I am glad to see that the House of Representatives seems to be moving in the direction to have the US government formally apologize for the tragic stain of slavery in this country. Of course, this is not without great controversy. Some people think since slavery is in the past, that no one today did anything wrong, so how can they apologize. Others are afraid that legally admitting to such a wrong will open the doors to reparations and potential lawsuits leading to such.
I think neither point matters. At the end of the day, our government, at one time, fully took part in and benefited from the enslavement of an entire ethnic group. It is arguably the worst act our country has ever committed and one that still has an impact on “race” relations to this day. We apologized for, and paid reparations for, locking up Japanese Americans in internment camps. And we have, to some degree, tried to make up for what was done to Native Americans. So I don’t see why the government shouldn’t be on record for admitting a great wrong that was committed on the backs of Black people.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am totally against reparations for the descendants of slaves. For one, I think by the time you define who should get it, which would include many “white”people because we may be surprised at how many whites have Blacks in their family tree, it would go to almost everyone in the country. And what about Mixed people, would they get partial reparations?
But the real reason I am against reparations is the fact that handing people a check won’t do much for changing their lives. If anything should be done, it should be to guarantee that the money was invested in inner-city schools, in jobs programs, in health care for Blacks and others. These efforts would be far more meaningful and far more long-lasting than handing out checks.
But regardless of this issue, acknowledging a great wrong is a basic and important step. Will such a proclamation change my life or anybody else’s? No. But what it will do is far more important. It says to me and every other American, that Africans and their descendants (of all stripes) are not crazy in thinking that slavery had a profound impact, and still does, on all of our psyches. And that alone, to me, is incredibly meaningful. And just maybe it is a step towards finally getting beyond the wrong. We even try to teach this basic principle to our children, that apologizing is important when you have done something wrong.
Shouldn’t our government be held to the same standard? No one alive today may be a slave in this country, and no American today may be a slave owner. But that does not change the fact of history and the fact that our government, from then to now, has never acknowledged that what was done was terribly wrong. Apologies do matter. Even when it is as overdue as this.