Thoughts on performative forgiveness/apologies and reconciliation in the midst of the Joseph Boyden Debacle

In the light of the Boyden’s re-emergence, I’ve been thinking a lot about apologies, forgiveness and reconciliation more broadly, and it’s been…triggering.
First some basics. Definitions for forgiveness, apologies, atonement, and reconciliation.
Forgiveness: voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offence, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well (Wikipedia).
Apology: expression of remorse or personal regret felt after committing a shameful, violent or hurtful act
Notice that these two things are mutually exclusive and does not require reciprocity. A person can forgive a person without apologies. A person can apologize without receiving forgiveness. Even when it happens in a reciprocal context, it cannot be forced, and certainly doesn’t mean reconciliation, which is the restoration of a relationship to an equitable state for all parties.
Forgiveness or even reconciliation can be encouraged with acts of atonement: actions taken to correct previous wrongdoing.
Now that we have definitions, I’ll preface this by saying I’m not someone who has a great record when it comes to forgiveness. What do I mean by this? I’m unlikely to forgive anyone directly without an apology and in some cases, without atonement/reparations. My version of “forgiveness” will be more like resignation/acceptance: no longer having the offence bother me and moving beyond it. In order for real forgiveness or reconciliation to happen, I demand atonement/reparations.
I guess that makes me sound like a grudge keeper. Not exactly. I can forgive a person but still not talk to them and still avoid them. I’m not out to get them, but I know that the forgiveness is for “me” and it doesn’t have to mean that I must actively wish them well. The reason I do this is because of self-preservation. I don’t want to forgive someone to have them hurt me again. So my version of holding onto a grudge is just that: an act of self-preservation rather than revenge or ostracism.
My issue with forgiveness is that it doesn’t seem to be much to concerned with restorative justice. So when I feel people are pushed to forgive in a public manner, it’s much like making sure restorative justice is avoided for perpetrators.
So moving along, I think the context of reconciliation here in Canada, far too many people think apologies are equivalent to reparations, and thus reconciliation is warranted. Nah.
People suspect performative apologies for a reason (*cough* Trudeau *cough* Harper). They make the perpetrator look virtuous without accountability through reparations. And the victim, having been pressured to “forgive” in a public manner draws ire as someone who is a grudge keeper. And so this leads to many acts of premature forgiveness, when the victim feels unready but needs to do it anyway to save face. This “forgiveness” is often conflated with reconciliation and acceptance of the apology as atonement. So it really kind of lets the perpetrator off the hook, without consideration of the needs and desires for reparation of the victim. Victim has a right to ask for reparations whether or not reconciliation is eventually achieved. I think too often, there’s onus on victims to let it go for the sake of diffusing any tension or awkwardness.
Grudge keepers get a bad rap, at the expense of their own well-being and for the benefit of the status quo not having to change.
People who think the whole Boyden thing is a “witch hunt”, I don’t think they give shits about justice. I have nothing against them but I would not trust them with my house keys.
As a female-presenting person of colour, I know how much we are pressured to diffuse tensions by letting things go at our own expense. So go ahead see me as a grudge-holding bitch or whatever, but I’m going to just self-preserve like a boss and others can steer clear of me.
This isn’t some person’s feelings at risk here. It’s people’s histories and survival. Pretty sure Boyden can continue his lifestyle without ever being accepted as Indigenous because of white supremacy. But letting him just take that identity or other marginalized identities for profit is a violent act in itself with serious repercussions on the communities. So, when marginalized people seem “difficult” or like they “can’t get over it”, they’re really giving you feedback to get your act together. They are not being difficult just out of vengefulness, but in an effort to make a more equitable society.
Act accordingly.