Sunday, January 28, 2007

Apologies for Slavery

Ilie over at Nationstates.net noted the other day that Virginia steadfastly refuses to apologize for slavery.

The Virginia lawmaker who caused an uproar this month by questioning the need for a state apology for slavery proposed a measure to commemorate the freeing of the last U.S. slaves in June 1865.

Del. Frank D. Hargrove Sr. (R-Hanover County) inflamed the House of Delegates by saying that blacks should "get over" slavery and that apologizing for slavery was no more necessary than asking Jews to apologize for "killing Christ."


I'm somewhat appalled by this on a number of levels.
  1. The Jews killing Christ is a myth. It is questionable even within the subtext of the Christian Gospels. Most of the details for this come from a 19th Century German nun and a revelation she had. Of course, there's a suspicion that most of that was fabricated as well. When you have power, it is often fashionable to write the history of oppressed people specifically to denigrate them.
  2. Even if the Jews did kill Christ (let's humor "crazy Mel" for a bit), it did not lead to oppression of Christians by Jews, especially not in this country today. Words have power when they are wielded by those with power. (Disclaimer: I am Jewish)
  3. However, white people in this country (and particularly Virginia) still have a whole lot of power. Therefore, those words do have power. By refusing to apologize for such barbarism, they continue to affirm African-American's subordination.
  4. White people do not get to speak for black people. Period. This was sponsored by black lawmakers, and the fact that a white lawmaker is challenging and devaluing their history by stating that it is "over and done with" is shameful. True anti-racist allies support, not devalue.
  5. Let's face it, this is symbolic, but it's also important. Many white folks do not want to acknowledge that they still benefit today from their white skin, either because it hurts to hear or because they want to maintain that privilege. We cannot solve contemporary racism unless we acknowledge its presence, and those who have a vested interest in maintaining that will continue to deny that as long as their conscience permits.

2 comments:

Rufio Cartigan said...

Let's face it, this is symbolic, but it's also important. Many white folks do not want to acknowledge that they still benefit today from their white skin, either because it hurts to hear or because they want to maintain that privilege.

Did anyone consider it might be because they are tired of hearing they should apologize?

All this enforced remorse is not solving racism, on either side of the race line. All it is doing is polarizing people. If you failed a test and you were continuously reminded of failing and told to study harder because you failed, would you be encouraged to work harder or just get pissed off at the person hounding you?

JusticeForAll said...

Who do you blame, the government body that made the moral error or the people pointing out the moral error?

The population is already polarized. Saying that we shouldn't tackle issues because it might polarize people is flawed because those issues are still unresolved.

Acknowledging inequality is the first step towards solving it. As Frederick Douglass wrote, "Power concedes nothing without a demand."