Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
I once believed that a core American value was a belief in second chances. I thought everyone understood and appreciated that all people make mistakes and that all are deserving of second chances. Today, I realize that second chances are given discriminately. If one is a white male or a person of privilege, there is a higher likelihood that person will be granted a do-over, a chance to start again. But if one is Black and female, or has low wealth, second chances are more of an illusion than a reality.
Everyone should have the benefit of starting over, recreating themselves or making amends for mistakes. Too often though, the world coalesces around some to ensure a second chance, but not others.
After country singer Morgan Wallen was caught on camera using the n-word, a local branch of the NAACP in Tennessee offered to sit down with him to help him understand how harmful the word is. They offered dialogue even though many Black people understand that racial terror was often accompanied by the use of the n-word. Still, these Black NAACP leaders offered something of grace instead of judgment. Many in the media were all too willing to report on both the offer and the idea that a second chance was warranted.
When Justin Rohrwasser was drafted by the NFL, he was picked despite his connection to a far-right paramilitary group, which was allegedly formed in response to the election of President Obama, America’s first Black commander-in-chief. His views on race didn’t matter. His affiliation to whiteness did. Rohrwasser is not alone. The Guardian noted a litany of examples of white NFL players receiving opportunities or landing second chances after documented instances of racial bias.
Even in politics — in fact, especially in politics — white men have been the recipients of countless second chances. Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford had an extramarital affair, stepped down from the Republican Governors Association, but then went on to complete his second term. He even ran for Congress and was elected, ultimately serving for six years. For white men, Sanford is the norm, not the exception. What is more, most people who have worked in politics for any length of time can relate to the fact that most of the people who have been able to bounce back after a public failure have been white and male.
To be clear, I do not begrudge those who have had the opportunity for a fresh start. I just wish the grace they received was extended all. But like everything else in society, the notion of second chances is influenced by a person’s race, gender, or socioeconomic status. I am especially struck by the unwillingness to grant second chances to Black women.
Shania Bell was arrested for leaving her children in a hotel room while she went across the street to earn money to take care of them. She received handcuffs instead of supportive services.
And Kelley Williams-Bolar was sent to jail in 2011 after sending her daughters to the school district in her father’s neighborhood rather than the one they lived in. She wanted her daughters to have a better opportunity and the school district and court system took her out of the home she was making for her children and gave her a criminal record, probation and a mandate for community service. She was treated like a common criminal for seeking a quality education for her children.
In 2011, Tanya McDowell, who was homeless at the time, was arrested and charged with first-degree larceny for enrolling her son in a school in a neighboring community. She was sentenced to five years in prison, and a 12-year suspension for a crime of survival (selling narcotics). She was also given five years of probation.
Recently, a Chicago public school called children services on a fellow teacher, JaNay Dodson, for being seven minutes late to pick up her son from school. Ms. Dodson, who is Black, had been a Chicago public school teacher for 19 years. For being late to pick up her child, the caseworker made Dodson provide a list of references to verify that she was a good mother. What is particularly harrowing about this example is that most Black mothers understand that we are vulnerable to being separated from our children by children’s services, due to the discretion of the work and cultural bias.
While Black working women tend to face harsh penalties for mistakes, Black women, in general, are not always granted the second chances that their white male counterparts receive. For instance, Teen Vogue recently parted ways with journalist Alexi McCammond after uncovering racist tweets posted when she was 17 years old. Prior to accepting an editor-in-chief job at Teen Vogue, McCammond was a breakout reporter for Axios. She covered President Trump’s White House and served as a political commentator for several first-rate media outlets. She accomplished in 27 years what many will never achieve in their lifetime. It was reasonable then that she was tapped to be the editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. But after colleagues got wind of racially biased comments, she was let go. There was no offer of restorative justice or an opportunity to make amends.
I must note that I do not condone nor appreciate McCammond’s hurtful comments. All of us are God’s creation, and it is cruel to make fun of people, let alone for things for which they have no control. Despite this, I still believe in the possibility of redemption and the importance of second chances.
Instead, in McCammond’s case, there appeared to be a convergence of age, race and gender. All three likely contributed to her ouster. When most people think of ageism, they may envision older workers. But some people resent the idea of reporting to someone younger than them. When one factors in the intersecting oppressions (of race and gender), one may glimpse how she may have been vulnerable for termination, her harmful comments notwithstanding.
Ironically, Christine Davitt, one of the Teen Vogue employees who advocated for McCammond’s ouster has herself used racial slurs. In fact, when challenged on her use of the n-word, Davitt switched her Twitter account to private. She championed the firing of a Black woman over racially biased tweets without being accountable for her own record of racist tweets. It should go without saying that I am deeply curious whether Davitt will get the second chance that was never extended to McCammond.
Sadly, Black women are often the recipients of the nation’s outrage. The rage that should be directed to others is often stored up and laid at our feet. The grace that should be readily applied based on our membership to the human race is often withheld.
It is popular to say #TrustBlackWomen. But one should not say trust Black women and then not grant second, third or even fourth chances for the said group when they make a mistake. You cannot claim to love Black women and not create space for them to learn, grow and make amends for human errors. Everyone deserves a path to redemption, and that includes Black women.