Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lawmakers to push for U.S. apology for slavery

By Wendy Koch, USA TODAY

Five states did something over the past 12 months that no state had done before: expressed regret or apologized for slavery.

This year, Congress, which meets in a Capitol built partly by slaves, will consider issuing its own apology.

"We've seen states step forward on this," says Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, citing the resolutions of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Alabama and New Jersey. "I'm really shocked, just shocked" that the federal government hasn't apologized. "It's time to do so."

Harkin says he and Sen. Sam Brownback R-Kan., will propose as early as March an apology not only for slavery but for subsequent "Jim Crow" laws that furthered racial segregation. So far, they have 14 Senate backers, including Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. A similar House measure introduced last year has 120 co-sponsors.

"I think 2008 will be the year," says Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. He says an apology could begin a dialogue about race that Obama could continue as the nation's first black president.

"The success of the Obama candidacy underscores the irrelevance of an apology" because it shows "enormous progress" in race relations, says Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative group that describes itself as opposed to racial preferences. "Haven't we already moved beyond it?"

Congress has apologized before, but not for slavery.

It apologized to Japanese-Americans in 1988 for holding them in camps during World War II and gave each survivor $20,000. In 1993, Congress apologized to native Hawaiians for the overthrow of their kingdom a century earlier. In 2005, the Senate apologized for not enacting anti-lynching legislation.

The Senate has no record of any prior effort to apologize for slavery. In the House of Representatives, Tony Hall, an Ohio Democrat, proposed one in 1997 and Rep. John Conyers, D- Mich., has tried since 1989 to pass a bill that would create a commission to study slavery's impact and possible remedies, including reparations and cash payments.

Apologies are controversial because they could lead to reparations.

They "carry weight" as a step toward racial healing and don't have to "open the door" to reparations, says Carol Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University.

Other proponents say an apology should lead to remedies.

"A mere apology doesn't do anything for me," says state Rep. Talibdin El-Amin, a Democrat who is lobbying for such a resolution in Missouri.

An apology is a necessary first step because it recognizes a wrongdoing, says Hilary Shelton of the NAACP.

He says it's "hollow," though, unless it leads to a remedy for African-Americans, who still suffer economically and educationally from the aftereffects of slavery and segregation.

Remedies don't have to be monetary payments but could be government programs to help the disadvantaged, Cohen says.

An apology is counterproductive, Clegg says. "It taps into white guilt and helps perpetuate social programs the civil rights establishment likes, such as racial preferences and ultimately reparations," he says.

Clegg says that an apology serves "no legitimate purpose since the villains and victims are long since deceased" and that such an action could instead be divisive and "keep racial wounds alive."

The state apologies have not given a boost to the reparations movement, says Ronald Walters, author of a new book titled The Price of Racial Reconciliation.

Last February, Virginia became the first state to issue a form of apology, expressing "profound regret," as did Maryland lawmakers a month later. The three states that followed expressed regret and apologized.

Alabama and New Jersey added language saying the apology cannot be used to sue the state.

The House proposal does not include such a disclaimer, but the Senate one does, saying its apology cannot be the basis for claims against the United States.

Harkin says his proposal does not address reparations.

"We're just apologizing," he says. "You can't undo the past, but you can recognize a wrong was done."

Source: USA Today

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, I am soooo very sorry Mr. black man that you have suffered so very horribly. Even though neither, me, my parents, my grandparents or my great grandparents had a damn thing to do with slavery, we are all soooo very, very sorry. We promise it will never, ever, ever happen again. Now, when will you all be receiving that same apology from your fellow Africans who were complicit in the slavery of their own people??? Oh yeah, soooo much easier to blame EVERYTHING on the big, bad white person.