Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Apologizing for the Past

By Alan Caruba

I read and re-read the news report that on Tuesday the U.S. House of Representatives had passed a resolution described as “the federal government’s first formal apology for the ‘fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity’ of slavery and the legal segregation of African-Americans.”

Apparently the reporter was unaware of two key Amendments to the U.S. Constitution or the Civil Rights Act.

The resolution passed with a voice vote. It had been offered by Rep. Steve Cohen, a white man in what is described as a Memphis voting district with a large black population. Forgive me for being cynical, but I’m thinking this is going to be the central theme of his campaign for re-election.

Rep. Cohen hailed the vote as “legislation (that) can open the dialogue on race and equality for all,” To which I ask, how much dialogue is needed, given the fact that I lived through the Civil Rights movement, heard Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. speak and met with him afterward, and recall that then-President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964.

That’s 44 years since the law was signed and you can add in a dozen or more years that led up to it. That’s a whole heap of dialogue. Back then you could use terms like Negro or Black, but now black Americans are all semi-officially Afro-Americans. Who do people think caught and sold their fellow black citizens of Africa to the white slave traders back in the days when there was good money to be made?

It wasn’t that long ago that one tribe in Rwanda hacked to death thousands of people from another tribe. It was 1994 and the crime was genocide. Such acts are not particular to either white, black or any other people. They are just crimes that humans perpetrate for all manner of really bad reasons and are thus deemed crimes against humanity.

I am not making any excuses for slavery in America. Slavery then and slavery now is despicable, but I must confess I asked myself why the U.S. House of Representatives is apologizing now? What is so significant about 2008 that makes this resolution necessary?

Rep. Cohen said, “Apologies are not empty gestures, but are a necessary first step towards any sort of reconciliation between people.” I do not need reconciliation. I value my white, black, Asian, and Latino friends, but I value them as individuals, not as members of racial or any other group. Most of all, I do not need empty gestures.

I happen to believe “I’m sorry” and “I apologize” are two powerful expressions of good will and remorse, but I think they should be expressed between individuals. I cannot imagine how the House of Representatives thought it was speaking for me or presumably for all white Americans.

Talk about presumptuous! Here’s the House speaking on behalf of a generation, some of whom worked very hard to bring about the end of segregation despite or because they were white and speaking for subsequent generations, all of whom have to read about segregation in history books.

I remember the segregated South because I lived there for a spell. It was not a nice place. Some of those that opposed the end of segregation used bombs and other violent means to express themselves, but most Southerners knew that blacks were being wronged in so many fundamental ways, that the world was changing, and they had to change with it.

There are a lot of Americans, mostly liberals, who can only see what was wrong about American history. Morally it was wrong to import slaves and work them to death on plantations. Morally it was wrong to chase the native-Americans from their lands. Morally it was wrong to deprive Japanese-Americans of their rights and property during World War II. These things occurred in different eras and virtually everyone involved are dead.

Why the present generation of Americans has to apologize for the actions of previous generations escapes my understanding.

But, then, I am not running for re-election in a Memphis, Tennessee district or any other district where, thanks to the 15th and 24th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Afro-Americans can vote.

1 comment:

Alan Caruba said...
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