About That Slavery Thing…

Sorta meh on this:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House has apologized to black Americans for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow segregation laws.

The resolution marks the first time Congress has ever formally apologized for America’s past history of enslaving and discriminating against blacks.

“Today represents a milestone in our nation’s efforts to remedy the ills of our past,” said Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

It’s hard to figure out what good this does.

UPDATE: Melissa Harris Lacewell chimes in:

Here is my problem with this apology. It states that “slavery and Jim Crow are stains upon the what is the greatest nation on earth and the greatest government ever conceived by man.” While I appreciate the effort Representative Cohen, that just does not even come close to capturing it.

White supremacy is not a stain on the fabric of the nation, it is the binding thread woven into America’s fabric. Slavery was not an accidental oversight that simply took another few decades to fix; slavery cleared the virgin forests of the South and made them arable land; slavery was the basis of the new nation’s international trade; slavery made profit possible; slavery enriched millions of white Americans through its intergenerational transmission of ill gotten gains. Agricultural bondage through sharecropping kept blacks effectively re-enslaved in the South until the middle of the 20th century. A system of convict leasing turned black men into free labor for Northern industries well into the 1950s, making their massive profits possible. Medical experimentation on black bodies served as the basis for the growth of modern medicine and pharmaceuticals. Slavery, Jim Crow, and white supremacy are what made the greatness of America possible for so many others. It is not the stain on America. It is America.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • DrZRM

    Well, I’m glad we got that out of the way and we can put this whole mess behind us…I feel less exploited already.

  • You know how I feel about it. Gee, thanks. But there are people who think this is important, and I mean, in a symbolic way, it is. But as for getting more black people into jobs and out of the injustice system, it doesn’t do a thing.

    But symbolism has its place. Or so my 11th grade AP English teacher kept telling me.

    BTW, on NPR, there was mention of the fact that the sponsor is a white man facing a tough re-election in his mostly black district (and at JJP, they say he has a lot of opposition from black so-called leaders). So I guess this is good for him.

  • Tasha

    Well this is awkward. A bit like a parent shoving a child in front of you and making them say sorry I’m waiting for the punishment part now. (This is when the child throw a tantrum kicks you in the chin and storms off in a huff, little brat.)

  • LH

    With all due respect, Rep. Kilpatrick could use more salient talking points. How many “milestones” will there be before America becomes serious about its race problem? In 2008, people are still talking about efforts to remedy the ills of the past? Seriously?

    If history is any indication, the resolution isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

    When blacks in the States have equal access to education, real estate, monetary wealth, business opportunities, health care and social infrastructure, that’s when this resolution will mean something. I’ll leave a light on.

  • kaya

    i remember attending a discussion about making apologies for slavery. basically the argument of some is that by making the apology it opens the door to reparations. some political folks view it as a first step; as in if you apologize the next thing you have to do is make it right. this is one of the reasons why it’s taken so long for this type of resolution to be passed in the first place.

  • Grump

    For those that have seen “The Dark Knight”, I feel like this bill is akin to when The Joker went to see Harvey Dent in the hospital.

  • OTOH, we haven’t yet apologized to the Indians, have we?

  • Big Word

    Look, an automatic credit rating of 850 is all the apology I need. That and make stimulus packages permanent. LOL!

  • kaya- I’m seeing this talk about the possibility for reparations. But the people doing the talking are the ones who want to receive the reparations. I think it’s folly to assume that this apology is anything more than what it is.

    bitchphd- I think the gov’t is doing it in order of most recent atrocities. They apologized to the Japanese-Americans a while ago. So I’m thinking the Native Americans have a bit of a wait.

  • LH

    bitchphd: According to CNN.com, “In April, the Senate passed a resolution sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, that apologized to Native Americans for “the many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect.”

  • LH: LOL. Retroactively and proactively, one assumes.

  • elliemaehoya

    The resolution reads:

    “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.” (CNN.com)

    This is why I am so happy about this resolution. Yes, I know it’s just words. But there are SO many people in the U.S. who to this day refuse to believe that the problems faced by Black America today have anything to do with the remnants of Slavery and Jim Crow. To have our government admit that, “Yes, we f—ed up current society pretty bad,” is a huge stepping stone to me. I know this bill won’t change personal attitudes, but perhaps it will force politicians who are against social welfare programs to take history into consideration and realize that “we f—ed it up, so maybe we should try to fix it instead of just saying that Black people are lazy and that’s why they’re disproportionately poor.”

    So, I’m happy. We’ll see what comes of it, though.

  • LH

    @ bitchphd: LOL One assumes (and hopes).

    @ elliemaehoya: A few things:

    1. Of the resolution’s 120 co-sponsors, but two of them are Republican.

    2. Cohen, the resolution’s sponsor, represents a majority black district in Memphis, TN, and is up for re-election this fall. His opponent, Nikki Tinker, is a black woman.

    3. Nothing in Cohen’s resolution is news.

    What do these things point to?

    The politicians who say “… that [b]lack people are lazy and that’s why they’re disproportionately poor,” aren’t likely to have a change of heart because of Cohen’s resolution. If a Republican had sponsored the resolution and/or it had more than two Republican co-sponsors, I might believe differently.

    It may be that Cohen is sincere about apologising to African Americans, and in his wish to begin a dialogue about America’s race problem, but his motives don’t pass the smell test. Did he just recently come to the realisation that America has done wrong by black people?

    Separately, the people who disbelieve that slavery and Jim Crow have anything to do with the pathologies the plague black America couldn’t care less about a resolution apologising for slavery.

    Does the resolution feel good? It doesn’t to me, but I understand why it would to some. But we’ve been down similar roads before (Brown v. Bd. of Ed., the Civil Rights Act of (pick a year), etc.) and change has been glacial. How many times are people gonna fall for the okee-doke?

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  • I agree with you. This is just America’s way and really I’m disgusted with the Jim Crow laws that are still effective.