But no white today is or ever was a slaveholder; no black today is or ever was a slave. What’s the point of one apologizing to the other? Everyone has an ancestor who was wronged by someone else’s ancestor; there is no point in trying to find a thread for each present day misfortune in an individual’s life that can be followed back through the decades to a particular misdeed; and anyone’s poverty today likely has many causes. Some old, some recent, some other people’s fault, someone’s own.
We are told that this apology will help to bring closure, enabling us to move on. The resolution says the apology “will help bind the wounds of the Nation that are rooted in slavery and can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help the people of the United States understand the past … so they can move forward and seek reconciliation, justice, and harmony for all people of the United States.”
Nonsense — and that is not the apology’s intent. The idea is to reopen wounds, to keep grievance alive, to keep white people on the hook. Thus, the resolution says that racism “became enmeshed in the social fabric of the United States,” “the vestiges of Jim Crow continue to this day,” and “African-Americans continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow laws.”
The trouble with the apology is that it is designed to make whites feel guilty and to urge blacks to think of themselves as victims. Neither emotion is valid in 2009, and both are bad for race relations. In particular, the last thing an African American needs in 2009 is an excuse to fail. An obsession with past wrongs, to the extent that present opportunity and future promise are ignored or slighted, is a bad thing. A great strength of Americans is that we are forward-looking.
The best we can hope for is that the apology won’t matter much. It will be soon forgotten. Some activists will point to it as a justification for reparations, surely. Just as surely, that won’t happen. And individual white people will go about their business, and individual black people will be left with the same choice they’ve had for years: embrace self-reliance and responsibility, or fail and blame it on others.