An Open Discussion: Students’ views on a controversial topic
An opening topic which will allow students to offer their thoughts and express their feelings will be on the subject of the proposed “national apology” for slavery. Taken from a fascinating webpage on this subject (http://douglass.speech.nwu.edu/), students will first read excerpts from various publications that debate this issue, then compile strong arguments and finally prepare articles to back up their personal opinions regarding this controversial proposal.
In order to discuss the issue of a national apology for slavery, students must be able to back up their responses and remarks with documented articles that they have researched. The following paragraphs preview the amount of information that is available to students who wish to use the internet to gather data. This starting point gives students the beginning pages of their in-depth research, and the following pieces should be required reading before they continue to search for more documentation to strengthen their arguments for their in-class presentation.
A worksheet designed by the National Archives Records Administration to help students properly document sources and record observations they have made has been entered into this unit in the Appendix. It can be shortened or altered as the instructor seems fit, but is a good way for students to organize and classify their readings.
Is it too late for a national apology for slavery? Should one be given at all?
Tony P. Hall, congressman from Ohio, offered a simple resolution last summer apologizing to the ancestors of the enslaved:
“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.”
In a letter to his House colleagues, Hall wrote that “it is never too late to confess that we were wrong as a Nation and ask for forgiveness.” (Text of a House colloquy on race relations.)
Similar thoughts were expressed in a June 1997 interview on the Democracy Now! radio program, but the representative demurred on reparations, what some in favor of an apology consider a logical second step. To see how far Hall’s resolution got, visit this Washington Post link and another from Capitol Hill Blue.
President Clinton’s recent trip to Africa gave him what many thought to be an opportunity to offer a national apology for slavery. Some thought he actually did. Here is an excerpt from the speech in question:
[G]oing back to the time before we were even a nation, European Americans received the fruits of the slave trade. And we were wrong in that, as well although, I must say, if you look at the remarkable delegation we have here from Congress, from our Cabinet and administration, and from the citizens of America, there are many distinguished African Americans who are in that delegation who are making America a better place today. (Full text of the speech at Kisowera School.)
Collected below are links to some slavery-apology debate on the Web:
“Clinton finally hits racism”
There is talk of Clinton giving a public apology for slavery. There is also a bill pending in Congress to apologize to the descendants of African slaves. This is a reasonable first step toward healing the damage and repairing the scars left by slavery and its cancerous friend, racism. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
“Apology, even if sincere, would now be meaningless”
Would an apology end the institutional racism which results in the disproportionate number of Blacks on death row? Would it provide better access to education, housing and jobs for the hundreds of thousands of poor Black children in urban areas? Would it improve the image of African Americans in the nation’s media? Would it have any direct impact on any of our lives? (Philadelphia Tribune)
Apology for slavery will perpetuate racism, Robert W. Tracinski
Racism will be eradicated, President Clinton and Congress have said, only if white America apologizes to blacks whose ancestors were slaves. This advocacy of collective responsibility advances the very same idea that lies at the root of slavery itself: racial collectivism, which posits that any injustice committed against any member of your racial group entitles you to retaliate against any member of the perpetrator’s racial group. The result: more racial warfare. To eradicate racism it is necessary to strive for the ideal of a color-blind society, based on racism’s opposite principle: individual rights. (MediaLink, Ayn Rand Institute)
Forty acres and a mule, Bernice Powell Jackson
Words alone are too easy. Words must be accompanied by repentance by empathizing with the people who were hurt and acknowledging the wrong that has been done. Words alone, without wrestling with the pain of the broken relationship, are not true apology, they are only words. Many cultures of people of color around the world are based on relationship and include a formal or informal process for reconciliation. Native Hawaiians, for instance, call this process ho’oponopono, which means setting to right. It is based on the word and concept of pono or righteousness which is always connected to right relationship and requires one to keep working at relationship until it is right. Ho’oponopono includes prayer and a conversation among those whose relationship has been broken. Confession is made; restitution is offered. Forgiveness follows. (Civil Rights Journal)
Don’t cry for me, Bill Clinton,
Pedra DeLann Chaffers(http://www.africanhistory.com/pcclinton.htm)
In my view, an attempt to apologize for the atrocity of slavery trivializes the experiences of our ancestors. Can an apology be made for the physical and psychological trauma suffered by those who survived the Middle Passage? Can an apology be made for the multitudes who never made it to these shores, their bones strewn across the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and their spirits never able to find peace? Can an apology be made for the daily stress of living at the mercy of some slave owner’s whim? I think not. (AfricanHistory.com)
National Public Radio reports and commentary on an apology for slavery:
Apology for Slavery?
“President Clinton says he’s looking at the idea of apologizing to black Americans for slavery. The idea has come up before, and many blacks think it’s long overdue. But, as NPR’s Cheryl Corley reports, just as many feel it’s a meaningless symbol, and if the government is going to apologize, it ought to go all the way and pay reparations for the harm it caused.” ( All Things Considered, 27 June 1997, 7:36)
“Commentator Patt Morrison is disturbed by the recent rash of public apologies.” (Morning Edition, 20 June 1997, 3:31)
“Join Ray Suarez for a look at the nature of official apologies and the purpose they serve.” Guests: Eliot Sorel, Michel-Rolph Trouillot. (Talk of the Nation, 20 June 1997, 49:30)
“We have already apologized for slavery” Mackubin Thomas Owens
Slavery is indeed a stain on America and many Americans see no harm in issuing such an apology. But an apology now would either trivialize an important issue or cause Americans to misunderstand the principles upon which their nation was founded. More importantly, no apology today could match the eloquence of 600,000 honored dead, North and South, who “gave the last full measure of devotion,” or of the democratic rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln who, in essence, already apologized for the national sin of slavery.
(Claremont Instutute, Providence Journal)