If You Want To End Racism, Stop Forgiving RacistsRoundup
tags: racism, Civil War, Andrew Johnson
We live in a moment of crises. Police continue to gun down and taser African-Americans. Whites have called 911 on blacks for something as routine as having too many coupons at the checkout or sitting in their own homes. The Department of Justice threw its weight behind states that have targeted black voters for disfranchisement and removed or blocked more than one million citizens from the ballot box. The Supreme Court followed up by sanctioning the massive voter purges in Ohio that violated federal law and also left in place Wisconsin’s extreme and racist partisan gerrymandering.
Meanwhile, white nationalists are proudly running for national office. Add to this President Donald Trump’s campaign of terror against asylum-seeking immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, reports of sexual abuse and torture of the children ripped away from their families and evidence that some of the records to reunite them were destroyed. No wonder so many Americans are asking, begging to know: How did we get here?
Forgiveness got us here.
Counterintuitive though it might sound, the American penchant for unconditional forgiveness is at the root of our present turmoil. We have tended to forgive those who waged the most sustained, brutal assaults in the name of white supremacy, without requiring them to repudiate their beliefs or actions in return. We have rationalized that forgiveness, that generosity, as “moving on” and as helping the nation to heal. But misusing forgiveness does neither.
Unconditional forgiveness reared up at the end of the Civil War. In 1865, President Andrew Johnson gave blanket amnesty to many of the leaders of the Confederate States of America. He did so without requiring them to offer any hint of remorse, regret or contrition for firing on Fort Sumter, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Americans and working mightily to physically rip the United States apart.
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