My fellow European-Americans:
How long are we willing to tolerate a racially fractured America? How
long are we willing to ignore this festering sore of unhealed
Black/White relations that is at the root of every Black social problem
in America, including: exorbitant incarceration rates,
disproportionate incidences of school suspensions and dropping out,
male abandonment of children, and even lower life expectancy.
Surely, 400 years is long enough for Whites in America to have put off
doing the right thing - doing the one simple, cost-free act that would
heal this racial divide, and immediately achieve what countless
government programs and trillions of dollars of federal subsidies have
not accomplished and never will.
I'm referring to the need for all White Americans to insist that
President Bush and Congress do what has NEVER been done in the history
of the United States: issue an immediate, formal apology for
legalizing the enslavement of African immigrants for almost two
centuries. Why should this task be the sole responsibility of White
Americans? We broke it (the assimilation process for African American
immigrants) ; and we need to fix it.
A formal apology has never been done, you know. Not by the Great
Emancipator Abraham Lincoln. Not by the so-called "First Black
President" Bill Clinton. Not by the famously fervent Christian Jimmy
Carter. And it's hard to figure out why. Every other racial minority
who was seriously wronged, with official approval of the federal
government , has gotten both apologies and reparations, including
Native Americans and most recently, the Japanese Nisei.
There are three typical arguments that White people usually present in
opposition to an official apology for slavery by Congress and the
1) "The issue is too far in the past. Slavery happened 400 years
ago...so Blacks need to get over it and move on."
Rebuttal: Actually, government laws that discriminated against Blacks
were finally stricken down barely 40 years ago in some states. That
means that this practice didn't END 400 years ago, but rather, was
allowed to CONTINUE for that long.
2) "Why a special apology to Blacks? Every group of immigrants to
America had their rough times. You don't see the Irish, Germans,
Italians, etc. asking for formal apologies."
Rebuttal: The suffering inflicted on millions of Black slaves over
several centuries, far exceeds the sum total of suffering inflicted on
every other American immigrant group combined. No other group of
pilgrims had to endure: having their names taken, their families sold
off, their women raped, and their men killed for insubordination, with
ALL of this done under the auspices of federal law.
3) "A formal apology would accomplish nothing. It's just words."
Rebuttal: To understand how untrue this argument is, use the analogy
of a marriage - your marriage perhaps. You find out that your partner
has been unfaithful. Betrayed and angry, you turn to the transgressor
to see how they plan to correct this horrible abuse of trust. Your
unfaithful spouse says, "This was an unfortunate incident; let me take
you out to dinner." But you don't feel ready yet. "I know what will
make you feel better;" he or she offers next," let's go on a vacation."
When that still doesn't sit well with you, your cheating partner offers
a long list of other "gifts" that he or she thinks will fix the
relationship: affirmative action for education and employment,
subsidized housing, even free cheese! But as the wronged party, none
of these things address the real issue - the real source of your pain,
do they? So you say to your previously-trusted spouse, "Can't we just
talk about what's caused these uneasy feelings between us? All I
really want is to hear you admit you were wrong -and that you're
genuinely sorry for the pain it caused." But your unfaithful partner
responds irritably, "What's done is done. An apology won't change
what I did; everybody makes mistakes. I'm not talking about this any
more, so stop complaining. I just don't understand why we can't be
friendly with each other."
In the face of such pridefulness and denial, no one would give very
good odds for such a relationship succeeding, would they? And no
thinking person should give very good odds to the relationship between
Black and White America being healed until a formal apology is made
by Congress and the President.
A heartfelt apology for a grievous wrongdoing is not "just words",
any more than Alfred Nobel's invention was "just dynamite". The course
of human history has been written with many small words like "love",
"family", "trust", "forgiveness", and "I'm sorry". It's well past
time for these powerful and precious words to add a new chapter to our
national history. Now is the time for the White descendants of slave
owners to demand a Federal apology to the Black descendants of African
slaves. Then - and not until then: the air can clear, the field can
level, and we can start working together to rebuild mutual trust,
respect, and a brighter future for all of us.