Wednesday, August 20, 2008

'We're Sorry'--Apology For Slavery: Too Little, Too Late

‘We’re sorry’— Apology for slavery: Too little, too late

By Dolores Cox
Published Aug 15, 2008 10:24 PM

This July 29 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that apologized to Black Americans for the inhumanity, injustice, cruelty and brutality of slavery and for Jim Crow segregation. The resolution was sponsored by Congressperson Steve Cohen from Tennessee. He is a white man representing a mostly Black district in Memphis.

Another Democrat, Sen. Tom Harkin from Iowa, is considering introducing a similar bill in the Senate. How long has Harkin been considering his bill? And will he go beyond just the consideration stage? Could it be related to the fact that he’s running against a Black candidate in an August primary?

Apologies made by Congress are nothing new. The federal government apologized to Japanese-Americans for confining them in concentration camps during World War II, for which they also received reparations and compensation. And the U.S. government also apologized to the people of Japan for dropping the atomic bomb on them. (Noteworthy too is that the German government gave both monetary and nonmonetary reparations to Jewish survivors, their heirs and the state of Israel for the Nazi Holocaust.)

Earlier this year, the Senate apologized to Native Americans for the genocidal atrocities committed against them. However, the damage and deplorable conditions created by those atrocities are still being felt today, especially on reservations.

A few years ago the Senate also apologized for the government’s failure to intervene and put a halt to the lynchings of approximately 4,000 African-Americans in this country. Both the North and the South were complicit in these brutal crimes.

What’s that old saying—“better late than never”? In these instances, have better-late-than-never apologies and acknowledgments of wrong doings made significant differences or improvements in the condition of the people affected by those atrocious acts, past or present? There’s a difference between apologetic words and actions that demonstrate true remorse. Another old saying goes: “Actions speak louder than words.”

Under the Clinton administration in 1993, Congressperson John Conyers of Detroit introduced a bill calling for an acknowledgment of the cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and for a federal government apology. The bill also called for a commission to examine the institution of slavery with regard to the impact on African-American descendants of the uninterrupted racial and economic discrimination emanating from it. Although Conyers’ bill didn’t specifically call for reparations, his bill never even got out of committee because it didn’t get the necessary support.

Conyers continued to introduce the bill again and again, but there continued to be denial by Congress of the U.S. Black Holocaust, including the Transatlantic Slave Trade. There was fear that acknowledgment and/or apology for the horrors of slavery would lead to a demand for reparations, for, of course, the two matters are inextricably linked. (Slave owners, however, received monetary compensation for the loss of free labor after slavery ended.)

Now in 2008 Conyers’ colleagues seem to be having an epiphany. One has to wonder why. What are the politics behind it? What is the motivating and driving force? Could Sen. Obama’s presumptive nomination and possible election this year have anything to do with it? Interesting too is the obvious omission of any mention of reparations in the symbolic apology the House just passed.

There were very interesting reactions to the House’s apology for slavery and the Jim Crow era. Some angry and hostile bigots were downright upset with the decision. One angry blogger’s comment, which was championed by quite a few folks who were in agreement, stated that the apology should have been coupled with restitution in the form of a one-way ticket back to Africa—to get rid of “them” once and for all.

Other folks mentioned that their immigrant ancestors also had “a hard time” making it in this country; that they didn’t have specific knowledge of where their great-grandparents came from either; that they have difficulty finding jobs too; and that Black people need to put that all behind them, move on and get over it!

Then there were those who commented that Black people should be grateful that “we’ve let them” have certain things, so they should stop complaining. Certain things? Is it because those white people no longer hear about wide-spread, blatant terrorism by the KKK and others of their ilk? Or about bombings of or fires set to Black churches, homes, orphanages and businesses? Is it because Black people can now sit anywhere on a bus or train or in a waiting room? That they can now enter any public library, pool, park, playground or beach? Or stay in any hotel, eat in any public restaurant, drink from any water fountain, use any restroom?

Or try on clothes in any store, go in front door entrances, walk freely on any sidewalk in town (that’s debatable)? Or go to “integrated” schools (in inner cities)? Or leave their designated ghetto and get a home mortgage (albeit subprime and foreclosed)? So what more do “those people” want, they ask? When will “they” be satisfied? After all, who the hell do “they” think “they” are anyway? Our equals?

Regrettably, some people just don’t get it. And some never will. We may have come a long way; but we sure have a much longer way to go before we shall truly overcome.
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Unknown said...

This article raises an interesting question. Does the cost of the Civil War in money, blood, and lives count at all toward the debt owed by slave holders to slaves. Further, considering that most of the population of New England abhorred slavery, and never participated in that institution, what then is their debt? This says nothing about all the immigrants that have come since, do they also owe reparations? Then we address the question of those African-American who have arrived after the Civil war, are they entitled to benefits? Last but not least, the only just way to fund reparations is to track down the descendants of slave owners and make them pay. The problem is that most of the slave owners were bankrupted by the war and there will be no funds to be had. Which innocent American has to pay for the crime of not being black?

Unknown said...

Like I said 1 free ticket back to where you came from

matt goldman md said...

Enough with the apologies for slavery and reparations. We can't control history; however, we can take control of the future. With one foot constantly stuck in the past, the other foot has a difficult time moving forward.
-Matt Goldman, MD

Anonymous said...

Seriously, I wasn't even born when slavery happened and I have never owned any slaves. The people that did are dead and the people that were slaves are dead. Learn from history and never let it happen again. Done and done.

wetherill said...

First of all, slavery was the rule of the day back then. America wasn't any worse than the rest of the world.
Second, African Blacks sold Blacks into slavery.
Whites were also indentured when they wanted to come to America and didn't have the money to get here.
It is ridiculous for Republicans to keep apologizing. Who does that except people who knew how really BAD they were. Republicans have little to apologize for - THEY didn't vote for slavery, Dems did. Republicans tried to abolish slavery. THEY didn't create the atrocious KKK that tortured and killed Blacks, Democrats did. MLK was a Republican. Abe Lincoln was too. So Republicans, don't let Democrats get you to apologize, you're only helping them perpetuate the myth that THEY are the real friends of Blacks. What they really want to do is keep them down on the plantation.

Anonymous said...

I'm a white male and I fully support slave reparations. My family owned 200 head of slaves before the Northern War of Aggression. Then, in violation of the Constitution, the Federal Gov took our legally owned property. Yeah. I want reparations for the value lost and loss of potential income over the last 150 years.

Right or wrong, at the time slavery was legal. My family bought, bred and paid taxes on our slaves. I really should be allowed to track down the descendants of our slaves and take them as my property. Sort of like Dred Scott version 2.