The nonbinding resolution, which passed on a voice vote, was introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen, a white lawmaker who represents a majority black district in Memphis, Tennessee.
While many states have apologized for slavery, it is the first time a branch of the federal government has done so, an aide to Cohen said.
In passing the resolution, the House also acknowledged the "injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow."
"Jim Crow," or Jim Crow laws, were state and local laws enacted mostly in the Southern and border states of the United States between the 1870s and 1965, when African-Americans were denied the right to vote and other civil liberties and were legally segregated from whites.
The name "Jim Crow" came from a character played by T.D. "Daddy" Rice who portrayed a slave while in blackface during the mid-1800s.
The resolution states that "the vestiges of Jim Crow continue to this day."
"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," the resolution states.
The House also committed itself to stopping "the occurrence of human rights violations in the future."
The resolution does not address the controversial issue of reparations. Some members of the African-American community have called on lawmakers to give cash payments or other financial benefits to descendents of slaves as compensation for the suffering caused by slavery. . . .
So what exactly does yesterday's Congressional vote mean in terms of anything really worthwhile? Anything, that is, beyond mere words?
First of all, a "resolution" is a mere statement of opinion or support by a political body. The word "nonbinding" underscores the lack of real action such resolutions tend to entail. As Wikipedia succinctly puts it,
A non-binding resolution is a written motion adopted by a deliberative body that cannot progress into a law. . . . An example would be a resolution of support for a nation's troops in battle, which carries no legal weight, but is adopted for moral support.
The issue that Congress totally sidestepped is, of course, that of reparations. Most white Americans think that the idea of offering financial compensation to today's African Americans for injustices suffered by their ancestors is nonsense, since, you know, "that was all in the past."
However, other Americans recognize that the effects of those past injustices live on--including members of Congress, as evinced by yesterday's Congressional resolution, in a sentence worth reading again:
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.
Right. So how about some compensation, then, for those who continue to "suffer from the consequences"? How long will it be before our federal servants--excuse me, our federal "politicians"--move to the next logical, ethical, moral step on this issue?
I'm not holding my breath. But I'm also not without hope that something can be done in the meantime. In this video, damali ayo demonstrates one way of redistributing income in racial terms--maybe ordinary, goodhearted white folks should follow her lead.
There's more information about damali ayo's conceptual art project, "Living Flag," here.