It’s been a brisk season for official apologies. On February 24th, Virginia led the pack into the confessional when the state legislature unanimously passed a bill expressing "profound contrition" for slavery. Since then, the Maryland Senate, the North Carolina Senate, and the Alabama legislature have all voted to beat their breasts over slavery. Even the board of the University of Virginia marked the birthday of the university’s founder—Thomas Jefferson—by apologizing because UVA once used slave labor. There are similar apologies brewing in the Georgia and Missouri legislatures.
Now that four states of the former Confederacy have eaten crow, it will look bad if the rest don’t. Expect a torrent.
What’s going on? The black sponsors of statehouse apologies say they want reconciliation. "Some of us can’t move into reconciliation until we have an apology," says Hank Sanders, who backed the Alabama resolution. The Virginia vote was "part of a healing process," explains Delegate A. Donald McEachin.
The chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland says the same thing: "The first step for healing to take place is for there to be an acknowledgment," says state senator Nathaniel Exum. [‘Regret’ Over Md. Role in Slavery| State Senate Resolution Follows Similar Action in Virginia, By Ovetta Wiggins Washington Post March 17, 2007]
We’re all for healing—who isn’t?—but everyone knows that has nothing to do with it. Even the white legislators who obediently hung their heads over something they never did tried to be careful to draft resolutions that would avoid raids on the treasury. "Profound regret," and "profound contrition" were the favorite formulations that stop short of an outright apology that might lead to demands for reparations.
There’s good reason to be crafty. In the minds of blacks, "healing" clearly requires more than "profound contrition." The Virginia vote was "a good first step," says Del. McEachin, who likes to tell reporters his great-grandfather was a slave.
Senator Exum of Maryland says the vote on slavery was nice, but the state must “recognize steps we need to do to get rid of the lingering effects of it." Bruce Gordon, president of the Virginia NAACP, complained that words don’t heal anything. He, too, wants to stamp out "lingering inequalities."
"Don’t let it end here," said state senator Larry Shaw after the North Carolina vote. "There’s plenty of work to be done."
"Work" means money; your money. That is why Charles Bishop was one of seven Alabama state senators who voted against the resolution. "What I am is somebody who hates to see lawyers take advantage of the General Fund of the state of Alabama and suck it like a leech," he explained. [Alabama House, Senate approve slavery apologies, By Phillip Rawls, Associated Press, April 24, 2007]
But these votes of "profound regret" are far from innocuous, and they have nothing to do with "reconciliation."
Stripped of all pretence, what they do is make whites say to blacks, "Our people have been very, very, very bad to your people, and we will never forget it. Please forgive us." And they make whites say it publicly, officially, formally, in the name of an entire state.
This is an expression of naked racial power. It makes it blindingly clear who are the moral creditors and who are the debtors. Blacks don’t want “healing"; they want the moral whip hand. They will never, ever put slavery behind them so long as they can make whites feel bad about it. They want every policy, every conversation, and even every thought about race in America to start and end with white guilt and innocent black suffering. They will milk white contrition for as much and for as long as whites let them.
A few people recognize a stickup when they see it. When the idea of apologizing for slavery first came up in the Virginia General Assembly, 79-year-old Delegate Frank Hargrove was having none of it.
There hasn’t been slavery for 140 years, he said, and "our black citizens should get over it." [Slavery apology measure ignites legislative debate, By Bob Gibson, Richmond Daily Progress, January 16, 2007]
The wrath of all liberaldom descended on Mr. Hargrove, and he quickly wilted. Not only did he change his mind and vote for the resolution, he even added an extra bit of "profound contrition": He introduced a proposal that Virginia celebrate "Juneteenth"—June 19, 1865, when the last slaves got word they were free—as a state holiday.
Blacks will continue this contrition caper indefinitely—until whites wake up.