Slavery Apology: A Sign of Strength

Photo by Flickr user <a href="www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/">Okinawa Soba</a> under Creative Commons.

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


The U.S. Senate voted unanimously yesterday to apologize for U.S. slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed. Upon first reaction, this seemed to me like “too little too late.” The resolution, following a similar vote in the House last year, seemed especially insignificant because it did not include reparations for slaves’ descendents. But as The Root, an online magazine providing “news from a variety of black perspectives” notes, the apology is “better way, way, way late than never.”

It turns out the United States government has a history of apologizing to ethnic minorities for their systematic opression. Below are some of the top examples:

  • In 1988, President Reagan signed an Act apologizing to Japanese Americans interned in work camps during World War II. The Act promised $20,000 to each of the 60,000 detainees still living.
  • In 1997, President Clinton apologized to the African American community for the Tuskegee Experiment, which put African Americans at risk of often dangerous treatments for syphilis. “We cannot be one America when a whole segment of our nation has no trust in America,” he said.
  • In 1998, Clinton traveled to Uganda and acknowledged the evils of slavery, but stopped short of offering a formal apology.
  • In 2005, the House voted to apologize to America’s native population “for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect” inflicted against them by the United States.
  • Speaking at the Summit of the Americas in April 2009, President Obama acknowledged that the United States has a troubling past relationship with The Americas.” The United States will be willing to acknowledge past errors where those errors have been made,” he said.

Considering some of our worst actions, apologies seem futile, but their symbolic function is actually quite important to the affected communities. Still, Obama’s foes in the GOP have been quick to criticize him as an apologist. Instead of acting as the party of “no apologies,” though, the GOP should let President Obama actively try to restore the United States’ image in the world by apologizing for its most flagrant past mistakes.

WE'RE TAKING A SHORT BREAK…

from the big banner at the top of our pages asking for the donations that make Mother Jones' nonprofit journalism possible. But we still have upwards of $300,000 to raise by June 30, whether we get there is going to come down to the wire, and we can't afford to come up short.

If you value the reporting you get from Mother Jones and you can right now, please join your fellow readers who pitch in from time to time to keep our democracy-advancing, justice-seeking journalism charging hard (and to help us avoid a real budget crunch as June 30 approaches and our fiscal year ends).

payment methods

WE'RE TAKING A SHORT BREAK…

from the big banner at the top of our pages asking for the donations that make Mother Jones' nonprofit journalism possible. But we still have upwards of $300,000 to raise by June 30, whether we get there is going to come down to the wire, and we can't afford to come up short.

If you value the reporting you get from Mother Jones and you can right now, please join your fellow readers who pitch in from time to time to keep our democracy-advancing, justice-seeking journalism charging hard (and to help us avoid a real budget crunch as June 30 approaches and our fiscal year ends).

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate