After the discovery of a medical school yearbook possibly showing Virginia Governor Ralph Northam dressed in either blackface or in a hooded Ku Klux Klan robe, the question everyone is asking is should he resign as Governor. But there is a larger and deeper question raised by the picture discovery which is, should a person who is forgiven for past racism be given redemption and not suffer eternal damnation?
As America continues to grow through the changing demographics of race currently taking place in the United States, how American society answers the question of forgiveness and redemption, will determine if the race transition will be violent or non-violent. Racism is a disease that has infected EVERYONE who lives in America, be they red, yellow, black or white!!! Thanks to Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others of the Civil Rights Movement, America has taken the necessary and for some painful steps to eradicate surface or conscious racism. Currently aside from it being the right thing to do the changing racial demographics in America, forces America to continue to take additional steps to eradicate the remaining below the surface or unconscious systemic racism that all Americans red, yellow, black and white unconsciously suffer from.
The best example of the remaining unconscious systemic racism left that all Americans suffer from is the treatment of American Black males by the Police, emphasis on Police not White Police or Black Police, because while the media tends to focus on the white cop shooting a black male, truth be told a black cop will shot a black male just as quick or quicker than a white cop will shoot a black male. American systemic racism has conditioned all of us red, yellow, black and white to unjustly fear the “violent ape-like” black male.
The reality that America has eliminated only conscious racism, unfortunately, means systemic racism does still exist as a part of American life, even though it is now mostly unconscious and not intended to be as it was prior to the Civil Rights Movement an acceptable norm of American society. It also means that since the recognition and elimination of the conscious racism is a relatively recent development in America, there are living American Whites who now live a conscious non-racist life but are guilty of committing past acts of conscious racism.
This raises the question of how those American Whites who now live a racist free life but are guilty of past acts of conscious racism should be treated, should they be granted forgiveness and redemption or eternal damnation. The first rule of determining whether one should be granted forgiveness and redemption is, each individual must be judged on a case by case basis. In other words, there is no set standard formula to judge everyone universally by, the individual and their actions or lack of actions since committing their last past conscious racist act, must be examined to determine if they merit forgiveness followed by redemption.
The main factor to consider before granting forgiveness and redemption is how one is living their life now. One living life now as a conscious non-racist, is more important than how it came to light that one once lived life in the past as a conscious racist. This fact in no way diminishes one proactively coming forward on their own with no external pressure and admitting past conscious racism. In fact, one doing so should be considered an indication that the person is now living a conscious non-racist life. But if one is living a conscious non-racist life now but their past conscious racist life is involuntarily discovered as opposed to them voluntarily revealing it, should not mean forgiveness and redemption are withheld and not granted.
Modern day American founding father Martin Luther King Jr. was clear about how we should treat those whose racial integrity is questionable, in a sermon titled “Love Your Enemies” he tells us:
“Love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption,”
Let us be practical and ask the question, how do we love our enemies? First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us.
It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression. The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and, like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the canceling of a debt. The words “I will forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done” never explain the real nature of forgiveness.
Certainly one can never forget if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Likewise, we can never say, “I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further to do with you.” Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.
We have seen the logic of Dr. King’s prescription of forgiveness followed by redemption in the successful power and race transition that occurred in South Africa. After the racist apartheid government was replaced by a democratic government controlled by the black majority citizens of South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) a court-like restorative justice body, was assembled in South Africa after the end of apartheid. Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations inflicted by the apartheid government were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence on behalf of the apartheid government who came forward and admitted their racist criminal behavior could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.
The TRC is thought to be the reason that the South Africa transition from white oppression of South African Blacks to South African Blacks democratically in control has been racially harmonious. It gave South African Blacks an opportunity to document and emotionally release their pain and inhumane treatment. It gave South African Whites an opportunity to admit to their heinous and criminal behavior with no retribution by the new South African Black controlled government. This was the ingredient that started and made the racial healing process the success that it is today in South Africa.
Forgiveness and redemption work hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other. If you have truly forgiven someone then you must grant redemption. As Dr. King said forgiveness means “that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship, it is the lifting of a burden or the cancelling of a debt” so that it can be the “catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning,” in other words so redemption can occur.
50 years of racial progress and healing is a long time, but not long enough for all the American Whites who have committed racist acts in their past to have died. This means Virginia’s Governor will not be the last American White who is presently living a conscious non-racist life. While having the skeleton of a past conscious racist life hidden away. How forgiveness and redemption is granted to people who have overcome living a past racist life will determine if we can ever create the beloved community Dr. King spoke of.
If a reformed non-racist American White with a hidden racist past has lived a non-racist life for the past 5 years and then their racist past is discovered, and as a result everything they gained during the last 5 years is taken away from them in part because they did not disclose their past before it was discovered, means their past racist violence is being met with current denial of redemption violence and not the non-violence of forgiveness thereby perpetuating more future violence.
Imagine the type of violent tension this example of retribution for past transgressions creates for other non-racist American Whites with undisclosed racist acts in their past. It creates the type of violent tension and violent fear that makes it possible for America to evolve from electing the first black president to electing the first person who ran as a white nationalist. To deny someone a position or to take something away from them based on a past transgression means, they have yet to be fully forgiven because they have yet to be redeemed.
Redeemed or redemption means no more impediments to anything based on any past transgression. It’s the question of future redemption that is fueling the current immigration crisis. American Whites fear that a new majority in America of non-white colored people will not grant them forgiveness and redemption for America’s past racist violence. Meeting the violence of past racist acts with the non-violence of forgiveness and redemption ends the cycle of violence. It creates the environment for peaceful and harmonious race relations to not only exist but to realign and rejuvenate.
American Blacks have to once again lead America as they did during the Civil Rights Movement by being strong enough, bold enough, and brave enough to meet the violence of past racist acts by current non-racist whites with the non-violence of love by turning the other cheek and offering true forgiveness and redemption.
American Whites who have committed themselves to a non-racist way of life, must never feel as they lose majority population status in America that they will suffer retribution for America’s racist past. American Blacks must demonstrate its commitment to this principle by meeting the discovery of past racism committed by reformed whites, regardless of whether or not they voluntarily disclosed the past racism or not, with the non-violence of forgiveness and redemption.
As America enters the dawn of a new population reality in order to remain the greatest nation on earth, the new colored majority cannot meet the future violence of discovery of past acts of racism with the violence of eternal damnation. The new colored majority must listen to the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. and meet the violence of past acts of racism with the non-violence of forgiveness and redemption!!!
Isaac Newton Farris Jr. is the nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as Senior Fellow at the King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially and politically active families has given him a unique perspective on current events. Drop by his website for straight talk free of one-sided political spin.
Originally published at isaacnewtonfarris.com on February 5, 2019.