By Barney Blakeney
I try to stay away from ‘hot topics’ when writing this column. I figure if everybody else is talking about a subject, how much more can I add?
But a friend and regular reader of this diatribe said she is interested to see what I have to say on the subject of the City of Charleston’s resolution to apologize for and denounce its role in American slavery.
In short, I’m conflicted. From the moment the proposal first was made public, it’s been controversial. There are a lot of moving parts to apologizing for slavery, but I really can’t see why there’s so much conflict over making the resolution.
It don’t take nothing to say you’re sorry. You don’t even have to mean it! So I can’t see why there’s so much controversy. Heck, just say you’re sorry!
We all know a lot of stuff comes with saying you’re sorry – do you mean it; what are you going to do to mitigate the damage that comes as a result of the offense? But the mere act of saying ‘sorry’ shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
That Charleston City Council’s vote to approve the resolution was split by a 7-5 vote says a lot of people aren’t sorry. Well that’s just terrible considering how brutal American slavery was.
The crap about not wanting to apologize for something that occurred hundreds of years ago perpetrated by people way back then is so much bullshiggidy it defies logic! Anybody who subscribes to that line of logic either is racist or just plain dumb!
Ain’t no dang way any rational intelligent individual can live in this city, live in this country, and honestly believe they have/had nothing to do with slavery.
The truth of the matter is that those individuals are today complicit in the continued enslavement of the descendants of Africans and African Americans enslaved during the centuries this nation sanctioned slavery by rule of law.
Don’t get it twisted, African Americans today exist in an environment of de facto slavery!
Some Black folks got it twisted thinking because they get to eat what the white man eats, sleep where he sleeps and sit next to him that they are considered equals. Not so!
I’m not talking about where we as individuals are in our hearts or our concepts of each other individually. I’m talking about where Charleston and America are in terms of the systemic socio-economic realities of American society.
I sat next to Charleston City Councilman Harry Griffin at an event recently. He seems like a decent guy. I’m impressed that a young man like Griffin, 23 years old, has a seat on Charleston City Council, putting him in a position to make decisions for a city he must barely know. At 23, he hasn’t been here long enough to know but so much!
Griffin said he voted against the resolution because he, his peers and his constituents don’t feel they should apologize for something in which they took no part.
Here’s a guy whose life, in almost every facet, has been enhanced by the benefits of slavery saying he doesn’t feel he has to apologize for the brutal bondage of other people who created the lifestyle he now enjoys.
What scares me about that is Griffin represents another generation of privileged white folks who have little or no sensitivity/understanding about what came before them and how we got here. If you don’t learn from the past, you’re doomed to repeat it.
Sometimes we get all tied up in details that don’t move the needle forward. As for an apology for slavery – I can take it or leave it. That’s my personal feeling.
I understand others who feel differently. Don’t necessarily agree with them. For me dealing with slavery includes so many things.
Stacey Patton, the author of the recent race disparities in Charleston County report issued by the Avery Institute at the College of Charleston in a recent writing offered that “The city of Charleston’s two-page apology for enslaving black people and terrorizing and treating them as second-class citizens during Jim Crow ought to be crumbled up and tossed into the trash.”
She said, “Apologies are symbolic. They ease guilt on the part of the people who have benefited from white supremacy every day of their lives. White Charleston, and America writ large, don’t want to own this nation’s ugly racist past or examine all the ways that systemic racism still gives them advantages over black people. Racial justice is not a zero-sum game. White communities do not have to be deprived of rights and resources to equalize communities of color.
“White Americans’ determined failure to recognize the origins of systemic racism and its historical evolution is exhausting. Apologizing without plans for restorative justice is psychic therapy for whites. Black Americans should think better of ourselves and demand more — because this nation has clearly shown that it is not genuinely dedicated to dismantling white supremacy.”
If the vote on the resolution is any indication of how people in Charleston feel, about half don’t even want the therapy of making a symbolic apology.
To me, that says breaking down the vestiges of slavery which continue to bound Black people in slave-like conditions won’t happen any time soon. I’m not going to see that happen in my lifetime.
So for those all too few Black and White folks who truly want to see our Charleston and America fulfill its potential as a community of freedom and equality, there is much to be done.
An apology as much as anything is a good place to start, but each of us must do our part individually to move the needle forward toward that reality.
As the resolution vote, subsequent rationalities and explanations indicate, there are those who don’t want that to happen.
For those who want to make Charleston and America great, it’s not about the debate or who says what.
It’s about creating the world we want for those coming after us. It’s about doing the work it takes to create that world. That’s not something you say, it’s something you do.
That’s what I have to say about an apology for slavery.