Jeninne Lee-St. John: Should States Apologize for Slavery?





On Monday Maryland became only the second state after Virginia to officially seek atonement for slavery. The state's House of Delegates approved a measure, already passed by the senate and not requiring the governor's signature, expressing "profound regret for the role that Maryland played in instituting and maintaining slavery and for the discrimination that was slavery's legacy."

While the apology for slavery has been grabbing all the headlines, it's the regret for the legacy of slavery that really matters.

Many non-blacks assert that they shouldn't apologize for something they didn't do. There is logic to that thinking: if you didn't own slaves or enable others to own slaves, you aren't culpable. But the U.S. didn't do a very good job of converting its former slaves to full-fledged citizens. Slavery gave way to Jim Crow, lynchings, poll taxes, redlining and educational and job discrimination. Although illegal now, these tools perpetuated a racial hierarchy that affects every American today, no matter how subtly. Just compare any rates of achievement, poverty, imprisonment by race; blacks are nowhere closing to catching up.

No wonder black people were so appalled when Frank Hargrove, a Virginia legislator who is white, said last month "black citizens should get over" slavery. That notion invalidates the black reality. It essentially says: The discrimination you feel and I benefit from is an illusion — or at least has no historical context.
Ultimately, Hargrove voted for Virginia's apology measure, which was passed in February and acknowledges that abolition was followed by "insidious institutions and practices toward Americans of African descent that were rooted in racism, racial bias and racial misunderstanding." Put more simply, the Maryland resolution seems to imply that discrimination against blacks hurts everyone: "Slavery's legacy has afflicted the citizens of our state down to the present."...


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