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Readers, columnist debate worth of apology to African Americans
1/1/2006
I find myself compelled to respond to the Active Voice Commentary by Nell Braxton Gibson (“At least apologize,” November) regarding this tired old idea of African-American reparation for slavery. Ms. Gibson asks “the church” to apologize.  The church (the individuals) that existed at the time of American slavery has been gone for well over a century.  Only Christ remains the constant here.

So what individual(s) should apologize, and to whom are we apologizing? This idea is absurd.  By definition, an apology is only valid and meaningful as an admission coming from the offending party.  How can I, or any other minister of today’s church, apologize for something someone else endorsed, supported or ignored 150 years ago?  And to whom would we speak it?  The victimized who Ms. Gibson writes about, those for whom identity and lives were shattered or destroyed and truly deserve it, are not here to receive it.


An apology might be therapeutic, but not reparations. Who would apologize?  Those who enslaved their fellow Africans in Africa, those Arabs who bought them on the coast of Africa, those Dutch and English who transported them, those New England merchants who sold them, those merchants who bought them, those planters who used slaves, those women who inherited slaves?

Historical records establish that the legal right to own another human being for life in the English colonies was first established in a lawsuit brought in 1620 by a black slave holder attempting to regain possession of his black runaway slave in the Virginia Colony.

There were some 16,000 black slaveholders in the South in 1860. The recent prize-winning novel “The Known World” by an African American describes in detail the relationships between black slaveholders and their slaves in the South in the 1850s. Slavery was not, therefore, a racial event at the time but a matter of how labor costs would be allocated.

My view is that apologies are always in order between human beings. We still live in an imperfect world with imperfect information. It is best to forgive and not point fingers. Reparations, on the other hand, stigmatize both the giver and the receiver. Let both whites and African Americans apologize to each other, forgive each other and move on consistent with the principles of Christ’s teachings.

Reparations for slavery? How can that translate into anything other than those who never owned slaves paying those who never were slaves? Sounds unjustifiable to me. But for those who persist, let us at least be fair. Since infamous whites disadvantaged Native Americans first, why not make amends to them first? And if we truly wish to be fair, what about my Anglo-Saxon forebears variously enslaved the Romans, Danes, Normans, etc.?

If reparation is about fairness – which it is not – then at least be chronological about it.

Reading Nell Braxton Gibson’s Commentary and looking at the situation of blacks here and in Africa, I couldn’t help but wonder whether indeed we’re an "accursed" race.
I grew up in Kenya, East Africa. Immediately after independence, schools -- especially in the city -- were well-equipped. The roads were paved, hospitals were well-stocked with drugs, there were even mobile clinics that reached the rural people. Twenty years after independence, all these are but a dream. And it’s the same story in the rest of black Africa.

Politicians covering their failures and corruption are now shouting that the whites (colonialists) should  apologize for the mess in Africa. After the Rwanda massacre, where more than a million people lost their lives, the Western world (whites) again was blamed -- for not acting fast enough to stop the genocide. They have since admitted they acted too slowly. But where was Black Africa when the Rwandan blacks were at each others’ throats?

As Ms. Gibson points out, it’s true there is racial discrimination in this great country. I migrated to New Hampshire about six years ago, and I’ve had my share of discrimination and stereotyping. But this hasn’t stopped me from remaining focused.

I’m now paying mortgage to my own house and drive a new car. This by itself is not much. But I’m proud of my achievement because many of my white, blue-collar colleagues, most of whom have worked for more than 15 years, are in a hand-to-mouth situation. They cry that the government is not doing enough for the lower economic class to which I belong and hope to leave.

I’m not an expert, but having seen poverty and hopelessness among the blacks both here in the U.S.A. and in Africa, not to mention Haiti, I wonder whether an apology will take us to Stuyvesant High or stop corruption and nepotism in Africa. Shouldn’t we as African Americans accept our failures individually and collectively and think of ways of lifting this "curse" of hopelessness and poverty without blaming it on a past?