U.S. Apology For Slavery: Apparently Not Front-Page News
The Daily: July 23,2008
See US House of Representatives Resolution: Edited | Unedited
See Apology Resolution: Commentary
See Senate Apology Resolution For Lynchings
In case you missed it, which you very likely could have given the press coverage, last month the U.S. House of Representatives officially apologized for slavery and for the injustices perpetrated against black Americans under the Jim Crow laws of the past.
The apology resolution included this acknowledgement: “African-Americans continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow — long after both systems were formally abolished — through enormous damage and loss, both tangible and intangible, including the loss of human dignity and liberty, the frustration of careers and professional lives and the long-term loss of income and opportunity.” However, the House made no mention of reparations in any way, shape or form.
While the resolution was briefly covered on most major networks and newspapers, it was likely cloaked in nebulous language or buried in the fine print somewhere. More importantly, the acknowledgement made by the House that even young African-Americans are at a strategic social and economic disadvantage because of the after-effects of discrimination was almost entirely overlooked by the popular media.
Considering the high correlation between poverty, lack of education and crime makes this acknowledgement even more startling. People of color are disproportionately impoverished, undereducated and imprisoned, a direct result of the systematic racism which is so prevalent in this country’s history.
Some 42 members of the Congressional Black Caucus (D) signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution that “authorized” the apology, along with another 78 members of Congress — only two of whom are Republicans. The resolution marks the first time the government has offered any kind of apology for the horrid circumstances under which black Americans suffered for hundreds of years.
While some may find it surprising that it’s taken nearly 150 years since the passage of the 13th Amendment for the United States to apologize, others do not.
I find it completely ridiculous and also completely realistic given the nature of politics in this country,” said Vanessa Wilken, a bi-racial graduate student at the UW with a degree in American Ethnic Studies.
Wilken is not alone in her cynicism. Hilary Shelton of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) says the apology is “hollow” unless it leads to a remedy for black Americans, who still suffer economically and educationally from the effects of slavery and segregation.
Others counter, saying that an apology serves no legitimate purpose since the perpetrators and victims of slavery are long dead and that a resolution of apology instead keeps racial wounds and tensions alive. Although this type of reasoning is often used, it fails to take into account the fact that descendents of slaves still suffer the consequences, unintended and intended, of laws whose sole purpose was to foster inequality between races.
It’s more than obvious that a simple apology is not powerful enough to undo hundreds of years of inequality, but it’s a start, at the very least.
If the media would pay the resolution and its details the attention they deserve, we as a nation might make further progress on this issue. Until then, Americans who happen to have non-white skin will be relegated to the “oddly enough” sections of our newspapers and our minds.
A.S. Osel is the former president of the Black American Student Association. Osel lives and writes in Seattle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]