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.
Walter S. Rowland
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.
Wayne A. Silkett
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?
Nell Braxton Gibson replies:
I hope the writer is not suggesting that the colonists who forced our ancestors to come here against their will are not at fault for having stolen them and that somehow the discrimination and oppression against those forced into slavery (including forbidding them to learn to read or write) is somehow the fault of the stolen people -- and that therefore the slave traders' theft of our culture, language, music, dress, does not deserve even an apology.
I am baffled as to why people get so exercised over something as simple as an apology. (We tell kids who are at each other's throats to apologize to each other all the time). I spent part of my early college days in Kenya and Tanzania (then Tanganika) just after the independence of those two countries and will never forget the pain I felt when the people there asked me what tribe I was from. When I could not identify any tribe on the entire continent, they told me that my not being to be able to identify my tribe is like saying I do not have a last name. Does the theft of this knowledge deserve nothing from the people who stole my ancestors?
Evidently the reader misread or misunderstood the reason I think an apology is warranted. The fact that we have never received one has not stopped any of us from working for justice and a few of us from even succeeding in spite of the discrimination under which we have lived. Many of us (including me) spent time in the early 1960s sitting-in, praying-in and staying in southern jails so that we and our people could achieve the things the reader has achieved as an immigrant. I hope he doesn't think by asking for an apology we have been sitting on our hands doing nothing. If he does, he has not read our history of struggle in this country.
I, too, have witnessed poverty in this country (the Mississippi Delta, just a few miles north of where I grew up, is one of the poorest areas in this land of opportunity); in Africa (I have lived among poor people in the north, south, east and west of that continent, including war zones, and walked through the ghettos of Kenya with the wife of one of the liberators of that country); and in to Haiti (which I visited twice). I still say the governments of these countries should be doing more for all their poor.
What is a government worth if it cannot come to the aid of its poorest people -- especially a country like the United States, which enjoys great wealth and made it (after stealing the land from the native people) on the backs of poor black Africans, poor Chinese and others?
No, an apology will not get deserving black children into Stuyvesant, but programs that acknowledge the inequity of the educational system will allow deserving children of color to compete on a level playing field.