Saturday, June 20, 2009

think that apologizing officially for slavery makes a big difference

probable actual source:
damali ayo's "Living Flag")

This post is actually an open thread -- a request for your input on some recent events and such that white Americans should at least be thinking about. Feel free to offer your input on whatever else related to this blog's topics that you've been thinking about.

My first proffered possibility for commentary -- what do you think about the American Senate's muted, "nonbinding" apology this week for slavery? Is it really going to make any difference? Is its explicit dismissal of reparations an appropriate nail in the coffin of that idea?

Personally, and as I've said before, I don't think so -- I think white Americans should pull that coffin back up and apply some electroconvulsive therapy. After they learn, that is, what "40 acres and a mule" and "generational transference of wealth" mean, and after they read such things as Randall Robinson's The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, and such explanations of seemingly invisible collective white wealth as George Lipsitz's The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, or Karen Brodkin's explanation of "the largest [white] affirmative action program in U.S. history," the GI Bill, in her book How Did Jews Become White Folks.

What I think white America needs to do instead of merely apologizing is acknowledge, understand, and work to counteract the ongoing effects of slavery. And of the de facto slavery and apartheid that took place after "real slavery" officially ended. (I do remain a wishful hopeful thinker.)

We have some Australian readers/commenters here -- can you tell us if white Australia's official apology to aboriginal people last year has made any tangible, substantial difference?

One other question/topic -- are you going mark or celebrate Juneteenth somehow? And if you're a white person, have you even heard of such a thing?

And just one more -- there's so much to talk about -- do you too get a lot of forwarded emails from friends and family members about what a great job Sheriff Joe Arpaio is doing? How he keeps coming up with creative and "finally, effective!" ways of cracking down on prisoners?

I get a lot of those, always from white folks who just love good ol' Sheriff Joe -- is forwarding praise for his draconian ways another example of stuff white people do?

I usually respond to those who forward me such unwittingly racist foolishness with long explanations of why Sheriff Joe's methods are barbaric, counterproductive and racist (only to get another "Go Sheriff Joe!" message from some of these folks a month or two later).

And now, thanks to Nezua at The Unapologetic Mexican, here's something else I'll be forwarding in response:


  1. I woke up on the 15th and realized that I had no plans for Juneteenth this weekend. It was a sad realization. I moved from SC to VA and it's not a big thing here. My cousins in MA and SC are going to events, having mini family reunions and cookouts.

    My white friends have no idea what I'm talking about. It's kind of sad. Then again, no one in SC celebrated Loving Day (which is big here in VA), so maybe it's a geographical thing?

  2. I don't know, America. If it wasn't for what you did, I probably wouldn't exist. You can't really apologize for something done back then, because you weren't what you are today back then. We all grow up, I guess.

    I can't accept the apology, however, until you stop the Drug War that fuels the Prison Industrial Complex that exists. It's just slavery with a different name, America. Think about it.

  3. I agree with the above comment. Slavery in the US still exists just in a different form. I have reason to believe therefore that an apology is simply pointless. So why give it? South African whites have yet to offer an apology for apartheid. Well at least not one that I know of. Most of them still object to affirmative action laws anyway. So they'd be staying sincere by not apologising. They're still bitter about having to hand over power.

  4. Moral exhortation accomplishes little, it is political action which matters and there has been very little of that from what I can see.

  5. (Keep in mind that I'm neither white nor indigenous Australian, so what I share are only my personal impressions as a recent adult migrant to Australia.)

    The quick answer to your question about Australia, I would say, is no. The apology has made no "tangible, substantial difference" so far. The apology was historic in that it acknowledged there was wrongdoing. It was finally out in the open. Many went to the central square of the cities to watch the apology together on the large screens. But the 'many' were probably those who had always been sympathetic to the indigenous (Aboriginal, etc) struggle anyway. I've heard of some whites say it meant nothing to them. They never thought about the issue one way or another. Historic as it may have felt, the moment seems to have passed with no tangible changes.

    One obvious example is Australia Day (our version of July 4) is still a very white day. How can it be otherwise? It 'celebrates' the arrival of the would take really warped logic to think that the indigenous people would feel celebratory about the beginning of their 'end'. But they are still not willing to change the date. So, attitudes have obviously not changed.

    As for specific real results have been reported in the media as far as I can tell. But someone else might know better about this.

    Btw, in Australia the Prime Minister actually delivered the apology. If something like that was to happen in the US...does that mean Pres. Obama is going to deliver the apology?...that would look a little odd, no?...I mean, he is part white, but still...

  6. Funny. Denver, Colorado has one of the LARGEST Juneteenth celebrations in the country...amazing. I guess I don't really care for an apology. It won't change anything.

    On another note, I happen to stumble across this blog last week. I am a teacher and have the I must say, I have not been able to stop reading your post and the comments attached to them. I teach a race and society class to high school students and would love to SKYPE with you in the fall when school starts. I hope you will be up for it (and yes I am using my real name. my parents named be Sweet and my last name is Grayce).

  7. Sure thing, Sweet Grayce, email me about it at unmakingmacon at gmail dot com. I'm so glad to hear that you're finding this blog useful. (btw, I think your name is wonderful!)

    Thank you for the info, fromthetropics. I suspected that was the case.

  8. The apology really seems like an empty gesture to me. It does nothing to undermine the racist system still in place.

  9. I was actually glad that it finally happened. Although not life-altering, I think it was a needed thing.

    I think it will be something important to mention when discussing how the past affects our present.

    It only took 123 years.

  10. Re: South Africa: amongst other prominent white South Africans, FW de Klerk, who was the leader of South Africa's National Party for years and began work on dismantling apartheid soon after becoming SA's president, did indeed apologize for apartheid on several occasions, including once during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He said, "I apologise in my capacity as leader of the NP to the millions who suffered wrenching disruption of forced removals; who suffered the shame of being arrested for pass law offences; who over the decades suffered the indignities and humiliation of racial discrimination."

    A pretty apology and a nice speech overall. De Klerk will be remembered as the president who opened the doors to the ANC and the end of apartheid. The only problem is, he also dragged his feet in negotiations with the ANC and turned a blind eye to state-sponsored violence and numerous injustices, claiming in the same presentation to the TRC that he had no knowledge of human rights abuses during his term (or, indeed, during his lifetime spent as a wealthy white person in the apartheid system). And it's quite likely that he would never have turned against apartheid were it not for the decades of civil disobedience and outright armed resistance by black and coloured South Africans, joined by a small but growing number of white SAns, sanctions from the world community and protests both internal and international, that took place before his presidency.

    So, is his apology at all significant? I don't think so. What's significant is his track record. The fact is that he did work towards an agreement with the ANC. Whether he did it with a whole heart or not, whether his apology contains all the words we wanted to hear, he did make it possible for South Africa to hold free elections and usher in the end of apartheid. And that's what we really needed, not a pretty speech.

    Also, during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, hundreds of white people came forth and confessed to abuses and criminal actions that they took during apartheid. It was, in effect, a nationwide, two-year-long opportunity for white people to apologise, and many of them took the opportunity.

    Which is totally awesome, except for one little thing: the TRC was a "Get out of jail free" card. Almost 1/5 of its participants got amnesty for their crimes, ranging from human rights violations to state-sponsored terrorism, and many who didn't get amnesty still got off lightly. The emphasis of the TRC was "Reconciliation" and moving forward with the new Rainbow Nation, as the new South Africa calls itself. So, according to many South Africans, the TRC did not actually serve justice.

    Would an "official apology" actually have any meaning in the US? I doubt it. We need actions, not words.

  11. My family acknowledges Juneteenth, but it usually sneaks up on us. My aunt had a cookout which might have been for Juneteenth. I don't know.

    As for the apology - Whatever. The explicit dismissal of reparations is rich coming from 99 white people and Roland Burris. Of course that's not the nail in the coffin. Black folks ain't stupid.

  12. I agree. Slavery still exists today. What does I'm sorry do for us? It holds no emotional or monetary value. They should have left well enough alone.

  13. Fuck the apology. It's like someone breaking into your home and stealing something from you, acknowledging that they stole it, still benefitting from that which they stole, but refusing to make you whole with what is rightfully yours.

    Oh, and it took 135 years to get around to the half ass apology!? To the US government, and majority of white folks, keep your apology and kiss my ass!

  14. The apology rings hollow to me, no matter how earnest some of the people who created it might be. The resolution still took great care to outline that expressed contrition isn't a pretext for reparations. And for the record, as a black woman whose family didn't get its 40 acres, I'm against reparations. What I'm for instead is ongoing, respectful acknowledgment that U.S. institutions, from government to the prison and school systems, and the corporate workplace, still perpetuate institutionalized racism. More, there should be some awareness and willingness among our elected officials, especially the white lawmakers, to speak on this truthfully and with no skeptical derision -- even if they disagree ideologically about fixing the problems that remain. As they tell alcoholics in treatment, ADMITTING YOU HAVE A PROBLEM is the first step to recovery.

    This laser focus should also extend to the country's indigenous peoples as well. No stone should be unturned until greater levels of parity -- economic, education, life outcomes -- are achieved *AND* the larger populace accepts that certain protections against discriminatory behavior will REMAIN in place until the extremists, hatemongers, and fact-deniers are silenced.

    What's rubbed me the wrong way for years has been the aggressive denial among some whites that big problems do remain, and that it's just those "lazy Negroes." More annoying is the expectation among some self-styled commentators and writers that it's the black "talented tenth's" sole resposibility to lift every single last struggling black person from the depths of dysfunctional systems created by white people in the U.S. to subjugate us, including those that stripped several of the means to build multi-generational wealth. Y'all better go somewhere with that. Folks, this is a shared responsibility. So kiss my ass with an apology. Nobody has the right to get off that easy. No one.

  15. Canada is making a regular habit out of apologizing for abusing minority groups, but with no noticeable improvements in quality of life for most of those groups. Few groups got reparations, although in some cases small steps are going to address that (native land claims) which I don't feel make much of a difference (given the lack of clean, potable water and decent health care, combined with serious unemployment, that you find on the reserves).

    But there are differences of opinion: some First Nations feel that there is real progress, many descendants of the Japanese-Canadians locked in the internments camps were quite pleased with their apology and reparations. On the other hand, the apology to Indo-Canadians is widely regarded as a cheap election stunt.

  16. myspyistherightguyJune 21, 2009 at 11:08 AM

    Yes! I get that Sheriff Joe bs sometimes too. I've stopped reading them. Whatever happened to the notion of rehabilitation, rather than "incarceration"? of trying to stop recidivism, rather than punishing people into more hardened types who are more likely to commit more crimes when they get out?

    Re the white-soothing apology, I'm with this bit by C. Richard King:

    "Undoubtedly, the resolution says something important about how far the U.S has come since 1865, while diverting attention away from how little has changed. Indeed, while the overt racism and legally sanctioned discrimination that flourished under slavery and were reborn under Jim Crow have receded, racial stratification, black disadvantage, and white privilege are as pronounced today, if not worse than, they were in 1965 when the civil rights movement crested in the U.S. Worse, the apology avoids accountability as it bars reparations. Words stand in for action and once more structural remedies to the legacies of slavery seem unimaginable to most white Americans and unworkable to their elected representatives."

  17. I don't want anything from White people. No apologies, money or high flown platitudes. Give it to the Jews, the Native Americans and the Japanese, since that was wasier to adminster than how others see Black people.

    They will always consider Blacks inhuman apes. No matter what you do alleaviate race through the courts, laws etc, or physically prove that you are worthy of their consideration by succeeeding ( no you didn't earn it since you are unqualified Affirmative Action baby) you cannot take aways this social and cultural construct that Whites and other races adopt and that is we are less than human.

  18. @Rachel -

    And anyone who's interested.

    First, with the exception I'm about to explain, I whole-heartedly agree with everything you say.

    I'm black. As far as I know, there was no land or mule for any of my ancestors. Combining that with intentional withholding of the ability to generate and pass on wealth that continued with legal approval through the 70s, I think reparations is more than in order.

    All ethnic and racial communities are equally "dysfunctional." The indicator for dysfunction is socio-econ status, not race or ethnicity. The reason dysfunction is more prevalent in the black community is our disproportionate rate of poverty. So, if reparations were given, it would definitely reduce black "dysfunction."

    Like you, I am annoyed almost to anger with white denial of racism with negative stereotypes. The negative stereotypes are racist themselves! And things work out in a sort of circular, self-reinforcing kinda way. The only reason there's such a focus on black dysfunction in the first place is to excuse white racism. The ratio of stories in local news about black crime vs white crime is disproportionate in that black crime is shown at a rate higher than it occurs and white crime is shown at a rate lower than it occurs. So white people, and some blacks, look at these biased news accounts and excuse white racism. It's enraging.

    Now, I only share this to make a point. My great-grandfather was able to create a relatively substantial amount of wealth that was passed down from one generation to the next. Because of the wealth he created, my grandfather was able to create some wealth of his own which has enabled my parents and uncles and aunts to do the same. I'm sure you get the picture. Don't be confused. Nobody in my family is wealthy or rich or upper class or anything like that. Maybe a few are upper middle class or close it it, but that's it. The point is I know personally the great benefit of having some inheritance. And like I pointed out, the impact is greater than the initial inheritance. The initial inheritance, as generations of white Americans (even those whose ancestors immigrated after slavery) have experienced, gives the space for more wealth to be created. A quick example is that if your grandparents could afford to pay the downpayment on your parents' home, your parents probably had tens of thousands to start your college fund, which by now is enough to send you to college - which will allow you to make more money than someone who doesn't go - AND, do to compound interest, help with the downpayment. You have to think of all the little ways in which money adds up to help move a family forward. That's another reason I believe reparations are more than appropriate.

    We can debate exactly how reparations should be paid. But about the call and justness of reparations there is not debate. What annoys me is not that there's no reparations, it's that there's the denial of the justness of reparations. I could, maybe, accept someone say, "Yes, it's owed. We just can't afford to pay it." But to argue that it's not owed, especially on the basis that all the slaves are dead, is both historically inaccurate and hateful. Only a relative handful of black soldiers received the GI Bill and FHA loans they were do. That's just one example that happened through the 50s at least. I could go through other ways wealth has wrongly been denied African Americans.

    I have a saying - People die. Money gains compound interest.

  19. This is so much cooler than stuff White People Like.

    I love how that article ends up with, "Some members of the African-American community have called on lawmakers to give cash payments..."

    Does that ring of welfare queen stereotypes to anyone else, or is it just me?

    I have nothing to say to the US government.

  20. I skimmed the comments for an answer to a question I've been asking since the apology was issued... I emphasize skim -- I didn't see one, but I'll go back and read more closely.

    For anyone who appreciates the apology and applauds the Senate, why?

    Personally, unless they're about to DO something, I couldn't care less about an apology.

    I've heard some say they appreciate the acknowledgement that it happened. Uhh... ok.

    Listen, slavery effects black folks today, sure. But if your'e going to apologize, apologize for what's happening NOW, and then be pro-active about rectifying it.

    Quite frankly, if I feel ANY way about this apology, I'm offended. As if this apology means all is well and right when very little is well and right.

  21. you can keep the apologies...i just want to know when i'm getting my 40 acres and a mule?

  22. Thanks for posting this video. I'm the person who filmed Catherine and made it. Arpaio has seen it but who cares? I want President Obama to see it.

    I can tell you it was a very painful day. Before I left Catherine she looked me in the eye and said "thank you for your help,"

    Catherine is a sweet intellegent girl. She speaks spanish and english perfectly as well as reads and writes above her age level. Her parents are good people and raised a wonderful child. She was one of 20 children effected by Arpaio's raid. But she lost both her parents. They worked there for 11 years at the same place.

    They will be going to court on Wednesday.

    Feel free to contact me at Youtube. I'm Humanleague002 there.



  23. *I hate the amerikkkan senate &the illusion that they create ...on a daily basis; therefore, fuck their apology.

    *Reparationz will not be attained by polite requests; ...requests have no place in this situation.

    *...&the sheriffJoe ....phenomenon ...iz another example of how seemingly unbiased media outlets [tru tv, etc.] are uzed to distribute propoganda.

    I agree w/ You.

  24. This reminds me of the church synod I attended where were we shut down 3 of only 6 majority black churches in our denomination. The next day we apologized for our historical role in slavery.

    @no1kstate - you helped me to understand a lot in your comments here. Thanks!

  25. From the perspective of a White Australian, I'd have to agree that not a lot came out of Rudd's Apology to the Stolen Generation, at least not in the last year or so. It was a historic moment, especially with it being the very first act of the new Parliament. But there hasn't been much activity since then, certainly not about compensation or any such. There has been work on trying to improve conditions of Aboriginal communities in outback areas, but there's not a lot of discussion about it at all, and you could make the statement that such activity is not a result of the Apology anyway - more a continuation of interventions started by the previous government.

    And it's worth noting that the Apology was very narrow in scope - Rudd was not apologising for all the wrongs that Whites have committed to Blacks, for the wars that were fought, for the displacement of Aboriginals. The only thing the Apology stood for was for the Institutionalised removal of Aboriginal Children from their families for the purposes of Assimilation. It's an important apology, those acts were incredibly harmful to those families and it was important to use the word "Sorry" in it's full context against those actions. But it's certainly not the same as a direct Apology for Slavery, something that was much more widespread and much more pervasive. Just something to keep in mind discussing this.

  26. I wonder if it is assumed those in power, those to bestow payment, are white and therefore must kneel before the minorities and ask forgiveness-- at least, I believe that is what some people imagine. I believe this is why some people might say that payment for the past is not necessary -- they dislike this notion.

    But this would be an incorrect view of the situation, for it is not about race, but simply about government responsibility as an objective tool of the people -- to be wellded by the people, for the people. Therefore progressive action is a relatively impersonal yet socially beneficial action -- the apology is a formality, nothing more. If one considers it more, they then associate government with white -- such an association cannot be helped if something so personal as an apology is to be valued.

    This is only one reason why racism is so very complicated.

  27. Hmmm, Interesting.

    I think that rather than make hollow apologies for slavery, there needs to be a change in terms of actions and deeds.

    As they always say "Actions speak louder than words."

    What is the point of apologising for slavery and then carry on doing what you have always done?

    Pointless if you ask me.

    There needs to be an overall and resounding change in the way that Black people and POC are treated. When I start to see many more Black people allowed to be in top corporate positions in companies rather than the "token" person than I will sit up and take notice.

    When "Equality and Diversity" policies are actually exercised rather than being just meaningless pieces of paper to "make things look good" then I will take note.

    In the meantime, all the pathetic apologies just look, well pathetic. Actions speak louder than words.


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