By Beverly Gadson-Birch
I am from the old school and one thing I do know is manners. An apology is followed by some sort of atonement. If City Council’s apology is truly to be accepted on face value, there must be an outward display of regret.
Basically, here is an acceptable apology: A friend slams the door on my finger. She immediately apologizes and says, “I am so sorry; I did not notice you weren’t completely out of the car before I closed the door.” She applies some cold water to ease the pain and offers to take me to a doctor. Now, here is an unacceptable apology because it lacks the forgiveness and an offer to make things right – It infuriates more than atone: A friend slams the car door on my finger. I yell out in excruciating pain letting her know she slammed my finger in the door and she retorts, “you are so stupid; you knew I was going to close the door and you should not have had your hand on the door.” Are y’all with me? The latter is the same problem that I have with the City of Charleston apology. My ancestors were injured by years of slavery and you failed to apologize and offer some type of compensation. I was injured and am still being treated as a second-class citizen and all you have to say is “I am sorry”. You don’t have the civility to offer compensation after generations of atrocities.
Let me take this one step further so white folk, who are in denial, can understand why generations of Blacks have been injured by not only what you and your ancestors have done, but are still doing through discriminatory practices and laws. When Blacks attempted to read and write, they were tortured and killed to discourage others from doing the same. And, the list goes on:
• When Blacks applied for jobs, they were told, “they weren’t qualified”. “They didn’t have enough work experience.” Instead of hiring them for positions for which they were qualified and applied, young, white junior flips were hired and your “not so qualified blacks” were ordered to train them. Blacks didn’t have enough experience for the positions but enough experience to train white junior flips?
• When Black children excelled in academics, not sports, academics, you refused to recognize them as gifted and talented and not for the gifted and talented children that they were. In some instances, you recommended drugs (Ritalin) because you said, “they acted up in class and couldn’t keep still.” If you aren’t familiar with the side effects of Ritalin, look it up. You used drugs to destroy generations of children potentials.
• When Black students applied to Ivy League colleges, although they had the necessary entrance scores, they were rejected. You blocked the entrance. Out of this exclusion and rejection, Black colleges were established (separate but unequal just like public education). Finally, when you were court ordered to accept Black students, they were spat upon, threatened, bullied and had to be accompanied to class by federal marshals.
• When Blacks sold drugs alongside their white counterparts, they received much stiffer sentences for the same crime.
• When Blacks refused to “sign here” on the dotted line, you referred to them as “uppity Negroes”; no, not uppity, just educated enough to read before signing legal documents only to find out later that they were illegal.
• When Blacks refuse to respond to you after being addressed by their first name and after you just addressed a young white lady as “Ms.”, you smirked and rolled your eyes at them with no regard for their seniority–absolutely nothing to do with race but everything to do with respect.
• When applying for an auto loan, when Black borrowers inquire about the interest rate, they are told, “don’t worry about the interest. I will have you in a car today.” And, when the loan is finally approved, most assuredly it is almost always at a higher rate.
• When you destroyed black father’s and sons’ manhood from slavery to the grave and you continue to do so until this present day through low paying jobs, profiling, and mass incarceration, you wonder why “they can’t get over it”.
• When you have raped Black wives and children in the presence of their husbands and parents, you question why “they keep dwelling in the past”.
• When you lied about a Black man whistling or looking at your women, you tortured, lynched or sent him to prison for life. And years later when white women recanted their accusations, and after many families and lives were destroyed, you failed to compensate those that were injured by false allegations and incarcerations. Some are still behind bars because they could not afford representation.
• When you couldn’t stop Black protests for equal rights guaranteed under the United States Constitution, you went after black children, like the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.
• When you could no longer legally deny blacks the right to vote, you used discriminatory tactics to discourage voting participation by implementing “poll” taxes and asking idiotic questions as a prerequisite to voting, questions even you could not answer, i.e., “how many bubbles in a bar of soap?”
And, the list goes on: promotions that were denied, home mortgages denied, land illegally taken, etc.
If City Council really wants to make a statement of apology, if they are sorrowful for generations of missteps, then set an example not only for Charleston and this state but the nation as well. Council, develop a comprehensive, compensatory plan to educate children at no cost, set aside money for technical training, employ first time offenders and homeless veterans, build more affordable housing, stop redlining blacks, provide equal services to our neighborhoods and stop using Blacks as guinea pigs for medical advancements.
Once you devise a compensatory plan and act upon it, then and only then will I know your apology is well-intended and you did not mean to “slam my finger in the car door”. White folk, are y’all listening?