The eighteenth-century English poet, Alexander Pope, said: “to err is human, to forgive is divine.” It seems Black America has been seeking divinity for centuries. From the earliest days I can remember, my grandmother and the ‘saints’ in the Pentecostal church I grew up in taught us the importance of forgiveness. One of the most emphasized verses in the venerated Lord’s prayer was, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). We were taught that it is our Christian duty to forgive people, regardless of how they have wronged us. After all, Jesus forgave those who murdered Him. Thus, we’re supposed to love and forgive the most vile, racist white person because “they know not what they do.” Life has taught me that they know exactly what they’re doing.
As a minister, I believe in biblical teachings regarding forgiveness, however, I also believe they have been misunderstood and taught in a manner that makes Black folks believe that unless we immediately forgive those who have invested in our terror, murder, and dehumanization, we risk becoming the same heartless, immoral creatures they are. There is a need to comprehend and rationalize trauma before we can jump knee deep into forgiveness, which psychologists say is a five-step process. One important step in that process, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Roya R. Rad, is to “let the feeling be felt.” In other words, feelings attached to the damaging behavior must be brought to the surface and processed. This includes dealing with anger, grief, anxiety, frustration, and trauma. Remember, this is only step two.