Roxannne Gay: Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof


An op-ed piece by the Haitian-American writer for The New York Time.

I DO NOT forgive Dylann Roof, a racist terrorist whose name I hate saying or knowing. I have no immediate connection to what happened in Charleston, S.C., last week beyond my humanity and my blackness, but I do not foresee ever forgiving his crimes, and I am wholly at ease with that choice.

My unwillingness to forgive this man does not give him any kind of power. I am not filled with hate for this man because he is beneath my contempt. I do not believe in the death penalty so I don’t wish to see him dead. My lack of forgiveness serves as a reminder that there are some acts that are so terrible that we should recognize them as such. We should recognize them as beyond forgiving.

I struggle with faith but I was raised Catholic. I believe God is a God of love but cannot understand how that love is not powerful enough to save us from ourselves. As a child, I learned that forgiveness requires reconciliation by way of confession and penance. We must admit our sins. We must atone for our sins. When I went to confession each week, I told the priest my childish sins — fighting with my brothers, saying a curse word, the rather minor infractions of a sheltered Nebraska girl. When I didn’t have a sin to confess, I made something up, which was also a sin. After confession, I knelt at a pew and did my penance, and thought about the wrong I had done and then I tried to be better. I’m not sure I succeeded all that often.

Ever the daydreamer, I spent most of my time in Sunday Mass lost in my imagination. The one prayer that stayed with me was “Our Father” and the line “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I always got stuck on that part. It’s a nice idea that we could forgive those who might commit the same sins we are apt to commit but surely, there must be a line. Surely there are some trespasses most of us would not commit. What then?


Forgiveness does not come easily to me. I am fine with this failing. I am particularly unwilling to forgive those who show no remorse, who don’t demonstrate any interest in reconciliation. I do not believe there has been enough time since this terrorist attack for anyone to forgive. The bodies of the dead are still being buried. We are still memorizing their names:Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson.

We are still memorizing these names but the families who loved the people who carried these names have forgiven Dylann Roof. They offered up testimony in court, less than 48 hours after the trauma of losing their loved ones in so brutal a manner. Alana Simmons, who lost her grandfather, said, “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love, and their legacies will live in love.” Nadine Collier, who lost her mother, said: “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul.”

Nine people are dead. Nine black people are dead. They were murdered in a terrorist attack.

Over the weekend, newspapers across the country shared headlines of forgiveness from the families of the nine slain. The dominant media narrative vigorously embraced that notion of forgiveness, seeming to believe that if we forgive we have somehow found a way to make sense of the incomprehensible.

The call for forgiveness is a painfully familiar refrain when black people suffer. White people embrace narratives about forgiveness so they can pretend the world is a fairer place than it actually is, and that racism is merely a vestige of a painful past instead of this indelible part of our present.

Black people forgive because we need to survive. We have to forgive time and time again while racism or white silence in the face of racism continues to thrive. We have had to forgive slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, lynching, inequity in every realm, mass incarceration, voter disenfranchisement, inadequate representation in popular culture, microaggressions and more. We forgive and forgive and forgive and those who trespass against us continue to trespass against us.

Mr. Roof’s racism was blunt and raggedly formed. It was bred by a culture in which we constantly have to shout “Black lives matter!” because there is so much evidence to the contrary. This terrorist was raised in this culture. He made racist jokes with his friends. He shared his plans with his roommate. It’s much easier to introduce forgiveness into the conversation than to sit with that reality and consider all who are complicit.

What white people are really asking for when they demand forgiveness from a traumatized community is absolution. They want absolution from the racism that infects us all even though forgiveness cannot reconcile America’s racist sins. They want absolution from their silence in the face of all manner of racism, great and small. They want to believe it is possible to heal from such profound and malingering trauma because to face the openness of the wounds racism has created in our society is too much. I, for one, am done forgiving.

For the original report go to

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