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The year is 2019. A known criminal who has seen their day in court is thrust in the midst of a societal backlash on if their punishment is fair and just. There are some who say the guilt and tarnished legacy is enough, whereas others believe that there should be a harsher sentence for what this person did. I’m of course speaking about former Ohio cheerleader, Brooke Skylar Richardson who is alleged to have given birth to a baby, buried it in her backyard, and later set it on fire all so her reputation wouldn’t be ruined. She is found not guilty on the sentences of murder and manslaughter. Her reputation remains intact for those who care. She’ll probably be able to move on, find a decent job, a nice husband. After all, she’s only 20, we wouldn’t want her whole life ruined over one drawn out constant series of mistakes. She’s still young and figuring it out.

We’ve seen it time and time again. Asia Argento claiming she didn’t sleep with an underaged boy despite photo evidence. Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof being given Burger King by the police officers following his mass murder. Amber Guyver, Paula Poundstone, Laura Bush, Daniel Pantaleo, Woody Allen- the list goes on and on. White America has no problem with leniency to Caucasians for crimes, be they alleged or true. So why does they same level of
“aww, gee” compassion not extend to Black men?

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick was convicted of dog fighting in 2007. He served 21 months in prison, went bankrupt, and lost all of his endorsement deals. Since his release, he’s lobbied against dog fighting and animal cruelty, he’s donated to various charities, and spent a lot of his time speaking out against the ills of his past actions and what can be done to stop it from continuing. What people want, right? A story of justice, remorse, and attempting to right his wrongs. Vick was named an honorary Pro Bowl captain for the upcoming game and hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition to have him removed due to his prior conviction. Now, Michael Vick isn’t owed forgiveness. What happened was wrong. But what he is owed is the ability to move on from his past- something which a lot of white America doesn’t allow of so many Black men. It’s why prison reform is the way it is. It’s a cyclical conditioning of believing if a Black male does something bad at any point in their life, there is no way for them to rectify the damage done. That isn’t to call all white people racist for being against Vick or other accused Black men but it does come from an indoctrinated belief that Black people are to show more fragility in the aftermath of our self-destruction.

Black folks are allowed limited resources in the genial “safe space” of white life. It’s the you can look but you can’t touch. The don’t get too familiar. I remember in my attendance of a majority white school having to get a talk of, “you have to remember what you look like when you’re there.” A certain familiarity isn’t designated to Black men because of the stereotypes that have been ingrained in white society of “thug”, “scary”, “shifty”, “predator”, “overly sexual”, “aggressive”, and all of the other fun words that come with being born of a darker complexion. It’s the Birth of a Nation phenomenon in hand-me-down form. White America is given the ability to say, “we’re not racist because we ALLOWED these Black people into our spaces- to play football, to sing, to dance, to perform- THEY ruined the trust.”

But when you create a society that doesn’t grant redemption, you only mask your own lack of growth. Far too often, white people’s crusade to destroy a villain comes at the price of creating one. Reasoning, understanding, empathy, and learning are key to forgiveness, especially while America continues to grip its awkward relationship with race. So think of forgiveness this way- you’re able to do it with your uncle that says homophobic and racist things every Thanksgiving. You’re able to do it with the boyfriend who holds your head under the sheets and farts. You’re able to do it when a girl buries a baby alive or a woman comes into the home of a man and shoots him dead. Figure out what internally is causing you to hold back on allowing Black men to grow from their mistakes, not be caught up in their past, and live their lives. Consider what your true intent is. People who’ve lived through shame, remorse, guilt, pain, and punishment. It weighs heavy as is, so what is truly your brand of justice or reform if its basking in holding someone to a lower standard of their past. You get your “boys will be boys”, your “we were young”, your “she’s a good kid”, so give us a second chance at just living. Allow us the room for error and the room for growth and knowledge of that error. Our Chris Browns. Our Kevin Harts. Our Michael Vicks. Learn to love them for their attempts to clean up as much as you hate them for their fuck ups. Because without that, they stay in the mindzone of their mistakes and are ruled to repeat it like so many incarcerated Black men. Our justice system is heavily flawed, but so is our social system.

And if in your heart of caucastic hearts, you find yourself unable to, I forgive you for your past that brought you to this place of your current struggle. You’re still young and figuring it out.

Follow Martin Mandela Morrow on Twitter and Instagram at @martinMmorrow.