Apology For Slavery: How Convenient, But What Does It Really Mean?

slavery.gifThe U.S. House of Representatives issued an apology for slavery last week. Something some people have waited for some 10 lifetimes, something others thought would never happen, what was once a significant event that would lead to progress in Racial Americana went largely under-reported.

A slow news cycle that “went racial” in the race for the presidency, in the same week went silent on the apology for slavery. Though slavery ended (officially) in 1865, Black Americans weren’t officially made citizens until 1868, with the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment. This year is the 140th anniversary of the social equality amendment.

Political equality didn’t come about until the passing of the 15th Amendment in 1870. Many subscribed, and I am one of them, that equality has never come about, largely because there was no repair of the conditions slavery produced. Many of the vestiges of slavery are still present in our society today. The income and wealth disparities, individual and institutional, that manifested itself out of essentially 300 years of free labor have never been made up. Some doubt that the disparities could be made up, as I’ll address momentarily, so what does this convenient apology for slavery really mean?

Reparations is still one of the most “touchy” subjects in the American public discourse, and it really no longer splits along racial lines as it once did. For instance, last week, Barack Obama reiterated his position against reparations, largely because it is an unsolvable dilemma that can never really be rectified. Not only is there no political will to address repairing the state of slave descendants, there’s the quagmire of proving who would be “entitled” to slave reparations and what those reparations would look like.

Slavery is viewed as not just the reduction of human life (and its natural rights) to chattel property (with no rights at all), but also as the intense labor discrimination that not only took contract rights and wages away from its subjects but sexually exploited women for commodity sake and reduced their life expectancy — all forced under a system of absolute control. What convolutes any discussion about slavery are the indebtedness issues that are framed in black and white. Those notions must be dispelled and resolved because all Blacks weren’t slaves, and only 25% of Whites, at any given time in the history of America’s enslavement period, owned slaves.

Then there is the issue of where do you start counting from? 1555, or 1619? And where do you end? 1865, or until the direct descendent of a slave-which would be today? Then there’s the question of what should one receive? Money. America doesn’t have enough money. Really. Of the many turn of the millennium studies on reparations that have been done in the last 10 years, just for slavery in United America, the minimum would be $4.1 trillion (African National Reparations Organization) in unpaid labor for black people born within the borders of the United States.

Economist Larry Neal, in 1990, looked at slave labor expropriated between 1620 and 1865 and put a 1983 value at $9.7 trillion (adjusted for six percent interest compounded). Adjusted for inflation, Economist David Swinton put the number 10 years later (1993) at $16.3 trillion, which he said at the time was more than all the wealth of America. That number in 2008 (15 years later) would exceed $30 trillion, which is why you understand America could never repay Black America, for slave reparations, if it was just about money.

There is also 300 years of lost opportunity costs, when the economic subjugation of segregation is factored in (which the apology also includes) where the absence of wealth and wages excluded Blacks from land grants, homesteads, schools, businesses and inherited wealth passed from generation to generations. The apology took so long because it was seen as opening the door to this conversation. Are black people who are descendants of slaves entitled to reparations? Absolutely. Will they ever receive reparations? It’s doubtful.

But then we thought we’d never see the prospect of a black President either, so anything is possible. But why the apology then, right now? Is it a real effort to promote racial healing in this country? After repentance comes retribution in most wrongs where apologies are extended. This one appears empty since there is little political will for reparations.

The Congressional Black Caucus had been demanding an apology for slavery for over three decades now. But their demand was viewed as being tied to the hidden motive of opening the door to reparations (which it was). Now Tennessee Congressman, Steve Cohen, the only white member of the House to represent a majority black district (six black candidates split the vote to replace Harold Ford, Jr. and Cohen walked up the middle) brings forth an apology resolution, which he actually introduced last year (2007), it suddenly gets traction in the House.

samad.jpgThe Senate has stated that it will not consider the House’s apology resolution. Cohen also happens to coincidentally be in a run-off for his seat against a single black candidate, Nikki Tinker. And there, coincidentally, happens to be a black major party (presumptive) nominee, and white people want to know, can reparations ever become a realistic policy proposal in an Obama administration. Just another hurdle for Obama to address (and he has), and another reason to suspect that it was the only way reparations will ever be addressed. Now that we know Obama doesn’t support it, where does the reparations discussion go from here? Noodle that one a minute.

But at least we got the apology out of the way. Yeah, right.

by Anthony Assadulah Samad

Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad is an author, scholar and the co-founder, Managing Director and host of the Urban Issues Forum. Dr. Samad’s most recent book is entitled “Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom”. His national column can be read in newspapers and cyber-sites nationwide. His weekly writings can be read at www.blackcommentator.com. For more information about Dr. Samad, go to www.AnthonySamad.com.

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  • Comments

    1. Franklin Homes says

      "A slow news cycle that “went racial” in the race for the presidency, in the same week went silent on the apology for slavery"

    2. lou says

      wow. i live in las vegas, have no cable tv, hate the local tag blatt-a reactionary rag…
      but tend to watch the networks and PBS “news…” hey-we (my pals-africano americanos and chicanos) who are tuned into the daily “media”
      never heard a word about the congress coming up with this new idiocy. this is a joke, like,
      a real joke, a new twist on the 1800’s through today indian treaties to be honored “in perpetuity,” the campaign reform crap, or health care for all…or even more a joke…an honest member of congress. hahahaha B.S.
      we know it ain’t real…sorry, man.

      would $$$zillions of dollars mean anything ??/to us, the rich, fat, greedy, lazy ,rotted fruit of the “culture” of “western civilization” zillions seem to mean everything. the only thing.

      we lost countless remarkable creative brilliant people who coulda been like, duh, say, charles drew, einstein, stravinski,duke ellington, mary lou williams, bill evans, robert frost, langston hughes,sojourner truth, dr schweitzer, dr king, oprah, sammy davis,john hope franklin, dr. gates… ok- the few famous ones are obvious, and the list is endless.generation after generation of genius and joy and laughter and love and just plain humanity destroyed, tossed aside, and lost…with evil intent, on purpose, to preserve some bullshit MYTH!!!
      families ripped apart. endless spiritual mayhem and agony. trillions of dollars seems like a joke and trillions don’t begin to patch this rip in OUR american soul…and the whole world was made rich on those endless years of imperial rule-not just here, but europe and africa too, don’t leave anyone out. The triangle that created modern economies around the world…is all of our shared heritage…
      we all owe, and if we don’t accept that, get over to scotland, look at those mills, the kids enslaved there worked the same hopeless days as any owned kid down south, BUT-those scots kids were taught to read, write and pray in their own tongue. go down to look at that cane. sugar made us a load of dough-still does. and it’s rotting our kids from the inside out. chickens come to roost????across the water, see that rum. it’s all been built on slavery…
      reparations???what a joke…or maybe not…
      directing a few hundreds of billions to health care, more billions to education, and, to honest to goodness MENTORING and offering some real, honest, not just pie-in-the-sky- but REAL American style HOPE would be a start on making slight amends to the heirs of our nightmarish past…or is that code for that pesky, horrible social engineering and leveling playing fields and Equal Opportunitying again…oh, sorry justice thomas…sorry, rich gringo dudes won’t get into UCLA or Harvard…
      are we nuts???end the ghetto? end the strife???
      reality, who gonna give a black man a billion dollars in aid in this country???? black man has no oil or diamonds under him, and who is to say what would happen to the dough (dave chappelle did-man, i thought that was a joke, could this be what he was talkin’ about????? wow. the penny just dropped…, i am so dumb!!!)
      gee, what if one of THEM became the pres….nah. too crazy.

      hey,being seen as worthy, decent, just plain old human Americans would go a long way…as a people, we tend to glance at, or away from, or ignore, each other in certain very signifigant ways here in america.
      as a large latino, bearded, long haired, tending to jeans and tee shirts, older…people step back unless i smile big and hum Vivaldi.
      i am infrequently ignored, or treated badly. i look like i would be a pain in the ass, so people are nice, and then delighted when i speak standard english or german. german is better, for some reason.
      ok-my world, my choice.
      my compadres of a richer hue may wear Armani and Brooks Brothers…and man, i cringe at what i see in my own country. what a nightmare we have created for ourselves. race-the endless razor-the wounds cut deep,ain’t changed in 50 years, but i don’t suppose
      congress is apologizin’ for that, are they???? they don’t seem to act apologetic in georgetown, or around the national gallery, or the neighborhoods of the memorials…

      soy chicano,y viejo-i grew up in a so LA when some of my relatives didn’t believe my dad had lunch at perinos or the derby…”everybody knows they don’t allow mexicans in there”…in that time, black men watched their step, kept their necks in, stayed bland…and we then saw the big change when suddenly cassius clay, riots, black power came along-BAM!!!-new world,black is beautiful-a new day…oops. g’bye medgar,malcom, bobby, dr king…huey, fred, angela. go to jail, ali…new day my olive-hued lovely re-christened young “chicano” asssss….
      nothin’ changed. and 50 years later, it’s still the same…congress gonna legislate against that ugly look of “what are you doing in here???!!!” on some assholes face??? that look alone slaps a black cat who walks into the wrong American door. is that what congress apologizes for???
      when a child feels that slap and gets the sudden hard-eye, didn’t see nothin stare even before his voice has changed, and he is made to feel like an outsider in his own world-thats what congress is gonna cure and heal with some magic new law of the land??? oh, please, take the
      trillions of dollars-spend it on sending everybody who needs the re-education to Kenya, or Djakarta, or CasaBlanca.
      …in Mombasa, every face i saw greeted me with an open smile, to them, me and my pals are americans, all the same. there, and in all the countries we saw from morocco to (yes, even to) capetown,
      black faces didn’t shut down just ‘cuz a gringo blondie walked into the joint. for those black faces, foreign people are just rich people…the question is “are you going to leave some bucks here, rich americano man???”

      it’s strange to say i never feel that colorless, american only way at home. Not any part of LA, or in any other part of my own country. what a drag. fix it congress. throw a billion at Accepting One Another. it will just be another government piss-away-tax-dollars b.s.stroke job, but we gotta start someplace, eh???
      so, lets get to it.

    3. Lucille says

      This reminded me of a comedian’s apology… It’s on the following link, and it basically tells why Americans can’t really apologize, plus who all they have to apologize to. Their ancestors ‘touched’ a lot of lives.


      It’s kind of insulting, though, so don’t watch it if you get insulted easily =)

    4. DMcD says

      …. all this while , the Rethugs nominate Palin (the Sambo hater) to be VP ——- how 2-faced of them.
      As for reperations; I’m thinking the American Indians should be 1st on the list. The land you’re stanging on is rightfully owned by them and they got no better than a punch-in-the-face as payment.

    5. Deede says

      Our government did not own slaves (as for as I know). I think that is the issue. Why then would the government pay retributions for slavery when slaves were not owned by the government? Any retributions should be paid by the descendents of the slave owners. Exactly how could you force people living now to pay for something their ancestors did so long ago? My ancestors were sharecroppers. They had no slaves. Why would I be responsible for retributions?

      If we want to do this, what about the Chinese? They were stolen and sold to Americans to build the railroads. Of course those involved said the Chinese were not “real” slaves, but they worked them like slaves. They were killed if they tried to run away.

      Our country is 9 trillion dollars in debt now. Do you really believe that adding another 9 to 30 trillion dollars to our debt is justified?

      I don’t know the answer, but retributions would never work.

    6. PATHwalker says

      One comment: Imagine spending one day enslaved. Those of us with African ancestry are very much aware of residue attitudes, actions and policies — they continue.

    7. Wiam says

      Slavery is a horrible institution. And racism still exists and damages our nation. But to pay people today for because they may or may not be related to someone who was a slave will reinforce racism, not resolve our differences.

      If African Americans demand reparations, white people whose ancestors died fighting in the civil war will have to pay tax money to an ethnic group that their ancestors helped free. Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Samoan, Filipino, Russian, Italian, Mexican and other Americans will all have to foot the bill to “pay off” black Americans for something that happened long before they were born, or for some, before they were even Americans. What does it have to do with them, and why should they pay the bill. Why not go after the direct descendents of slave owners and take the money they still live on today.

      If you want to end racism, don’t institutionalize racist pay-offs.

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