Apologizing for slavery has been all the rage in Washington, DC and state capitols. Originating with former President Clinton’s “almost…but, no apology,” a number of state legislatures have passed formal resolutions apologizing for slavery. In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives decided to get into the apologizing business. Interestingly enough, the non-binding resolution was sponsored by Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN). Let’s just say he is not a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. The resolution passed the House resolution by voice vote.
Simply put, the resolution “resolved” that the House of Representatives–
(1) acknowledges that slavery is incompatible with the basic founding principles recognized in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal;
(2) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow;
(3) apologizes to African Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow; and
(4) expresses its commitment to rectify the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African Americans under slavery and Jim Crow and to stop the occurrence of human rights violations in the future.
The Senate didn’t end up passing the House resolution so the apology was never agreed to by both chambers and “died”
Fast forward to June 2009. Last week, the Senate decides to get ahead of the ball in passing a version of the old House resolution. But with a little disclaimer:
(2) DISCLAIMER- Nothing in this resolution–
(A) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or
(B) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.
Given that the House of Representatives has to “concur” in order to be a “concurrent resolution,” the House is in a stir on how it should pass the resolution.
I’ve never been one for apology politics or reparations. But the disclaimer language has created an uproar from all corners. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are opposed to the resolution with the disclaimer language and puts the CBC in an awkward position of possibly opposing an apology to slavery. Again, this is a non-binding messaging resolution that will likely never be looked at again.
Below, a review on what African American columnists and bloggers are saying:
Clarence Page urges everyone to get back to the real issues affecting the daily lives of African Americans:
That’s what you get, ladies and gentlemen, for trying to score good feelings on the cheap.
Since the resolution does not require the president’s signature, each house of Congress probably would be best off passing its own version. The senators and congressmen can pose for pictures, smile and quietly forget about their resolutions as they move on to issues that are affecting people’s lives today — like jobs, the financial markets, health care, global warming and, oh yes, two wars.
DeWayne Wickham insists Congress needs to make a “full confession.”
…the Senate followed the House’s lead and simply bemoaned the mistreatment of millions of blacks who were forced into slavery from 1619 through 1865. It didn’t say anything about what Congress did — or didn’t do — to aid and abet that “peculiar institution.”
That’s not good enough. For the sake of history and closure, Congress needs to describe the full nature of its offenses in support of slavery and the century-long period of legal disenfranchisement of blacks that followed. Too many people in this country have little knowledge of the legal cover Congress gave slavery. Too few people understand how Congress perpetuated the suffering of blacks long after the 13th Amendment ended slavery.
In reflecting on last year’s House passage of a slavery apology, John McWhorter noted:
What, then, is the use of Congress presenting a formal statement of regret? It’s not something any critical mass of constituents were clamoring for, which makes the exercise even more hollow.
I can only suppose that these august figures suppose that this “apology” will satisfy black people aggrieved at America’s having “never come to terms with its racist past” and so forth. This supposition is false.
It bears mentioning that this is not a distress shared by the mass of black people. The black car salesman in Cleveland, the black single mom working hard outside of L.A., the black grandmother serving on church committees in Houston — most of these people are not thinking about apologies or reparations.
It’s very simple. History book, 2050. “In 2008 the House of Representatives presented a formal apology for slavery and Jim Crow. As a result, ______.” What would the rest of that sentence be? Think about it. The answer is: nothing.
Russell Simmons blogs on the Huffington Post that the healing can begin and the apology is an important part of the process:
Yesterday, after 144 years, the United States Senate apologized for slavery. With a unanimous vote, America has begun her healing process. For our country will never be able to heal itself without atoning for the sins of our past. We have finally recognized that in order for us to move forward as a people in this beautiful nation, we need to acknowledge the pain that we all have suffered because of slavery. The pain has lasted for the past 144 years, and now with our government taking the right step in apologizing, I know that we can begin to heal.