02 August 2008

A Very Selective Sorry

I don't know when Steve Cohen is up for election, but he's already running for reelection - and painfully so:

It is not exactly clear at whom this apology is targeted. Many older American black people suffered from Jim Crow, but no younger ones did. As for slavery, apportioning the status of victim and perpetrator based on heredity is misguided. There are white Americans who are descended from slaves. There are black Americans who are descended from slave-owners. (One of them is running for president.) If slavery has warped US society as much as this bill claims, then all Americans of all races are owed an apology. Since that would be meaningless – no one can apologise to himself – the bill’s language excludes black people from the political family. To apologise to African-Americans” in the name of “the people of the United States” is to separate one from the other.

“Apologies are not empty gestures,” Mr Cohen said after the bill’s passage, “but are a necessary first step towards any sort of reconciliation between people.” Apparently a second step is required to lift the bill above suspicion of moral grandstanding. What is that step? It is some form of reparations, for which such legislation can provide a legal justification? Since reparations are a perennial political loser, the bill’s sponsors and defenders are keen to reassure Americans that their bill mentions no such thing. But following their logic, there is no reason it should not.

Read it all - God knows no one on tee vee has bothered to (or has the capacity to) give this so much thought.

As an aside - I have a hard time standing under the umbrella or all this congressional-mandated white guilt as I'm only fourth-generation American; seven of my eight great-grandparents got off the boat decades after the Civil War was decided.

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