Mo’ne Davis, an All-American little league pitcher was called a “slut” by a White male college student after receiving a movie deal from Disney. In equally outrageous news, SAE chant leader, Levi Pettit, called a press conference to collect support from the Black community in Oklahoma after leading a rendition of a colonial lynching song.
Although both incidents were commenced by white male students, both incidents became black people’s responsibility, as we were left to bear the burden of forgiveness.
Is it me, or is anyone else frustrated that there is an implicit expectation on Black people to absolve the guilt and racist behavior of white people?
We recently witnessed Mo’ne Davis, a 13-year-old black girl, express maturity in her magnanimous approach to forgive despite being called a whore by an adult. And instead of seeking any kind of retribution, Mo’ne turned the other cheek – going so far as to request that the college student be reinstated to his sports team. And though this act of forgiveness was a very noble thing to do, I’m frustrated by the implicit cost she had to pay for it.
After forgiving the man who called her a slut, many on social media celebrated Mo’ne for being a “class act.” And in fact she was, and is. But to measure her character based on her capacity to forgive an act of racism was - and is - still erroneous.
The media labeling Mo'ne a 'class act' is double-pronged. In addition to dismissing the accountability necessary for his actions, it normalizes Mo'ne's response to racism and sexism, and consequently deems more confrontational methods as illegitimate.
By not confronting his racism and sexism, Mo’ne’s actions suggest that it is appropriate for people to say and do whatever they want. It insinuates that Black men, women, and children are meant to carry the burden of inflammatory claims, and suggests that people aren't exemplifying classy behavior when they decide to challenge it publicly.
The public’s celebration of Mo’ne was not about her integrity on the field, but her inadvertent compliance with oppression. She, having been the victim, forfeited her right to be outraged because she believed his comments were isolated, when in fact they are a part of a larger system. A system that perpetually demands black people to forgive their oppressors – even in the absence of accountability.
An all too familiar scene - almost identical to SAE's Levi Pettit's Press conference.
Similarly, instead of placing the burden of correction on SAE’s Levi Pettit, it fell on the Black Oklahomans he targeted in the video , who, ironically, flanked to his side during his poor excuse of a press conference.
Pettit's apology and press conference was a complete farce and showed no real signs of remorse or empathy that would lead me to believe that Pettit actually gets it. When you listen to the video, you hear traces of indignation and apathy. None of it confirming that he understands the ramifications of his actions – just that he’s sorry he got caught. *Cue further frustration*
I am frustrated because I did not watch Pettit apologize for himself or his actions. Instead, I watched Black community leaders apologizing for Pettit.
Black community leaders and clergy, in routine fashion, came together to cape for the indiscretions of dominant culture instead of being bold enough to hold it accountable. To see those leaders standing behind him made me sick because it was an obvious (and strategic) publicity stunt. And though the individuals behind him didn't actually speak during the conference, their silence verified their buy-in.
But why did they feel so compelled to stand behind someone who chanted his preference of seeing their sons hung from a tree as opposed to joining his fraternity? And what kind of message does it send out to OU's Black student population? And to the larger community? That one should feel inclined to forgive those who desire to kill you, because you'd want the same done for you? Frankly, I 'm beginning to think so.
That's why I pose this very simple hypothetical to those Black Oklahoman leaders that stood behind Pettit: If the shoe was on the other foot, and their son had sung a similarly racist and hate-filled chant directed towards White students, would Levi Pettit’s father be standing in solidarity with one of their Black sons?
Quite simply, in this society, even when White people are to blame for racial indiscretion, Black people are always expected to absolve the crime, its guilt, and the repercussions of the actions in a timely fashion. It is for this reason that the media was so quick to celebrate Mo’ne Davis’ willingness to forgive. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they then attempted to measure her character based on her decision to excuse racist and sexist behavior.
But contrary to popular belief, Black people are not responsible for carrying the burden of white remorse. We are no one’s moral mules and neither are we anyone’s ethical scapegoats. We are more than that. Much more. Black people are autonomous and responsible for none other than themselves and deserve to operate as such. And gratefully, people of color are starting to redefine morality on their own terms and are casting off the burden of forgiveness, one highly publicized racist incident at a time.
Tyree Boyd-Pates is a man on a mission. As a writer, he aspires to expound on Black culture from a millennial perspective and unite and empower communities through journalism and social media. A Master’s in African American Studies, he also is the creator of #TheCut, a brand new podcast! You can follow him on Twitter: @Tyreebp.