Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Apology to Blacks Is Empty Symbolism

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Apology to Blacks Is Empty Symbolism

Article excerpt

Who thinks these things up? A proposal circulating in Congress, sponsored by six Democrats and six Republicans, reads as follows: "Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring) that the Congress apologizes to African-Americans whose ancestors suffered as slaves under the Constitution and laws of the United States until 1865."

President Bill Clinton, ever alive to the possibilities of empty symbolism, is considering the idea, saying, "Just to say it's wrong and we're sorry about it is not a bad thing."

Oh, dear. The proposed apology would say both too much and too little to and from the wrong people. Let's start with too little. Mere words pale to insignificance in the face of what hundreds of thousands of Americans endured and suffered to erase the blot of slavery from our national life. Next to their sacrifice, even Abraham Lincoln doubted the power of words - though, if it is words you're after to convey the national feeling on the subject of slavery, how about the Gettysburg Address? "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead, we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion . . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom." But if an apology would say too little, it would also say too much. For it is quite a settled matter that slavery was abominable and totally at odds with the ideals upon which this nation was founded. To apologize for slavery now somehow unearths it as a live moral question. We might as well start apologizing for the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. And that brings us to the delicate matter of who should apologize and who should accept the apology. This is of more than passing interest since the matter of ancestry is critical to the whole affirmative-action debate. Underlying the affirmative-action regime is the notion that all living white Americans are the beneficiaries of centuries of discrimination again st blacks (and others) and all living blacks (and others) are its continuing victims. Giving preferences to blacks and other minorities therefore evens the scales. …

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