When a Hug Is a Call to Read, Pause, and Listen

The hug heard around the world drowned out the angry cries of a mother’s pain as her murdered son’s memory vanished as quickly as he became a hashtag. 

Some called it forgiveness. 

Some called it faultless.

Some called it foolish. 

Some called it. 

They been called it. 

Because they been seen it before. 

But this time it was different. 

The hug heard around the world drowned out the angry cries of a mother’s pain as her murdered son’s memory vanished as quickly as he became a hashtag.

The Hug Heard Round the World by Danté Stewart

by Michelle Palmer

Writing again here at Tuesday Justice had been on my mind and heart for some time before “the hug heard around the world” hit my Twitter feed. After a couple of conversations, I knew there was a bridge to be built, and once I read this tweet from Be the Bridge founder, Latasha Morrison, I knew it was my job to do it: 

“I will leave this to our white brothers and sisters to address. It’s all too much. We tired, I’m tired and folk refuse to read, pause and listen.” 

So that’s what I’m asking us to do:  Read. Pause. Listen. 

I want to make this very clear: The issue at hand here is not Brandt’s forgiveness of Amber. 

  • “Brandt Jean’s response to his brother’s murderer helps us see the gospel.” – Dorena Williamson
  • “A thousand kudos…I just admire the compassion of the Jean family.”  – Trevor Noah 
  • I respect Brandt Jean’s decision to process the trauma of his brother’s death however he chooses.” – Andre Henry 

The issue at hand is White America’s overwhelming response to it. It’s the WAY that we consumed this story. In a nutshell, here’s what hits close to home for me, what I need to remember, what I need to embrace with my whole heart: 

“If you love the Black man hugging the murderer but not the Black man marching in the streets loudly professing the need to dismantle systemic injustice, then you love a caricature that lets you keep white supremacy and will hug you when it kills them.” Elizabeth Behrens 

We can absolutely acknowledge the power of forgiveness, but we also need to acknowledge the gravity of what happened. (Because what happened to Botham Jean was not an isolated incident.)  We can appreciate the beauty of Brandt Jean’s compassion while also holding space for the complexity of feelings experienced by the Black community. In this case, as in so many, the best thing I can do is point you to those who have shared their hearts, so that we can learn from them. The hard work of dismantling white supremacy begins with us really listening (and believing) the experiences of people of color. So, I’m asking, pleading, with you to read each of these accounts, with an open heart. I’m posting excerpts here, but please click through to read (or watch or listen) each in its entirety. 

What the Amber Guyger Case Reveals About White America – Andre Henry (Medium says it’s a 5 minute read. You’ve got 5 minutes for this. Click link, open heart!) 

“…if White America is unable (or unwilling) to see what is outrageous when it comes to race in this society, how can they be trusted to define what is good when it comes to racial justice?

“It rings hollow when the same people who dodge our laments praise our capacity for grace.

“If you don’t respect our anger, refuse to hold space for our pain, 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.

“White America is just saying ‘bad Negro’ when we’re angry, and ‘good Negro’ when we suppress it.”

Cannot recommend this podcast episode enough → The Zeitcast with Jonathan Martin featuring Andre Henry (It’s about an hour long – put it on during your next workout, while you fold the laundry, in the car. You WILL be blessed by it. Available on ALL the podcast platforms.)

“If you can understand how amazing to be forgiven for something, you must also be able to see that the thing being forgiven is also great…it’s enormous. And so I’m like, ‘How is that White America is willing to concede the greatness of that crime when they see a Black person forgiving, but when Black people are protesting, they don’t see that our level of rage is also appropriate to the level of harm that we’re experiencing?'”

Botham Jean’s Brother’s Offer of Forgiveness Went Viral. His Mother’s Calls for Justice Should Too. – Dorena Williamson (No really, I think you should click the link and read the whole thing.) 

“When a black person extends radical forgiveness, we see the grace of the gospel. But when we ignore a black person’s call for justice, we cheapen that grace. Both are acting like the God we serve; we need to listen to them both.

“Yes, God is a forgiving God. But we haven’t really understood the depth of that grace if all our examples of forgiveness are times when the people being forgiven look just like us. Given the long history of white supremacy in this country, we as Christians should ask: Why aren’t there videos of white people forgiving their black assailants trending on our social media? Why aren’t black accusers hugged by judges or comforted by the victim’s family members, as this former police officer was? How long O Lord?”

Watch Allison Jean’s passionate response in full here (3 min. video):  “There’s got to be a better day. And that better day starts with each and every one of us.”

Video: The Botham Jean Murder Verdict and Its Complex Emotional Aftermath | The Daily Show – Trevor Noah (But seriously…please take the 8 minutes to watch it through. It’s worth it.) 

“And I’m not speaking for everybody […] but I feel like the anger actually comes from people feeling like that is the level of empathy everybody should receive in a court. Everybody should have a judge look at them like a human being. […] And yet this narrative doesn’t seem to be afforded to black people in America, especially by the news.”

“Some of the narratives that we tell and share about what’s happening in the world are so much more powerful than we actually think they are. We think it’s just on the surface, but what a lot of people are seeing here is the reinforcing of an idea. […] And so the same way a white shooter is disarmed peacefully, the same way a white murderer can get a hug in a courtroom and sympathy, the same way a young shooter is spoken about as a human being because he is white, we hope that same level of compassion and empathy would be applied to black people.” 

Again, we can appreciate what happened on the micro-level – a man forgave his brother’s murderer. There is power and beauty in forgiveness. But we, White America, must also be willing to deal with what is happening on a macro-level. We must read. We read about the Black experience as written by Black voices. We read about the past, we read about the present. We must pause. We pause to deal with our defensiveness and let our guard down, we pause to reflect, we pause to understand. We must listen. We must begin to listen to those who are crying out for justice. 

And join them. 


More resources…

Another great read I failed to include is this one by Jemar Tisby: White Christians, do not cheapen the hug and message of forgiveness from Botham Jean’s brother

Instant absolution minimizes the magnitude of injustice. It distracts attention from the systemic change needed to prevent such tragedies from occurring.

The same Bible that urges forgiveness also urges justice.

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17).

Black forgiveness as a response to white racism is an act of faith in God and of self-preservation. With all that black people have endured over four centuries of racial oppression, forgiveness protects the heart from the consuming heat of hatred. It ensures that people who have been wounded don’t have to constantly relive the injury. The act of forgiveness honors God, who forgives undeserving people, when someone extends it to someone else who is similarly undeserving.

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