enterprise was financed, individuals/families, empires, religious institutions who benefitted (and still may be profiting).
He lists a long succession of African ‘Kings’, some ‘Queens’, and ‘chiefs’, who were complicit -over the centuries! Many of these African rulers converted to Catholicism/Christianityby choice.
Was everybody involved? Arguably yes, to some extent. Slavery was worldwide; from the time of antiquity. Moral indignations against enslaving people were held by only a few.
Thomas also gives details about how European empires grew rich ‘colonizing’ the new world. He draws a vivid picture of the alliances made along the coast line of West Africa; the vast rivers, tributaries, and interiors, where the slaves were ‘collected’. The early years of the enterprise were sanctioned by European monarchs in alignment with the Catholic Church, and later the Dutch/Protestant reform movements.
Per Thomas, the slavers were not interested in capturing Muslim Africans. Hmmmmmm.
By the way, those ‘slave’ castles that have now become ‘tourist’ sites were initially built to protect one European slaving nation from another, and where slaves were “baptized” before being exported.
Thus, our introduction to Christianity. By the way, my limited reading of that history has lead me to conclude that my African ancestors were probably just everyday war booty, or members of some ethnic or language tribal group who were simply considered of lesser value to their African captors; literally, dispensable.
I will leave it to the psychologists to explain why so many of us insist on claiming that our ancestors were ‘royalty’ in Africa.
Where did we come from? We come from one another.
From the 1400s-1600s (before USA independence), slaves were mostly males who were replaced every ten years; their bodies, like so many machine parts, were projected to only last a short period of time.
The few females brought over were used as sexual slaves- to whites.
It was an efficiently designed system to maximize profit.
In America, almost all of the founding fathers- those ‘puritans’ and or other religious zealots- owned slaves. Everyone needed cheap/free labor, and they replaced white indentured servants and Native Americans, who were pressed into hard labor, with blacks from Africa. It was cheaper!
While Christianity may have been used to mollify slaves, I believe it was also used by the slaves as a survival strategy. Look at how Catholicism has mashed up with traditional African worship in the practices of Santeria (Cuba), Vodum (Haiti), and Condoble, (South America).
Some accuse the modern Church for still being complicit in keeping blacks ‘enslaved’ to the idea of turning the other cheek, etc.
That’s debatable, but I don’t have enough space left.
But, I’m not fooled by what appears to be passivity in religious/Christian black folk in the USA.
Black folk are the penultimate survivors, and I believe that acts of forgiving have given us power: power to procreate and leave progeny through our DNA; power to develop our own institutions; power to live for millenniums. It has allowed us to thrive: to create more successful entrepreneurs, more gold-winning Olympic medalists, more crowned beauty queens, etc.
That’s the story we should be telling, post 1619: yes, to forgive, but never to forget!