March 12, 2007


The south's collective "my bad"

Since the Virginia legislature has formally passed a resolution apologizing for that state's complicity in the horrors of slavery and the aftermath of a century of Jim Crow, Georgia is now in the sights of the NAACP to put up a similar official recognition of culpability.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, "By the end of the antebellum era Georgia had more slaves and slaveholders than any state in the Lower South and was second only to Virginia. In 1860, Georgia had 462,198 slaves compared to 505,088 free people, and more than two-thirds of all state legislators were slaveholders."

Astonishing for a colony that was established as anti-slave.

At the outset I considered that all of today's Peach State lawmakers should jump at the chance to pass a resolution that could actually mean something, given that most official resolutions pass through those chambers as cavalierly as gas in the North Anteroom. Instead we get predictable hemming and hee-hawing from the yup, you guessed it, white Republican leaders of the General Ass-endly. Speaker udda House Glen Richardson (R-Crackersburg) said he doesn't see the need to apologize for something that no current legislators had anything to do with.

Strictly on an individual level, I see your point, Mr. Speaker - you weren't there. But is this about you, or about the collective leadership of the body you serve in, and the traditions (and hobgoblins) it has inherited? How many times have the austere portraits that hang about the Capitol been symbolically invoked as representatives of the greatness of the 13th state (and, ironically, how many were slave owners or otherwise racist SOBs)? Perhaps here is a chance to show some real leadership, sir.

In the high-falutin' upper chamber we have Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams (R-Bumfugeejipt) decrying that apologies should be heartfelt and not coerced. So what's the conflict, Senator? "Well," said Williams, "my family never owned slaves, so why should I apologize?"

As AJC columnist Lyle V. Harris notes, "that neatly evades the fact that skin color has conferred benefits on generations of white Americans, like interest-earning assets in a family trust fund."

So with attitudes like those of Richardson and Williams, in the end I have to stand with Harris, an African American, who says he doesn't want or need an apology. I respect his view that the NAACP is missing the mark on this and that his race "must move beyond Million Man Marches and other feel-good movements with little lasting impact."

I solemnly concur with his recognition that "some of our fellow citizens will always fail to grasp how much slavery and its aftermath have robbed from Black America," and I applaud his stance of having no interest in making them feel sorry for it.

"I'm the one who feels sorry for them," he concluded.

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I sort of see Harris's point, but I don't see Williams's or Richardson's point.

Sure, if on an individual basis he was being asked to apologize, I could see that. You won't catch me *personally* apologizing for my "race's" culpability in the slave trade, because up until the mid-1800's, my forbears were enslaved by the British. They didn't really have time to buy up the slave market.


I *do* see the point of representatives of the state making a formal apology on behalf of the state as an entity. The state and the buildings that represent the state's infrastructure were built on the backs of slaves.

Harris is right, though, that feelgood measures don't make the real heart difference that is needed among the American population. But it can send a message to the bigots in the state (and they are legion) that the official stance is now that slavery was always wrong, and that time and culture are no excuse. It's not just wrong today because we're more enlightened and advanced. It is and was wrong because it is just fucking wrong.
Wot Looney said. It's important to formally recognize that this was a wrong done by an entity they now represent. What are they afraid of by apologizing for the State? That's very curious.
Consider the point of view of Holocaust survivors when it was proposed that official reparations be made. Surprisingly, a large number of them were patently against it as they felt it would set a price on the suffering thereby formally alleviating the perpetrators of their collective guilt.

Good on Harris.

Are you serious? Crackersburg? How ironic.

Yes, we now feel that slavery is wrong and always was. Judging the long dead, however, on the principles of today's society, always strikes me as masturbatory. It used to be common for girls of 14 years to be married off without their consent, which we would never consider outside of Utah in this age, but what does castigating the people who did it 2 centuries ago accomplish?

That said, I see no reason to OPPOSE such an apology. I just don't see any concrete reason to pursue it, either.
Looney, I suppose from the viewpoint of an official apology placing another, albeit tiny, straw upon the camel's back of racism, I agree.

I have an acquaintance who is into Civil War re-enactment. The other day he started trying to convince me, in all seriousness, that Abraham Lincoln was a war criminal, and gave the tired old southern "heritage" line that the War of Northern Aggression (!) was not about slavery. Before calmly walking away, I pointed out the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850 and the Dred Scott decision as reasons why that was not so. The figures in this post about who 44 percent of Georgia's population was in 1860 add to the ridiculousness of his view.

Maybe someday that camel's back will break, but having viewed the south through Yankee eyes for nearly 20 years (and please no one think I'm positing racism to be a southern exclusive) I doubt it will be in my lifetime.

Joe - no. And Sen. Williams does not actually represent Bumfugeejipt, either.
I didn't notice the second one. I've seen dumber town names than "Crackersville", to be certain.
Lynchburg Tennessee always, erm, 'cracks' me up too :-p
Yeah, Cheez, the world's most famous whiskey distiller in a "dry" county cracks me up too.
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