Writer Roxane Gay: Why I Can't Forgive Dylann Roof : Code Switch Forgiveness has been a major theme in cultural discussions surrounding the Charleston church shooting. But writer Roxane Gay says she can't forgive the alleged gunman.
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Writer Roxane Gay: Why I Can't Forgive Dylann Roof

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Writer Roxane Gay: Why I Can't Forgive Dylann Roof

Writer Roxane Gay: Why I Can't Forgive Dylann Roof

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Now for some family members of those killed, healing has involved forgiveness. Nadine Collier lost her mother in the massacre at Emanuel AME Church. Collier spoke last week at a bond hearing for the alleged killer Dylann Roof.


NADINE COLLIER: You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but God forgives you, and I forgive you.

GREENE: Many were quick to praise Collier and other victims' families for their compassion. But the writer Roxane Gay recently wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times titled "Why I Can't Forgive Dylann Roof."

ROXANE GAY: I really do believe there are some crimes that are beyond forgiveness. And I was stunned at how quickly the media began packaging a narrative about forgiveness. And I greatly admire the families who stood in court and gave testimony and offered their forgiveness, and I respect that. And this is not to criticize them or take away from them. It's just in general, beyond them, for those of us who are not directly connected. I refuse to forgive this young man for what he did. He was calculated and brutal, and I think his crime is beyond forgiveness.

GREENE: You bring up the families of the people who were killed. And certainly one of the reasons that the story became about forgiveness was their decision to forgive Dylann Roof. And if that becomes the story, what's wrong with that in your mind?

GAY: I think that can be their story, but I don't think it needs to be the entire story about how we as a culture respond to this act of terrorism. And you'll notice that nobody was talking about forgiving Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after the Boston bombings, and they certainly weren't doing that two days after. I think it's something that we see time and time again when it comes to issues of race and racism. Black people are asked to let it go because it's in the past. But clearly, it's not in the past. It's very much in our present, and we have to reconcile that.

GREENE: You suggested that if there is an expectation of forgiveness in a massacre like this in Charleston, it's driven by white privilege in some way. Can you explain that?

GAY: In the bail bond hearing, the judge was talking about how there are two sets of victims - the families of the nine slain and then Dylann Roof's family. And I was stunned because he spent more time talking about Roof's family and what they must be going through. And that really, for me, exemplified the power of whiteness. And we've also seen a lot of this expectation that as black people, OK, we forgive this so that we can move on so that we can heal. But I don't think that's it's our job to forgive anymore. I think that it's time for reconciliation on the part of people who enable this kind of racism.

GREENE: So if people are listening to you and agreeing with you and saying, you know what? I don't feel like I can forgive this man, what's the alternative?

GAY: Well, for me, the alternative is to hopefully see that he is put in prison for the rest of his life, but I don't plan on spending a second more thinking about him. I plan on learning more about the people he killed. I'm not going to dwell on this young man. I don't harbor sort of dark feelings toward him. I almost pity him because, you know, his racism isn't even interesting. It's just blunt and sad.

GREENE: So you seem to agree with some others who have suggested that forgiving, you know, an act like that carried out by Dylann Roof sort of amounts to a pass, and that's not something that you find as productive at all.

GAY: I don't find that productive. I don't think that it's something that needs to be forgiven. And generally, forgiveness - someone has to be sorry for what they did. He's not sorry, as far as we know. I just think forgiveness should not even be part of the conversation, except for the family. The family is entitled to do what they want to do, and I respect that. But for the broader cultural conversation, I think we need to be focusing on how do we prevent this from happening again? And part of that is gun control and part of that is having a real reckoning about race.

GREENE: And, Roxane, you grew up Catholic and have talked about being in Sunday mass and thinking about "The Lord's Prayer" - forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Your emotions today don't seem to be respecting the message from "The Lord's Prayer." Talk to me about that.

GAY: I think I'm well in line with "The Lord's Prayer" because there are some trespasses that most of us would not commit. I am entirely confident in saying that I will never become a mass murderer, and so I don't feel obligated to forgive mass murderers in return.

GREENE: Roxane Gay is an author and opinion writer and a frequent guest on this program. Roxane, thanks so much for talking to us. We always appreciate your time.

GAY: Thank you.

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