Five years ago, on Sept. 6, 2018, Dallas police officer Amber Guyger murdered 26-year-old accountant Botham Jean, a Black man. When a guilty verdict was finally reached in the case, his brother, then 18-year-old Brandt Jean, did the unthinkable: He asked the judge if he could hug his brother’s killer. As Jean held Guyger, he said he loved her and wished no harm, sharing that his brother would have wanted her to give herself to Christ.
Allison Jean, the mother of Brandt and Botham, interviewed with CBS and stated that the hug was a gesture to “cleanse [Brandt’s] heart towards Amber” before adding, “I do not want it to be misconstrued as a complete forgiveness of everybody.” Despite her comments, the media ate it up—some calling Jean a saint. Guyer was forgiven for the unforgivable, and a message of “hope” spread across platforms. If Brandt—a Black man whose Black brother was murdered by a white cop—could find a way to forgive, why can’t we all just learn to love one another? This would be a fair question if it were genuinely asked of all of us, but whenever this sentiment of love and togetherness is tossed around, it is almost always at the expense of Black people’s outrage and grief.
Many Black Christians have been taught that saintliness will save them. Through enslavement, Black people have been indoctrinated into a Christ-like culture of peace and loyalty. Christianity was not only used as a tyrannical tool to justify colonization, but American and European oppressors eventually introduced Slave Bibles—heavily edited versions of the Bible that redacted significant portions of the Old and New Testaments, removing notions of rebellion to instill obedience in the enslaved. Centuries later, Black people, especially Black Christians, continued aligning themselves with white Christian neighbors’ puritanical standards, believing that the only protector is a god who let us be enslaved and tortured, watching our lives be prematurely taken by another one of “His” disciples.
We allow this violence through public acts of forgiveness as victims of the system. We play nice with our oppressors to prove ourselves holy and disprove that we are as vicious and uncivilized as they are. Our god-like strength to endure brutality “appropriately” keeps us orderly and predictable for those who seek to oppress us. This extends into projections of “Black excellence” and respectability politics, where Black people often wrestle with internalized racism by upholding standards of beauty, performance, and presentation that appease white supremacy.
Unfortunately, the moral high ground we seek simply doesn’t exist. Believing survival depends on better attitudes toward victimhood is another manipulation of white supremacy. When we pass around forgiveness through public declaration and gestures, we offer white violence an “out.” It is not compassion that compels us to abandon our own humanity to recognize the humanity of our oppressors; it’s compliance. Fearing our anger weakens our morale and denounces an invaluable resource for us. Black rage is exactly what our oppressors fear most—which is why they work so hard to dismantle and demonize our just anger at every turn.
The events of 2020 served as a stark reminder of this reality. As we protested the police-sanctioned killings of Black individuals, with George Floyd’s murder as a catalyst for unprecedented unrest, the state responded with brutal suppression and continues to do so with escalations like Atlanta’s Cop City. Capitalism seized on performative progress, with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and empty brand statements serving as cover for maintaining the status quo. Viral black squares and BLM in bios became a part of persuasive marketing tactics used to stifle our righteous anger.
And yet, this summer, we find ourselves amid worker uprisings, with Black and brown workers at the forefront demanding fair wages to keep up with the cost of inflation. Poverty continues to surge, and eviction disproportionately impacts Black women and mothers. With these issues ignored until the next election cycle, how can we not be angry? How can we not carry our rage when perpetually threatened by violence, whether from a barrel, a paycheck, or an eviction notice?
Audre Lorde’s words in “The Uses of Anger” remind us that anger is not hatred but a catalyst for change. When we express our anger in response to injustice, we are not consumed by hatred—a desire for transformation fuels us.
Anger is a reaction to what has transpired, an energy source for meaningful action. Hatred, on the other hand, is a willful rejection of empathy and care. It is a corrosive response to what merely exists. When marginalized people, especially Black people, express their anger or any emotion that doesn’t align with joyful obedience, they are labeled unloving and unlovable. It’s a convenient excuse to strip us of our humanity and justify further mistreatment.
Victims of white violence are burdened with an inhuman expectation: to remain calm, level-headed, and even loving toward their aggressors. They are expected to guide their oppressors to a place of comfort and peace, often culminating in both parties sharing blame or apologizing for their roles in the conflict.
This idealism is vividly reflected in the “Magical Negro” trope, a recurring theme in film and television. The Magical Negro exists to aid the white protagonist in navigating life’s challenges, including conflicts involving the Magical Negro themselves. This character offers unwavering love and support to the white protagonist, often forgiving without expecting accountability or care in return.
What’s made to seem like a mutually beneficial relationship is another form of submission to white comfort. It’s reminiscent of white Christianity’s relationship to God. Two things are certain in their book: God is full of love, and God is full of rage. He flooded the world because He could not stand what humanity had done to His creation. It was His upset that sent Eve from Eden for falling for temptation.
God’s anger is visceral, and His love is conditionally attached. Whiteness replicates God’s conditional love under white supremacy, superimposing a white face on an all-powerful figure to feel emboldened. Whiteness then holds the same standard for our regard. Just as God expects us to kneel before Him to inquire about all things, including our suffering, whiteness demands the same reverence when expressing our anger.
Trying not to be angry in the face of constant dehumanization only robotizes us. What goes unexpressed doesn’t dissipate with time; it pivots. As we intellectualize and swallow our anger whole, the trauma of our experiences stores itself in our bodies. The rage and grief accumulate into stones that weigh us down, tiring our minds and bodies.
The only way to lighten up is to release the performance of “niceness.” To be considered, we must share what we feel and experience. Marginalized people have the responsibility and right to decolonize docility. Holding onto our anger with the same fervent hunger for freedom isn’t meant to keep us safe from harm but to ensure we don’t go quietly, gently, or “nicely.”