This month, on July 29, it’s been ten years
When I was a child growing up in the 90s, my mom told me how America had never apologized for its enslavement, hatred, and discrimination against us.
My mom told me how the United States had apologized for other sins, but for us, there was no apology.
No apology meant no acknowledgment. No acknowledgment of the wrongs meant no acknowledgment of the damages.
And with no acknowledgment, we have no rightful remedies.
Studies by social scientists say those who refuse to apologize feel empowered by not apologizing.
Apologies are about power, and as researchers point out, apologies can change narratives. So, withholding an apology is a way people of low self-worth feel better about themselves.
And, with race relations, the United States has long overinflated its self-worth.
It was obvious and offensive to my family how the country preferred to pretend its atrocities against Black people never happened.
We couldn’t believe the expansiveness of America’s rug, and how people wish to sweep the past and present under that rug.
And Black people, with our allies, are still at work to remove that rancid and racist rug on America’s foundation.
Then on July 29, 2008, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution to apologize for slavery, segregation, and racism.
Does anyone remember that apology?
The apology by the House followed the apologies issued by several states and a few West African nations.
And, it was the first apology by the federal government for its villainous and murderous sins of racism against Black people.
With the anniversary of the apology this month, I reviewed the House’s apology. I wanted to see what the apology says for myself. And I wanted to see what it says about race relations.
The text compresses 246 years of slavery and 102 years of segregation, and the present realities into 747 words.
I noticed the apology references “slavery” 35 times.
The apology mentions “Jim Crow” 18 times.
I saw words related to “racism” 8 times in the text.
The words “apology” or “remorse” appear 5 times.
The word “acknowledge” appears 4 times.
The apology mentions “reconciliation” 3 times.
And, the words “justice” and “rectify” appear once each.
- “Whereas African-Americans continue to suffer from the complex interplay between 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, the frustration of careers and professional lives, and the long-term loss of income and opportunity;”
- “Whereas the story of the enslavement and de jure segregation of African-Americans and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them should not be purged from or minimized in the telling of American history;”
- “Whereas a genuine apology is an important and necessary first step in the process of racial reconciliation;”
- “Whereas an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help Americans confront the ghosts of their past;”
- “The House of Representatives 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.”
Now, most people recognize an effective apology when they encounter one.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that there are six elements to an effective apology, but there are two aspects of an apology that are most important.
The first is to acknowledge wrongdoing, and the House apology acknowledges the wrong.
The second is to offer to fix the problem, and that’s where the apologies fall short.
The House apology mentions the words justice and rectify once each, but it’s never done anything with the words. Even worse, the Senate apology, passed in 2009, has disclaimers and caveats for claims against the United States.
Congress never reconciled the two resolutions, which shows the double-mindedness and split-personality of the United States.
And the polls say the reality of anti-Black racism divides white Americans, with Republicans agreeing anti-Black racism is of no concern.
So, it’s clear, these apologies were never unanimous.
People still refuse to acknowledge the past and present impacts of slavery, discrimination, segregation, and racism.
The ignorance and inaction are maddening.
So, I say there’s no value in the apology because there’s no value assigned to the apology. The House of Representatives expects us to hear them without earmarks.
I mentioned these apologies to my mom, and she was unaware the United States had apologized. But, I didn’t have to tell her how the government has done nothing with its apology.
We must have action we can hear. We don’t need cheap talk, we need loud actions. Apologies, first steps they may be, are not justice and we should never confuse the two.
The House apology is right to say its apology is a “first step.” But it’s shallow because it offers sentences where we need tangible substance.
And, it’s been ten years on the first step of acknowledgment. Meanwhile, racism continues to rage and ramp up as people are dying in place.
Where are the next and remaining steps?
These apologies say — some of us will acknowledge the wrongs — but no one will do anything to fix them.
And I say, standing still on racism is unacceptable, but going backward is far worse.
That’s why there is no “Make America Great Again” for Black people. The whole slogan is exclusionary. Black people are still working to see our best and greatest days — the first time.
These regrets without remedies are worthless. So, I cannot accept or excuse America’s half-assed apologies for racism. That’s why I show up every day to expose and beat the full ass monty of America’s racism.
And this is why the House bill to study reparations is key. Reparations are the good and effective apology we need. But, this isn’t over money alone, I’ve said Black America needs more than dead presidents.
However, if you smash a person to the ground, and keep them down, there’s nothing wrong with an extended handout. Since America has done nothing, I must heap shame on the country. I must criticize a country that says I’m owed nothing but wants to take everything.
So, I remind the United States to examine all of its racist ways and fix them by ending them. I call on the United States to put measures in place to prevent and reduce racism.
Because, racism is still in motion in the United States with a fierce velocity. And we need an unbalanced force to interfere with racism.
Until then, the United States reneges on its incomplete apology. Is there any wonder why we continue to come undone?
We’ll continue to come undone, until the United States makes right what it’s done.