The United States Senate approved a resolution yesterday, apologizing for the federal government’s role in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade but making certain the language of the apology does not endorse reparations for the descendants of African slaves. The Senate resolution follows a similar one passed by the House of Representatives last year. Both resolutions reflect the continuing, albeit slow, effort to reconcile our nation’s support of slavery and the damage it inflicted upon Africans and their descendants, and the country as a whole.
It is clear that racism and the role that race has played in our country to deny Blacks’ rights is still very much an issue that has not been reconciled. The recent shooting of a Black security guard at the United States Holocaust Museum by an avowed white supremacist is just the latest example of the lingering effects that slavery has had in the United States. Even in the 21st century, there are still remnants of the past that are a reminder of the manner in which Blacks were dehumanized. Despite, or maybe quite the contrary, because of the historical record and evidence of its injury, slavery has become a taboo subject in our country. There has been a concerted effort to revise history and diminish the impact of slavery in the United States, while also denying the economic benefits gained by some at the expense of Blacks.
Contrary to the claims of the uninformed or present day race baiters, the United States has never come clean on the question of slavery or Jim Crow. Civil rights legislation, often used by race revisionists to suggest the nation had made Blacks whole, was simply a corrective maneuver to align the nation’s behavior with its constitutional rhetoric. Likewise, policies such as affirmative action are narrowly tailored interventions that simply seek to recalibrate opportunity. At no time has there been a genuine attempt to make Blacks whole for wages lost due to the exploitation of their labor, the murder and d injury of their ancestors, the taking of their land, or their false imprisonment due to bias in the dispensation of justice. The ugliness of slavery has been swept under the rug and little acknowledged except in academic treatments that are not widely consumed by the public. Tragically, most students in classrooms across the country get a watered down account of slavery and Jim Crow that fails to illuminate and enlighten our emerging citizens to prevent a repeat of our past.
The move by the Senate to acknowledge the nation’s role in slavery is more of an admission or confession, than an apology. A real apology should seek to make amends for the damage inflicted by the act that caused injury. In the case of slavery, and Jim Crow, the only meaningful apology is reparations. The form of restitution can and should be the subject of a rigorous debate, but true reconciliation will not take place until the economic damage that resulted from slavery and segregation is accounted. Slavery and Jim Crow were government-sanctioned systems that exploited human capital for the express purpose of the enrichment of white property owners and merchants to the economic disadvantage of Africans and African Americans. The nation’s denial of education, voting rights and equal justice under the law based on race was all part of a larger institutional paradigm that trampled upon the human and constitutional rights of Blacks. The only true remedy is for the United States to provide restitution, whether in cash payments or subsidies, to Blacks to compensate for its defense of slavery.
The House of Representatives will now revisit its resolution to conform to the version passed by the Senate. Once aligned, the final resolution will mark a significant moment in our country’s complex but grand history. The true test awaits Washington. What many Blacks will now demand is a real discussion on reparations. While the congressional resolution does not endorse reparations, Congress can open up the debate. There is no doubt it would be contentious but the scholarship on slavery, Jim Crow and reparations would make for an informed moment and allow for a rational, albeit emotional, discussion that should lead to a reasonable solution on the issue of restitution.