Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What Good is an Apology?

Acknowledging the "injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow," on Tuesday July 29th, The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution apologizing to African-Americans for slavery and the era of Jim Crow.
The nonbinding, voice-vote resolution was introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen, a white representative who represents a majority black district in Memphis, Tennessee.

As the resolution signifies, this is the first time a branch of the federal government has apologized for slavery and injustice toward African Americans, and as a result, it is a significant action.

What I found most compelling about the resolution is that it states, "the vestiges of Jim Crow continue to this day." Recognizing that slavery’s shadow still is alive and well in American culture and society today is a key argument of proponents of affirmative action.

African Americans can now join the ranks of Native Americans, Japanese Americans and native Hawaiians, who have all received some form of an apology from the federal government in the past for injustices.

The problem with a non-binding resolution whose purpose is to apologize for past injustices toward African Americans is that it does little to change the substantive quality of life of African Americans in the present and does not in any way address the vestiges of slavery of Jim Crow that the resolution itself acknowledges – but in word only. African Americans’ economic circumstances have gone unchanged; our children, nieces, nephews, and cousins are not in better schools, and many of our neighborhoods are still in disarray.

The resolution does not address the controversial issue of reparations, either.

The timing of the resolution is also odd. Why now – 389 years after approximately 20 blacks from a Dutch slaver were purchased as indentured workers for the then-English settlement of Jamestown, VA?

Simply put, this is purely symbolic. Yet, the work of the average slave was more than substantive. Our ancestors deserve a substantive apologetic action. If we are seriously interested in honoring their forced service to this country and the economy of the south, it is only fair.

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