Not Our Job: Grappling With the Struggle of Being Black and Compassionate
October 24, 2019
On September 6, 2018, Amber Guyger entered the home of Botham Jean, mistaking it for her apartment, and fatally shot him. Both Guyger and Jean lived in the same apartment building; she lived on the third floor and he lived directly above her. The details of the case are tricky but please feel free to read more about it here. After hearing the case, the jury found Guyger guilty of murder and sentenced her to 10 years in prison. While there are mixed reactions to the sentence, I want to bring our attention to a few events that happened in the courtroom during and after the trial.
Cathy Odhiambo, Guyger’s Black coworker and friend, took the stand in defense of Guyger and spoke to her character. This felt very performative. Was there not anyone else who knew her work ethic and personality, and could speak in defense of her? The Black bailiff comforted and fixed Guyger’s hair while Guyger cried after hearing the verdict. That was extremely difficult to watch. Judge Tammy left her stand to hug Guyger after the trial. That was outright unprofessional. Finally, Brandt Jean, the brother of Botham, said to Guyger, “I don’t even want you to go to jail … I love you as a person, I don’t wish anything bad for you,” then proceeded to hug her.
There was a lot of outrage with what was displayed in the courtroom and I came across a tweet that said, “If you think this is crazy, remember the cross.” As a person of faith, I agree that we should live out Jesus’s teaching to love our neighbor, however I am weary that this message is being targeted solely to Black people.
Black people should not be expected, or forced, to invoke any form labor that makes their oppressor look good. Odhiambo should not have to perform the physical labor of taking the stand in defense of Guyger. Brandt, the bailiff, and Judge Tammy should not have to perform the emotional labor of consoling her. I believe that had the roles been reversed, neither Guyger, nor the white community, would be as compassionate. It is not required for Black people to play the role of Jesus, take up the cross, and forgive their oppressors for oppressing them. I do not want people to feel compelled by any means, whether it be family, friends, or even their faith, to perform an act that has not proven to be beneficial to them in that instant. We mustn’t use the teachings as a way to be complacent and too forgiving for our own good. As Zora Neale Hurston once said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”