Senate Apologizes for Slavery

From CNN, a story on yesterday’s passage of a nonbinding resolution in the U.S. Senate which “acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery, and Jim Crow laws” as it “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 laws.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared “In the nearly 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, America has taken serious and sincere steps to heal the deep wounds of one of history’s greatest crimes against humanity.  This resolution is another one of those steps.”

Slavery has been illegal in the United States for almost 150 years.  Many forms of legal segregation and discrimination have been illegal for over thirty years.

Sometimes the most powerful lessons from these kinds of resolutions is not in the content of the acknoweldgement but in the timing and context compelling its passage.  That is, I think we have a lot more to gain by thinking about why it took over a century for the Senate to do this and why they did it now.

3 thoughts on “Senate Apologizes for Slavery

  1. I agree. I don’t think this has anything with the US actually making amends for its racial past–something I think it can do, although not as easily as by a symbolic resolution. This has EVERYTHING to do with simplistic white guilt. The problem is, slavery and segregation (and all forms of racial oppression) weren’t about feelings being hurt. They were direct and indirect actions, acts of violence. Their redress will also entail direct action.

  2. Senator Tom Harkin was quoted as saying, “While we are proud of this resolution and believe it is long overdue, the real work lies ahead.”

    Yet, I would venture a guess that many U.S. Senators gave themselves pats on the back for issuing the apology and figured they had pretty much done their part for healing the wounds of “the past” — end of discussion. But I think the action opens the door for a dialogue about the racialized differences that exist in American society with respect to opportunities and outcomes. Nobody should be patting anybody on their back until we rend from the American fabric the inherent inequities in housing, health, the education system, the justice system, and just about every institution of American life.

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