MRBlog | Audrey DuBose and The Demand for Black Forgiveness

Audrey DuBose

By Thomas J. Whitley


We are trying to raise self-confident children for long lives, not hashtags for slaughter.

So wrote Gary Younge on the occasion of his moving back to Britain after a dozen years living in the U.S. as a writer for The Guardian. And yet here we are with #EricGarner, #TamirRice, #TrayvonMartin, #MikeBrown, and #SandraBland. Yesterday we added #SamDuBose.

Audrey DuBose stepped up to the podium at a press conference in Cincinnati yesterday to comment on the indictment of the University of Cincinnati police officer who shot her son, Sam DuBose, in the head on July 19. She quoted Psalm 93 in its entirety in her remarks. She admonished all who would listen to “bless the Lord in all that you do.” She spoke of being a servant of and a soldier for God. Her faith, one might say, was on display.

This, I suppose, is why a reporter felt that it was appropriate to ask her whether she could forgive the officer.

Reporter: “You’re obviously a person of faith. Do you see in your heart to forgive this person, this officer, whether he’s convicted or not?”

Audrey DuBose: “If he asks forgiveness oh yeah, I can forgive him. I can forgive anybody; God forgave us. But, God [pause] I [pause] God already [pause]. See, I didn’t even think nothing about him not getting convicted here. I was told that this man was released and nobody could find him, but he can’t hide from God. See, God is almighty so I wasn’t worried about that neither.”

One might be tempted to say that the scene from Charleston from just over a month ago of family members of those killed by the shooter at Mother Emmanuel offering their forgiveness of the shooter prompted this question. But to see that scene as the impetus for the question yesterday ignores the centuries-long demands from white culture that black people forgive white people for beating them, for abusing them, for murdering them. This is, at least partially, to assuage guilt, but the demand for immediate black forgiveness is not simply about assuaging white guilt; it is about maintaining white supremacy.

The point that white culture makes when it demands an explanation from black community leaders for black crime while never thinking to ask the same of white community leaders for white crime is that black people must prove to us that they do not deserve to die. Twice as good is only the tip of the iceberg.

Being devout people of faith, it seems, is one means of proving a black person’s worth that white culture has accepted. The Charleston 9 fit the bill. Not only were they people of faith, they were killed exercising their faith. And their families offered even more evidence that they were “good” black people by offering immediate forgiveness of the shooter.

The Charleston 9 and Audrey DuBose can offer their forgiveness and white culture can sit back and admire them. This, it seems, is the only way that white culture can admire black people — when they are passively forgiving those who have killed them. Black anger is unacceptable no matter how justified we think such anger might be were the rolls reversed — unless, of course, this anger and violence is directed at other black bodies.

I am not saying anything new here. We just had a thorough conversation about this a month ago in the wake of the Charleston shooting. Neither is this an attempt to diminish what the family members of those killed in Charleston and Audrey DuBose did, nor is this an attempt to “explain away” black forgiveness. I know that the black Christian community varies in how it views forgiveness of this kind (see here and here, for instance). But if we should not talk of demanding black forgiveness in the wake of the Charleston shooting because the family members offered it of their own accord, and thereby ignore black agency as some have said, then we can certainly talk of it here.

No, the reporter did not demand that Audrey DuBose forgive her son’s killer. But really, what choice did his question leave? She was quick to oblige, in what I believe was an honest answer stemming from her personal theology. But there is a substance to her pauses and half words that she utters that we must not miss. Just like Second Temple Jewish apocalypticism thousands of years before her, Audrey DuBose did not expect justice on this earth. She believes that justice will come from God in the age to come. Again, what choice does she have? If justice is going to come, it must come in some future age that is categorically different from our present age. For our present age will have nothing to do with justice.